As every Soldier knows, battlefield losses can impact unit effectiveness and lower morale. Certain types of losses are largely beyond the control of the individual Soldier, the commander, and the unit. However, good leadership, proper predeployment preparation, and solid self-discipline can prevent or significantly limit other losses.
The Army is facing the strain of more than 9 years of constant combat, and it is imperative that it reinforce the measures that are already in place to mitigate losses. Commanders and S–1s should take primary responsibility for the enforcement of predeployment requirements and proactive loss prevention before Soldiers depart their home stations.
The function of the brigade S–1 section is to plan, provide, and coordinate the delivery of HR support, services, or information to all assigned and attached personnel within the brigade and subordinate battalions and companies. The brigade S–1 is the principal staff advisor to the brigade commander for all matters concerning HR support.
—Field Manual 1–0, Human Resources Support
Before I joined the Soldier Support Institute, my two previous assignments provided me with the unique opportunity to observe unit personnel readiness from both ends of the Soldier pipeline. From July 2005 to August 2007, I served as the operations officer of the San Antonio, Texas, military entrance processing station. From that station, we shipped more than 4,600 Army recruits to basic training each year. From September 2007 to December 2009, I served as the adjutant/S–1 of the 10th Sustainment Brigade, which had an assigned strength of more than 2,500 Soldiers at Fort Drum, New York, and more than 4,400 Soldiers deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom 09–11.
The 10th Sustainment Brigade's deployed permanent loss statistics were surprising. From December 2008 through the end of August 2009, pregnancy, family issues, and misconduct or legal problems constituted 60 percent of the brigade's personnel losses. Eighty-seven percent of those who left for those reasons were in the rank of staff sergeant or below. The family issues tracked for this statistic included failed family care plans, financial issues that arose because of inadequate preparation, lack of family preparedness, and repeated misconduct of family members.
In contrast, the 10th Sustainment Brigade's casualty losses were just 1 percent of the total personnel losses, even though the brigade spent its entire 12-month deployment supporting the Multi-National Division-Baghdad area of operations.
It may be impossible to entirely avoid losses caused by pregnancy, family issues, and misconduct or legal problems. However, commanders' and S–1s' consistent and thorough application of existing doctrine and regulations for predeployment readiness can substantially reduce the occurrence of these types of losses.
Units typically have at least 12 months to complete predeployment activities. During this time, company commanders and battalion and brigade S–1s, in particular, must be especially diligent in executing the personnel readiness management (PRM) responsibilities and predeployment checklist prescribed by Field Manual (FM) 1–0, Human Resources Support.
FM 1–0 says that the management of personnel readiness “involves analyzing personnel strength data to determine current combat capabilities, projecting future requirements, and assessing conditions of individual readiness.” Units must perform PRM on a constant basis since they cannot quickly overcome an unforecasted loss of a large number of Soldiers.
FM 1–0 details the many predeployment readiness responsibilities of the S–1. A successful unit predeployment readiness plan begins with a standing operating procedure detailing what the S–1 must do before deployment. Working with the company commander and first sergeant, the S–1 should focus on the Soldier Readiness Program, individual Soldier readiness, legal preparedness, medical readiness, and the unit status report.
PRM must be included in all operation orders and operation plans, and the S–1 must aggressively execute Soldier Readiness Program requirements, allocating time to conduct regular, reoccurring Soldier personnel readiness maintenance events.
Simultaneously, the S–1 must carefully manage Soldier readiness processing to validate individual readiness and ensure visibility through updates to appropriate systems and databases. As the S–1 monitors the personnel readiness status (current and projected) of subordinate personnel and units, including key leaders and critical combat squads, crews, and teams, he must routinely advise the commander of each unit's condition.
At the individual Soldier level, the key to reducing permanent losses once downrange for reasons other than medical and casualty is predeployment education and training. Commanders must mandate and enforce Soldier attendance—and encourage in the strongest terms the participation of spouses—at financial readiness classes and the family predeployment briefing provided by the family readiness group. Commanders also must ensure that their Soldiers establish wills and powers of attorney, receive and are briefed on deployment handbooks for families, and fulfill the deployment cycle support requirements that deal with family readiness.
Based on my experience in the 10th Sustainment Brigade, I recommend that commanders verify Soldier financial readiness and triple-check family care plans to confirm that they are truly viable. Commanders also must ensure that rear detachment commanders and command sergeants major are properly trained to help families during a deployment. This Army-provided support network may be the last defense against an otherwise unnecessary personnel loss.
Soldier readiness is a collective effort. The Soldier must take primary responsibility for his own preparedness. S–1s and command sergeants major run a close second in ensuring that every Soldier in the unit has completed the predeployment requirements.
The unit status report at the company level is one of the most important tools to measure and build readiness. This level of leadership and organization has the most impact on an individual Soldier's readiness and his willingness to leave the comforts of home and deploy to combat. The team leader, squad leader, platoon leader, and company commander train and make ready for combat the individual Soldiers in their charge. If genuine, hands-on, involved leadership and discipline are lacking at the company level and below, unit and individual readiness will be impaired or absent altogether.
Serving as a brigade S–1 is a challenging and rewarding experience in any type of brigade, but it is most challenging in a sustainment brigade. For the sustainment community, focusing on readiness at the company level is especially important. The sustainment brigade is the most modular of all the brigades in today's Army. The task organization of its company-level-and-below units is constantly changing, even while deployed.
As a result, the sustainment brigade S–1 has no direct oversight of the personnel readiness of most of his assigned units before they arrive in theater, which makes this mission particularly demanding. Creating readiness at the company level before deployment is therefore crucial in sustainment units.
Commanders and S–1s must not hesitate to enforce readiness standards through all means available, including through a bar to reenlistment, a flag, a chapter from the Army, the evaluation reporting system, and counseling forms. Once the S–1 has developed the PRM execution plan and standing operating procedure and coordinated with the company leaders, it is the duty of those company-level leaders to get their Soldiers ready.
When a Soldier's conduct, performance, and readiness are below the standard, the leader must notify the Soldier of his deficiencies. According to Army Regulation 635–200, Active Duty Enlisted Administrative Separations, commanders must “make maximum use of counseling and rehabilitation before determining that [the Soldier] has no potential for further useful service and, therefore, should be separated.”
When all efforts to help the Soldier have failed, preparation for an administrative discharge is required and sends a final warning: Improve your performance and readiness or face discharge. Ultimately, discharge prior to deployment may be in the best interest of the unit.
The Fiscal Year 2008–2010 Active Component Manning Guidance mandates a minimum assigned strength of 95 percent at latest arrival date and 85 percent deployed strength for sustainment units and other deployed battalions, companies, or detachments. This does not leave room for losing Soldiers for avoidable reasons while deployed. As Army Regulation 635–200 says, Army leaders at all levels bear the responsibility “to provide purpose, direction, and motivation to Soldiers.”
Enforcing all standards all of the time goes a long way in creating and maintaining readiness. FM 6–22, Army Leadership: Competent, Confident, and Agile, says, “Leaders who consistently enforce standards are simultaneously instilling discipline that will pay off in critical situations. Disciplined people take the right action, even if they do not feel like it.”
PRM exists to create and maintain individual and unit readiness, but PRM requires discipline from leaders and Soldiers for effective execution. Every Soldier is important and must realize that he is responsible for getting himself ready and staying ready for combat. Our proud Army deserves this effort.