When a forward support battalion (FSB) com-mander
has to take command of a brigade support area (BSA), he generally
has a problem with integrating all of the units and capabilities
in the BSA that have come under his charge. The coordination
and information flow between the BSA/FSB S–3/S–2
and the maneuver brigade S–3/S–2 is often insufficient,
overlooked, or an afterthought. That, at least, was our experience
as FSB observer-controllers for U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR)
and Seventh Army at the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC)
at Hohenfels, Germany. We noticed that BSA unit integration
often was overlooked in home station training and repeatedly
caused difficulties for BSA leaders and occupants training
at the CMTC.
As FSB observer-controllers at the CMTC, we had the privilege of training with
every FSB commander in USAREUR. We can say without reservation that our FSB commanders
are extremely knowledgeable about tactical logistics, confident, and well prepared
to lead their battalions. They clearly demonstrate their under-standing of logistics
doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), whether they are operating
in a high-intensity-conflict (now called full-spectrum) rotation or as part of
a mission rehearsal exercise at the CMTC.
However, we constantly observed FSB commanders wrestling with how to effectively
integrate all the units, capabilities, and limitations of the BSA and execute
overall command. Unfortunately, there is little written doctrine on this topic.
Our FSB commanders have no trouble performing the duties of FSB commanders during
a CMTC rotation. But they struggle greatly with how to function as BSA commanders
and integrate all associated brigade combat team (BCT) units.
Unfortunately, FSBs are not always able to train with their BCTs. This is especially
true in Europe. As a result, FSB commanders and staff, as well as BSA tenant
units, are often unfamiliar with each other’s spe-cific mission, purpose,
standing operating procedures (SOPs), and TTP. Lack of understanding of each
other’s roles and responsibilities in the BCT and the BSA command structure
often results in a degradation of mission support for all units involved. The
addition of slice elements—which have a habitual relationship to the BCT
but do not train regularly with the FSB—under the FSB commander’s
control in the BSA can cause dysfunction and friction as the units attempt to
learn or create SOPs on the fly during an already intense training period.
As professionals, we always seek ways to continue to improve our units, ourselves,
and ultimately our ability to accomplish the mission. In that vein, our observer-controller
team has compiled some thoughts on improving this area of consistent confusion.
Know BSA Units
One deficiency we observed over the course of sev-eral CMTC rotations was the
FSB commander’s lack of knowledge of the functions the FSB must execute,
the assets for which it is responsible, and the requirements it must fill when
it commands a BSA. This lack of knowledge caused problems when it was not identified
clearly before a rotation began and then produced severe “growing pains” as
the FSB developed solutions during the short period of the exercise.
Lack of knowledge is not limited to the FSB; the maneuver brigade tactical operations
center (TOC) is equally confused. Often, guidance, orders, and mis-sions will
be passed from the brigade TOC through the parent battalion and on to the field
trains, totally bypassing the BSA TOC. This can cause great frustration within
the BSA for planning or reacting to defensive requirements. A typical response
from a BCT S–2/S–3 is that they thought the brigade S–4 would
inform the BSA. In many cases, this does occur. However, information should come
through S–3 channels first. We must help train our BCTs to think and treat
our FSBs and BSAs as they do any other fighting unit. We must ensure that FSB
S–3/S–2s continue to solicit information on a constant basis until
it becomes second nature for all. This practice has to start at home station.
FSBs in USAREUR know their mission of provid-ing direct support to their component
BCT units. However, integrating BSA defense and command and control increases
their learning curve greatly when they are at the CMTC. In part because of the
geographic separation of USAREUR units before they arrive for CMTC rotations,
it is rare for an FSB to train with all the units that normally would occupy
a portion of the BSA. As a result, when units deploy to CMTC, they are forced
to learn during their rotation, and that can lead to loss of time and training
Know Unit Locations
The FSB commander and staff provide command and control for the BSA and for all
units that occupy ground within the BSA’s perimeter. The BSA TOC is the
fusion center for command and control. The TOC must maintain situational awareness
of all units within the BSA, including their requirements and capabilities for
internal and external support of the BSA. Knowing the who, what, when, and where
of friendly forces enables the BSA TOC to function at optimal efficiency. Some
questions for the BSA staff to ask themselves are: What units will be occupying
the BSA? What are those units’ capabilities, and what can they bring to
the BSA “fight”? Where should they be located? Will they be on the
pe-rimeter or tucked within the BSA’s interior? Will they deploy or move
frequently, and where will they go? Can they help plan the BSA’s defense
or provide a battlefield multiplier? When will they occupy their positions?
