HomeAbout UsBrowse This IssueBack IssuesNews DispatchesSubscribing to Army LogisticianWriting for Army LogisticianContact UsLinks






























The Theater Support Command at War
Jump to top of page


The Theater Support Command at War

The theater support command integrates Active and Reserve
component soldiers. How did this multicomponent organization
perform in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and what changes may be needed to ensure its continued relevance?

Lessons learned in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and later in the Balkans have fostered significant changes in Army logistics. One of the most important was the conversion of the old theater Army area command (TAACOM) to a multicomponent theater support command (TSC). What have been the results of this change so far? We can find an answer in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, which have served as a logistics laboratory for evaluating the integrated, multicomponent TSC.

During these operations, TSCs have been instrumental in sustaining the warfighter. TSCs have moved huge volumes of materiel at a faster pace to their customers, improved their real-time information and tracking capabilities, and increased their responsiveness to their customers’ special needs. From the outset of the operations, TSCs effectively executed split-based operations and coordinated joint logistics with the other services and coalition partners (though there is room for improvement). The logistics warriors of the TSCs have risen to every challenge. No mission has gone unsupported; no combat objectives have been missed because of logistics constraints. In terms of moving critical items from the manufacturer to the foxhole, TSCs have validated themselves as the single point of contact for echelons-above-corps logistics.

In this and two future articles, I will look briefly at how the TSCs functioned during Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, from the alert and mobilization phase through the redeployment and reconstitution phase. I will review some of the factors I discussed in previous Army Logistician articles and their effects on Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom as we in the 21st Theater Support Command viewed them from the ground. [See the May–June 2000, July–August 2000, September–October 2000, and January–February 2003 issues for General Wells’ previous articles on the TSC.] My intent is not to get into the details of all the challenges facing TSCs but rather to concentrate on the overall operation and structural makeup of the TSC and the integration and relationships of the Active and Reserve components.


During the mobilization of any Army organization, all personnel are required to muster at a designated site. The Active and Reserve component elements of a TSC headquarters are separated by thousands of miles, so meeting this mobilization requirement was not practical for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Validation of soldier training was in question, so qualified unit soldiers ended up certifying their fellow soldiers. Real dilemmas challenged lines of authority; leaders at many levels crossed component lines to make deals and decisions that were not always in accord with prescribed processes. Legal control of soldiers left behind for medical and legal reasons remained unresolved in many cases.

These issues created frustration and tension among the various commands trying to deploy the TSCs’ Reserve component soldiers. A number of decisions later led to administrative challenges in areas such as credit for being a mobilized soldier, failure to follow mobilization regulatory guidance on individual soldiers’ responsibilities, and the validity of certification by others that a unit met the prescribed standard to deploy. The challenges of the mobilization process have been well documented, and the Army has recognized the need for changes.

Seamless Operations

Thomas F. Hall, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, has stated that the Nation’s heavy reliance on its Reserve components is actually a good thing—proof that the “total force” concept is working and that the Reserve components are full partners in the Nation’s defense. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom demonstrated the ability of TSC soldiers to blend together and work as a team, regardless of their component affiliations. Deployed logistics units fit in with the TSC headquarters and responded with outstanding support and leadership.The multicomponent, integrated approach to support by TSC logisticians was on target. There was no time to worry about turf, Active-versus-Reserve culture concerns, or the ability to employ every able-bodied soldier and civilian. However, following the conflict, relationships and working conditions changed. When the Reserve component soldiers returned from their split-based operations, they found there was no need for their skill sets on a daily basis; a majority of the soldiers had little or no work to do. Why? Two issues were apparent.

First, earlier Army Force Design Updates and Total Army Analysis processes attempted to account for varied missions, sizes of areas of responsibility, and existing operating tempo within the TSCs. The TSCs then identified a formal breakout of authorized Active and Reserve positions. However, in Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the Army discovered that the original identification of these positions was not applicable in nonconflict environments (though the identification worked well during the two operations). Second, as the initial identification of component slots in the TSCs was being made, decisions were made at higher command levels not to fill many of the authorized Active component slots in the TSCs. Over the ensuing years, the TSCs were forced to adapt to this shortfall by using soldiers from table of distribution and allowances units, local nationals, and Department of the Army civilians to meet their daily workloads. These individuals fill in the gaps when Reserve soldiers are deployed. However, this creates problems as civilians fill in and assume the reservists’ roles; when the reservists return, there is no work for them to do in their assigned missions.

We need to think about how this will work in the future. Civilians were afraid to allow the reservists to do their assigned missions. We recognized the dilemma too late to ease tensions and misunderstandings among the affected organizational personnel. At my TSC, we did not think through the challenge of post-conflict integration. While we met the mark on the integration of our headquarters on the battlefield, we failed to look far enough down the road and view how integration would work in peacetime.

The foundation of knowledge for the multicomponent unit is in its Reserve element. Reservists bring intangible skill sets that an Active component soldier must acquire over a 1- to 3-year assignment. Once that Active component soldier moves on, the education cycle begins again in the unit with a newly assigned Active component soldier. This means that, in a multicomponent unit like the TSC, the reservists retain the bulk of the unit’s knowledge and experience. Typically, the reservist is there before the assignment of the Active component soldier and remains long after he has left.

