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Training a Combat Sustainment Support Battalion

The Distributive Battle Simulation Program helped a Virginia Army National Guard sustainment unit go from home station to the battlefield.

In July 2008, the 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), Virginia Army National Guard, began its journey toward mobilization by attending the 1st Army Joint Assessment Conference (JAC). At that time, the unit was under the assumption that it would deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). This was confirmed shortly thereafter when the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Rose, was informed that in early 2010 the 529th would replace the 515th CSSB, an Army National Guard unit from New Mexico, at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Marez.

Deploying in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is quite common, but the 529th CSSB had an additional challenge: It was a fairly new unit. Not only was it a new unit for the Virginia National Guard (formed in December 2006) but also, as a CSSB, it was a rather new organization for the Army. Of the 84 CSSBs formed in 2006 within the Army force structure, 48 are Army National Guard units. As a new unit, the 529th needed to understand the recently developed sustainment doctrine and the concept of modular sustainment formations and functions.

Distributive Battle Simulation Program

In December 2008, Lieutenant Colonel Rose contacted a commander’s operations and training assistant (COTA) from the Army National Guard’s Battle Command Training Capability Program’s (BCTCP’s) Distributive Battle Simulation Program (DBSP). DBSP operates under a contract established with General Dynamics Information Technology.

COTAs are former Army officers (Active or Reserve component) who work with selected units to advise unit commanders and staffs in training strategies and tactics, techniques, and procedures. COTAs typically work with maneuver units. At present, more than 120 COTAs located throughout the United States are available to provide advisory and training support to Army National Guard units, with a specific focus on those who are entering the fourth or fifth year of Army Force Generation.

DBSP also provides training aids, devices, simulators, and simulations to train soldiers on the simulation devices entrusted to Army National Guard units throughout the country. Rounding out this professional training team are technical support teams comprising systems administrators and database managers. These teams set up and synchronize the various digital and constructive wargaming devices used to simulate the conditions in which the unit desires to train.

Under the direction of the battalion commander, the full-time battalion executive officer developed the following three-pronged approach to prepare the battalion:

  • Understand modular sustainment doctrine.
  • Organize and develop the battle staff and tactical operations center (TOC).
  • GCSS-Army will support full spend-chain and reimbursable processes.
  • Train key personnel in the use of critical logistics automation systems required for battalion command and control.

These critical tasks were to be accomplished in addition to the many Virginia National Guard and 1st Army individual and collective tasks Soldiers are required to complete before arriving at the mobilization station.

Critical Tasks

The first critical task, understanding modular sustainment doctrine, was accomplished in January 2009 under the direction of the DBSP warfighting functional area team chief, who instructed the battalion command and staff in the methods of modern sustainment from the national levels, through the theater sustainment command and expeditionary sustainment command, down to the sustainment brigade—the unit that typically serves as a CSSB’s higher headquarters. Additional classes were conducted to focus on the intricacies of support operations (providing concepts for staff roles and responsibilities), movement, and distribution operations.

With a firm understanding of modular sustainment doctrine, the unit was ready for its second challenge: the organization of its battle staff and TOC. Several CSSB tactical standing operating procedures (TACSOPs) were provided to the 529th CSSB to use as examples. The battalion settled on one developed by the 751st CSSB, a South Carolina-based unit serving at the time in Anbar Province, Iraq.

In April 2009, the 529th deployed to the National Maintenance Training Center (NMTC) at Camp Dodge, Iowa, for a 2-week battalion staff training rotation. The first week of training was devoted to teaching the battalion staff the fine art of the sustainment military decisionmaking process (MDMP) and training Soldiers on various simulators (such as the Engagement Skills Trainer and Virtual Convoy Operations). The staff trained in a workshop environment and ran operation order (OPORD) scenarios through the MDMP’s seven steps. The training culminated in the staff’s presentation of a battalion OPORD.

To make the process even more interesting, the 190th CSSB (a Montana Army National Guard unit) participated in the briefings. Staff personnel from the 190th CSSB served as company commanders during the 529th CSSB’s OPORD briefing and subsequent commander back briefs, and 529th CSSB personnel likewise participated in the 190th CSSB’s OPORD briefing. During the second week, both battalions executed their OPORDs through a command post exercise using Janus, a combat simulation system, and wrapped up with an after-action review.