A more detailed illustration of the “where” question involves placing
the task force field trains on the BSA perimeter. While the field trains have
a great deal of firepower and manpower, the BSA commander and S–3 must
recall that they have an external support mission that will effectively pull
the majority of the field trains off the BSA perimeter for long periods of time
as they move forward to resupply their units. The S–3 must have a contingency
plan for this situation. By knowing the schedule for resupplying the task forces
(a schedule that must be provided by the task forces through the brigade S–4,
coordinated with the BSA support operations officer, and updated on a constant
basis until each mission is complete), the S–3 can give the BSA commander
options for how best to defend the BSA perimeter when most of the field trains
are away on a supply mission.
Know Capabilities of Units in the BSA
The BSA commander also must know the capabili-ties of friendly units in the BSA.
Such knowledge en-ables the BSA commander to deal with the many diverse situations
that may arise on today’s complex battlefield. For example, a common CMTC
scenario is the approach of civilians from a nearby town to the BSA to request
medical support for a farmer who has wandered into a minefield. This situation
presents the BSA commander with several requirements to meet: providing medical
support in the village, providing security for medical personnel offering that
support, and identifying engineer capabilities for demining.
Improving FSB Command of the BSA
Given such problems, what are some ways to fix them? The following are some suggested
actions that have proven successful in the past—
• Create strong leader relationships. If the FSB commander cannot get to
the field as often as needed, he should conduct tactical training without troops
to discuss what the BSA does—its mission, command and control, and command
relationships between the BSA TOC and unit command posts, including the brigade
TOC. He also must know what capabilities tenant units bring to the BSA fight.
To strengthen relationships, the FSB commander should invite unit leaders to
an FSB staff meeting once a month or quarter. The intent here is to get personal.
He should know the faces, and then all concerned can begin to understand capabilities,
limitations, requirements, and mutual needs.
• Develop a BSA layout. The FSB commander must know how big an area each
unit needs for operations and how well that area can be defended. He must know
where, based on enemy avenues of approach, the units with the most firepower
need to be placed. Very importantly, he has to be able to adjust when those units
receive a mission that pulls them off the line.
• Analyze communications capabilities. The FSB commander must understand
which units have what communications equipment. He must know if BSA units are
listening to the BSA TOC frequency, the parent battalion frequency, or landlines
because communications assets are limited. The FSB commander must know how to
ensure that everyone knows what’s going on, at the same time, all the time.
The tips described above are not earth-shattering, rocket science, or magical.
Each one of us would say we already know these things and could figure them out—and
for the most part we probably do and can. However, it is usually too late if
this happens after a rotation or a mission starts. The key is to start the BSA
integration training process as early as possible and in conjunction with other
events, whether in garrison or a tactical environment. This ability is just as
important as being able to execute our required tactical logistics functions;
it is devastating to the overall BCT mission if we fail to integrate.
Our FSB commanders know how to command their units. The various units within
the BSA (engineers, signal, military intelligence, military police, air defense
artillery, field trains) also know how to perform their missions. But if we cannot
integrate all units as a total BSA, soldier welfare and mission accomplishment
are at stake. ALOG
Colonel David W. Vergollo is the Professor of Military Science at Southwest Missouri
State University. He was the senior forward support battalion observer-controller
at the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Germany.
Major John C. Bivona, Jr., is the Operations Group S–4 at the Combat Maneuver