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Executing Offensive Logistics

The 168th Brigade Support Battalion trained its Soldiers to anticipate requirements, solve problems, take the initiative, and aggressively support the warfighter.

In the realm of military tactics, there really are only two options: offense and defense. It has been said many times that you can’t win a defensive war and that defense should be used only until a force can resume offensive operations. In the logistics world, we often are guilty of not using tactical terms to define our operations. We should not only adopt tactical terms like “the offense” to describe our operations, but in executing those operations, we should go on the offensive.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “offense” as “an attack or assault.” As logisticians, we must be “assaulting” our supported units with every bit of capability that we have, leaving no Soldiers or equipment idle. We must employ all that we have to enable our maneuver teammates to pursue the enemy with success.

In the 168th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB), we developed a concept of offense as applied to logistics operations. Here is our definition of “offensive logistics”: A fully integrated, aggressive, and proactive system of logistics support that anticipates requirements, synchronizes support, integrates deliberate logistics convoys with mission requirements, and improvises when standard support does not meet requirements.

The Offensive Logistics Mindset

Executing offensive logistics is as much a state of mind as a physical manifestation of logistics support. The offensive logistics mindset facilitates aggressive action by every member of the team, thereby eliminating reactive support and allowing logisticians to provide support more deliberately. By contrast, reactive support places our Soldiers at risk by reducing the time they can spend planning, preparing, and rehearsing before they execute an operation. In the absence of specific guidance, Soldiers trained in offensive logistics have a very clear understanding of what is expected of them and how they are to execute operations. Offensive logistics is the commander’s guidance captured in two words.

Executing offensive support allows the units we support to focus on the fight in front of them without being burdened by logistics concerns. All logisticians must work to push supplies, services, and support as far forward as possible to enable maneuver operations. Forcing a supported unit to come back to the supporting unit’s location reduces forward momentum and slows offensive operations; this is because the supported unit’s attention is divided between pursuing the enemy and seeking supply, maintenance, and distribution support, which typically is positioned away from the main effort of maneuver forces. Providing aggressive support means effectively eliminating supply point distribution and providing services forward on the battlefield. Anticipating requirements and pushing assets forward maintains momentum, reduces supply and repair cycle time, and allows our teammates to pursue the enemy. An enemy who cannot rest will not last long on the battlefield.

To ensure that the 168th BSB continually executed offensively while deployed to Iraq, commanders and staff routinely provided examples of how their companies were executing offensive logistics. We focused on identifying what capabilities existed and how we were employing them and determining ways to move support closer to the supported units. Soldiers and leaders routinely discovered new ways to push support forward or employ resources more effectively. Finding new methods of employing assets and capabilities became an obsession that paid off in a number of exciting ways across the battlefield.

A BSB Acting as a CSSB

While the 168th is a BSB—organized, manned, and equipped to provide support to the 214th Fires Brigade—we were deployed to Iraq on an “in lieu of” mission as a combat sustainment support battalion (CSSB). While under the 1st Sustainment Brigade, our mission was to support the 80,000 Soldiers of Multi-National Division-Baghdad. As a CSSB, our battalion grew from a modification table of organization and equipment strength of 350 to nearly 1,000 Soldiers, organized into headquarters, supply and distribution, maintenance, transportation, convoy security, and force protection companies.

Each company executed offensive support in innovative ways. Soldiers seized upon the idea and discovered new and improved ways to execute their individual tasks at the locations of supported units. The results were inspirational and motivational, and the battalion quickly developed an offensive and aggressive culture that produced amazing results that were routinely recognized by senior leaders in theater.

Operations S–2 and S–3

Intelligence drives logistics operations, so an intimate knowledge of enemy tactics, techniques, and procedures, patterns, and engagement areas is absolutely critical to successfully accomplishing logistics missions and maintaining the safety and security of Soldiers. The BSB’s S–2 recognized her critical func­tion and went on the offense to gather, produce, analyze, and distribute intelligence products throughout the battlespace. Her aggressive collection and amazing ability to determine where the enemy would engage and by what means was quickly recognized by the intelligence community all the way up to the corps level. The S–2’s offensive pursuit of intelligence routinely kept the battalion’s logistics convoys out of enemy engagement areas during peak activity periods. Without a doubt, the S–2’s work saved lives and helped maintain an uninterrupted flow of supplies to supported units.

The S–3 was responsible for executing distribution operations when planned missions entered the 48-hour lock-in window. In keeping with the battalion’s offensive focus, the S–3 worked very hard to identify, coordinate, and synchronize external assets that could ensure the effective delivery of supplies and services throughout Baghdad. The S–3 synchronized our convoys to pass through engagement areas immediately after explosive ordnance disposal or route clearance assets cleared the area of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). He also worked very closely to tie our logistics operations to the operations of the battlespace owners to ensure that we traversed their terrain while they were executing patrols. Simultaneously, the S–3 worked with the electronic warfare officer to employ Air Force assets to jam frequencies and predetonate any IEDS along our routes.