Although the NMTC rotation helped the battalion achieve the commander’s first two objectives for preparing for deployment, the environment was largely analog and reminiscent of TOC operations during the Army of Excellence of the 1980s and 1990s, which featured paper maps, acetate overlays, and alcohol marking pens instead of computers. Camp Dodge was simply unable to provide experience in digital logistics command and control. Present-day sustainment units—especially those preparing for operations outside the continental United States—must be able to manage sustainment operations digitally.

So, to accomplish the third critical task, battalion personnel were sent off to schools to learn their crafts on the digital command and control systems, such as the Battle Command Sustainment Support System, Command Post of the Future (CPOF), and Maneuver Control System.

Final Training Exercise

In November 2009, the command used its final annual training period to complete the final 1st Army validation for deployment requirements at Fort Pickett, Virginia. Here, everything the command had trained on for the last 18 months was brought together in one final dress rehearsal exercise. This training event prepared the battalion for its final premobilization command post exercise (CPX).

By January 2010, the unit was ready for its CPX at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. During the previous week, a team from the BCTCP-Camp Dodge (which was responsible for the unit’s prior CPOF training) set up a CPOF suite consisting of 15 systems. Working side by side with the DBSP technical support team, the Camp Dodge team set up company mail workstations and loaded the Battle Command Staff Trainer, which is used to manage convoy movements and enemy insurgent actions.

The Battle Command Staff Trainer records events that have affected CSSBs and transportation battalions to date in OIF. These events drove the scenarios that the battalion faced over the next 3 days. Two battle staff trainers assisted with TOC information flow, resolved issues concerning roles and responsibilities, and provided tracking charts or devices as needed. After participating in over 300 exercises, if a tracking chart had been created and was required for the exercise, the two trainers certainly had it available for use.

In a modified classroom, the battalion set up the TOC as it would function in OIF, and another room was arranged to support higher, adjacent, and lower units and house the digital systems experts in the event of any technical difficulties.

During the next 72 hours of the exercise, the battalion was exposed to scenarios it could expect once deployed, including improvised explosive device attacks, traffic accidents, contaminated fuel, and hazardous material spills. A sustainment brigade fragmentary order was issued daily so that the battalion plans section and battle staff had to develop new plans or alter existing plans.

“Push matrices” that replicated the sustainment brigade’s distribution board were passed down to ensure that the battalion’s support operations shop was aware of any changes to scheduled movements and could anticipate future missions. Finally, battlefield update briefs (BUAs) were conducted twice daily using the BCTCP CPOF suite. Even the battalion commander participated in a mock sustainment brigade BUA with her commander, who was sitting in an adjacent room. By the close of day 3, the battalion had experienced “a day in the life of a CSSB.” It was a hectic day, but one in which the headquarters personnel dealt with everything thrown at them and performed admirably.

The 529th CSSB conducted an honest and forthright after-action review that helped it use the 60 remaining days to make final TACSOP adjustments before reporting to its mobilization station at Fort Hood, Texas. The entire command and the DBSP observer/trainer staff felt that the unit was prepared to perform its mission upon deployment. However, the CSSB had not yet received its mobilization order from the 1st Army.

Because of the initial deployment notification from 1st Army, the unit continued to prepare for its role in OIF throughout the exercise. Interestingly, when the unit’s formal mobilization order arrived, the 529th CSSB learned that it would not deploy to Iraq as expected but instead to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Dr. John M. Menter is a retired Army colonel and the team chief of the Warfighting Functional Area Team, Distributive Battle Simulation Program, Battle Command Training Capability Program, General Dynamics Information Technology. He holds a doctoral degree in history, a master’s degree in logistics, and a master of business administration degree from the University of La Verne. In 2005, he qualified as a certified professional logistician through the Institute of Logistics Management. He is also the author of The Sustainment Battle Staff and Military Decision Making Process Guide.


 
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