As an integrated multicomponent organization, the TSC must capitalize on reservists’ capabilities. We cannot afford to train these soldiers, treat them poorly, and then expect to retain their time and services in the Army. These personnel are precious commodities vital to future organizational operations. To believe that the force as aligned today will become a full-up TSC in the future is not realistic. Combat service support units have long been, and will continue to be, the bill payer of the combat warrior. We have to recruit, train, and build new logistics leaders; this could take 3 to 4 years, but we do not have the luxury of that much time.

Demobilization and Reconstitution

As the need for logisticians fluctuated in the theater, it became a challenge for TSC leaders to determine when and how to redeploy their mobilized soldiers. This was not a simple process. The general movement of the TSCs back from the theater to home station occurred in increments instead of a traditional unit movement. Determining these movements was accomplished using a team-oriented approach. TSC leaders had to carefully review ongoing missions, future possibilities, and directed guidance from higher headquarters.

In the process of returning home, TSC leaders had a twofold requirement: continue to support the combat soldiers in Iraq and simultaneously collapse the TSC workforce in theater. When the process involved the Reserve soldiers, they had to rotate back to their mobilization sites and on to their home stations with their leaders. Once at home, these reservists, while receiving time off, went through a reconstitution process in which they were reorganized and trained in preparation for a potential future mobilization.

The process of reconstitution is sometimes overlooked, but it remains a critical element in getting soldiers retooled. This period also represents a vital time for soldiers to reconnect with their families and jobs. We hope they will maintain a positive outlook and ultimately will decide to remain in the Reserve force. If soldiers perceive that they are being mistreated and that their leaders have less regard for their personal needs than they expect, those leaders eventually will suffer the loss of quality personnel and the accumulated experience they embody.

Force Structure

The Army is reducing its reliance on divisional sets and, instead, is turning to tailored, interchangeable combat sets as the norm. Logisticians will have to transform accordingly. Based on our current battlefield experiences, the push to restructure the Army means a continued, changing alignment of leaner logistics elements. By flattening hierarchical logistics headquarters up and down the Army, we can be even more time sensitive to the combat commander’s needs.

The baseline structure of the TSC has not changed dramatically since its inception. However, within each TSC, some military positions have been converted from one component to the other. These conversions have been made to respond to theater-specific needs and to enhance the effectiveness of split-based forward logistics. When done with a team approach, these changes have worked well.

However, when one component makes changes without a full understanding of the consequences to the other component, problems with the overall operation of the TSC can result. For example, it is critical that each component of the TSC has a command and control capability. A TSC has a troop support battalion (TSB) and a headquarters and headquarters company (HHC). It is logical to have one or the other of these command and control elements in each component. A lack of command-selected leaders in either component creates command and control issues. If the TSC leaders determine that an Active component presence is needed within the TSB to launch the early-entry module command post forward, then the HHC must be positioned in the Reserve element to provide command and control for its required administrative and operational needs. An unbalanced command and control structure will create future problems individually and collectively.

Continuity must be maintained in the command and control elements. Slots assigned to one component must not be filled arbitrarily with soldiers of the other. This can create needless leadership challenges when soldiers in leadership positions arrive during mobilization or for normal overseas deployment training. Attempting to fill one component slot with a soldier from the other component sends the wrong message. The offended soldier may react negatively and eventually develop an undesirable “we versus they” attitude.

Memorandum of Agreement

An integrated multicomponent organization must have a detailed memorandum of agreement (MOA) in place. The MOA outlines how all parties within the TSC are to function in such areas as supply, accountability, personnel ratings (in relation to regulatory guides), and procedural working agreements with other headquarters. The MOA needs to address those unique command requirements that fall outside of DA-level multicomponent procedures and policies. This will tell leaders and their headquarters how administrative processes are to work in the Active and Reserve component environments.

The MOA must be in place, and the leaders must follow it. At times, some TSC personnel may violate the agreements intentionally or unintentionally. It is apparent that, if leaders do not take a role in enforcing the MOA, TSC personnel will be forever confused about their administrative relationships. As senior leaders are assigned, they must be fully educated on MOA processes. All assigned personnel then must adhere to the MOA processes. The alternative will lead to confusion, with individuals making policy decisions not outlined in the MOA.

Reserve Structure Relationships

The TSC Reserve element is situated in a regional readiness command (RRC). However, it is somewhat isolated from the RRC since it is neither a direct reporting organization nor a major subordinate command. It uses and depends on the RRC for base operations support. Administratively, it is linked to both Active and Reserve components for soldier support. The senior Reserve leaders find themselves in a precarious position in their relations to their supporting headquarters and WARTRACE units. They must constantly define the TSC Reserve element’s structure and its operational scope and then request funding and educate those unfamiliar with TSC functions.

We have observed some tremendous progress on the part of those involved in making the integrated, multicomponent concept work. We must remember that each TSC is a unique organization structured from a base table of organization and equipment. While we have improved our ability to develop new logistics conceptual doctrine and plan for and execute joint logistics support and sustainment operations, we have not made the same progress in crafting coordination between our own Army components.

The force structure of the Reserves is constantly in flux. Many experts view an organization that is reducing elements of its workforce as signaling that those elements are no longer relevant. It appears that the TSC Reserve elements are headed in that direction. Failure to deploy our TSC Reserve soldiers to do their mission will inhibit the activities of the combat warrior. The bottom line is that you can never grow stronger and more relevant from a position of weakness. Continuing in such a direction ultimately will eliminate what we know today as the Reserves.

Major General George William (Bill) Wells, Jr., USAR, is the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Mobilization and Training, Army G–4. He previously served as Chief of Staff of the 21st Theater Support Command in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Theater Support Command at War
Jump to top of page