The battalion staff executed logistics offensively to bring every available asset into the fight at a precise point on the ground at a specific time. The coordinated and synchronized effort of assets from several Army branches as well as the Air Force resulted in the completion of more than 3,500 logistics convoys covering more than 2.2 million miles with no effective enemy attacks, zero injuries, and no deaths. The entire battalion staff was committed to executing offensive logistics operations to ensure that our mission was accomplished while ensuring that our Soldiers were safe.

Support Operations

Support operations is the center of gravity for any logistics unit. While supporting combat operations, the support operations (SPO) section executed offensive logistics in a number of innovative ways. However, the offensive nature of the battalion manifested itself in every section and touched every facet of our operations.

When we arrived in Iraq, the distribution management system consisted of paper copies of movement releases placed in binders and highlighted with different colors to differentiate movement priorities. The system was cumbersome and slow and required daily synchronization meetings with distribution managers across Iraq. To improve the system, our distribution section designed, developed, and implemented a transportation movement release (TMR) database that revolutionized distribution management at the brigade level. The database was shared across the brigade, giving every member of the distribution team, from company to brigade levels, perfect situational understanding of required movements, priorities, and backlogs. The TMR management system improved support, reduced transit times, and freed leaders to focus on less routine and more urgent requirements.

The supply management team in the SPO section executed offensive logistics by improving authorized stockage list management. Their relentless pursuit of repair parts and supplies reduced the requisition wait time from 19 days to 11 days, reduced zero balances from 12 percent to 3 percent, and improved the fill rate to 86 percent. The 168th Supply Support Activity (SSA) led the theater in nearly every supply performance metric as a result of the offensive execution of supply management functions.

Improvements in maintenance operations were equally as impressive as the gains made in the supply performance and distribution arenas. The maintenance managers executed offensively by identifying parts with long leadtimes, prioritizing difficult jobs, working with item managers and parts manufacturers to procure parts, and fabricating parts when required. They routinely managed nearly 2,000 jobs per month, with each job requiring less than 30 days to complete.
Working in concert, the distribution, supply, and maintenance managers executed offensive logistics that resulted in increased velocity, improved avail­ability, and reduced cycle times, yielding world-class support for Soldiers in contact with the enemy. The brigade combat teams (BCTs) that we supported were the beneficiaries of our offensive logistics, receiving their supplies an average of 40-percent faster than before we began our efforts. The increased velocity improved supply availability, decreased repair cycle times, and allowed the BCTs to continue to pursue the enemy without interruption.

Company Execution of Offensive Logistics

Offensive logistics manifested itself in a number of ways at the company level as well. Soldiers transformed the SSA inside and out by reorganizing, rebuilding, and providing first-class support to our supported units. On a near-daily basis, we received comments from our teammates about the responsive and professional attitudes of our Soldiers. Since they worked at one of the busiest warehouses in Iraq, it would be expected that our Soldiers would be tired and dispirited, but they were constantly motivated by the continuous improvement and fueled by the laudatory comments that they routinely received.

Our maintenance Soldiers developed a number of offensive programs that provided outstanding support to units. All of the sections in the maintenance company—communications and electronics equipment, small arms, air-conditioning and generator repair—developed mobile teams to assess and repair at unit locations equipment that normally does not receive the care and attention it deserves. If the equipment could not be repaired immediately, our Soldiers assisted the supported unit in submitting a work order for the equipment and moving it to our location for repair. In many cases, the owning unit or Soldiers didn’t even know that their equipment required maintenance.

The distribution company started delivering supplies received at the SSA to supported units, eliminating supply point distribution for those who did not have the time, resources, or desire to pick them up. Many of these programs were started by Soldiers who understood what offensive logistics means: pushing support as far forward as possible, anticipating requirements, and reducing reactive support.

The impact of executing offensive logistics cannot be overstated. It is a concept that manifests itself physically and culturally, transforming logistics support across the organization. Offensive logistics permeated every section, platoon, company, and function of the 168th BSB. Soldiers knew intuitively to provide support aggressively without being told what to do or how to do it.

The power of nearly 1,000 Soldiers working in concert to accomplish a goal is truly inspiring. Once Soldiers understand that they are to solve problems, provide support, and continuously improve and innovate, what they can accomplish has no limit. The results of executing offensively speak volumes about the motivation, dedication, and professionalism of our Soldiers. The 168th Brigade Support Battalion knows how to “Make It Happen!”

Lieutenant Colonel Todd A. Heussner is a student at the Army War College. At the time he wrote this article, he was the commander of the 168th Brigade Support Battalion. He holds a B.S. degree in political science from Stetson University and an M.S. degree in logistics management from Florida Institute of Technology and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.