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Lessons Learned From the First Year
of Activating a Brigade Support Battalion

Many Army logisticians who have served since the start of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have observed firsthand the Army’s challenge of growing capability to respond to a full spectrum of contingency operations. In order to increase dwell time and bring the Army into compliance with the Army Force Generation process, senior Army leaders decided to increase the number of brigade combat teams (BCTs) and support brigades in both the Active and Reserve components.

On 16 August 2009, our brigade, the 3d Infantry BCT (IBCT), 1st Armored Division, was activated at Fort Bliss, Texas. Many courses of action were discussed at the Army’s strategic and operational levels concerning the unit’s structure and what future missions it would undertake.

Although we were scheduled to become the Army’s first unit equipped with Future Combat Systems (FCS), the senior leaders of our brigade focused on the organization being properly manned, equipped, and trained for full-spectrum operations so that we would be available to support any contingency mission. This was especially important because the 3d IBCT was one of the first newly activated units in recent history that did not deploy within a year of its activation, allowing senior Army leaders to observe the effectiveness of the Army Force Generation process as it was originally modeled for Active component units.

The following lessons learned were gathered from the senior leaders of the 125th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) and are designed to educate logisticians on the challenges we experienced and the steps for mitigating these problems. These recommendations are meant to maximize the ability of logisticians to provide sustainment and force health protection support to the warfighter.

Supply Distribution Operations

After experiencing the challenges of activating the 3d IBCT, the distribution company gathered supply distribution lessons learned that may be helpful for future BCT activations.

The first recommendation is to have valid Department of Defense activity address codes (DODAACs) in place 1 year before the effective date for standing up the unit. Second, the senior property book officer and supply support activity (SSA) senior warrant officer should arrive at the installation 9 months before the effective date of the unit’s activation. Third, the SSA location should be identified and prepared for unit activation 6 months before the effective date.

When he arrived at Fort Bliss in January 2009 to serve as the interim 3d IBCT S–4, our distribution company commander quickly learned that the unit had not been assigned valid DODAACs to allow it to place orders for equipment. The 3d IBCT had an effective date of 14 August 2009. That meant the logisticians who were on the ground had only 8 months to prepare for the influx of materiel and personnel.

The senior property book officer started working on the issue of DODAACs in February, and the 3d IBCT was not issued a DODAAC until June. Once the DODAACs were assigned, we learned that they were actually still in use by a reset unit. Therefore, we were on standby and could not order supplies and equipment until the reset unit’s equipment cleared or we were given different DODAACs.

The 3d IBCT was allocated $6 million to stand up the unit. However, with no way to order equipment or supplies, the logisticians on the ground could not prepare for the unit effective date. Temporary DODAACs were issued to the unit, but temporary DODAACs are only valid until 180 days prior to activation, and then the unit transitions to permanent DODAACs.

The 3d IBCT had no operating DODAACs, no computer systems for placing orders, and no SSA available to receive supplies. By the time the brigade had fought through the debate on whether or not central receiving at Fort Bliss could accommodate the flow of orders from an IBCT, the effective date had arrived. Based on this experience, units should ensure that the DODAAC is active 1 year before the effective date and that the senior property book officer and SSA warrant officers are on site no later than 9 months prior to the effective date.

SSA Operations

It is said that “logistics is the lifeblood of war.” If that philosophy is true, then the SSA is the heart of any unit. Unfortunately, an SSA was not included in the initial plans for the 3d IBCT. Eventually, the brigade planned to have an SSA built, but not until the end of 2011 or the beginning of 2012. The 3d IBCT would have to colocate with two existing SSAs in order to begin shipping and receiving procedures. Selecting an SSA site large enough to accommodate inbound cargo involved months of debate between the advance party and installation personnel.

The most important consideration was the security of the site. Because three SSAs were sharing the same building, fencing and memorandums of agreement were necessary. In addition to the shipping and receiving of supplies, the storage of the authorized stockage list (ASL) was a paramount issue for the SSA warrant officer. Because of the delay in selecting an SSA location and the inability to store any ASL that could be delivered, the ASL for the 3d IBCT did not arrive until nearly 8 months after the unit’s formal activation.

Storage containers for the ASL were another challenge because the 3d IBCT was not within an immediate deployment window. The unit leaders drafted and submitted an operational needs statement to purchase the required containers, which arrived shortly before May 2010. To avoid this problem, the SSA warrant officer should be on the ground no less than 9 months before the unit’s effective date, and effective infrastructure and supporting resources should be in place to accommodate early receipt of the ASL so that units can begin collective training at the first opportunity.

The 125th BSB’s distribution company was the nexus for all logistics for the first 180 days after the brigade’s effective date. In addition to acquiring an SSA location, requisitioning equipment, and securing onhand cargo, the distribution company provided direct support for the entire 3d IBCT so that the forward support companies (FSCs) had time to obtain the required manning and training.

Automation

The backbone of the BCT’s Standard Army Management Information Systems (STAMISs) includes eight very small aperture terminals (VSATs) and the Combat Service Support Automated Information Systems Interface (CAISI). A VSAT is easy to install and provides the brigade’s FSCs with Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNET) access anywhere in the world. The CAISI provides an extension of the local area network, enabling units to access the VSAT from up to 32 miles away.

During the STAMIS fielding, we realized that it is imperative that the operations (S–3), support operations, and sustainment automation support management office (SASMO) sections coordinate to deploy individual systems in the proper sequence. The new equipment fielding teams did an excellent job of handling our requests for fielding equipment in the proper order. Their experience in fielding these systems allowed the brigade to communicate the need for this order.

VSATs were fielded first to provide the NIPRNET connectivity that was needed for all the systems to be installed. With the VSATs in place, the Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS), which is the central point in the logistics network, could be installed. With the SARSS connected to the VSAT network, any logistics system that needed to interface with SARSS could now be installed.

With the SARSS installation complete, Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced (PBUSE) was installed and could be used to submit supply requests to the SARSS server. Close on the heels of PBUSE, the Standard Army Maintenance System Enhanced was fielded.

New equipment fielding was always accompanied by new equipment training. This training provided
support personnel and operators with a solid foundation in the fundamentals of supporting and operating the new equipment. Both classroom instruction and over-the-shoulder, on-the-job training were provided for the majority of the fielding. The over-the-shoulder training proved invaluable for both support personnel and operators, since problems or tasks that were not covered in class arose often.

The SASMO is the primary support section for all STAMIS equipment. This section comprises a signal warrant officer, computer technicians, materiel management specialists, and a supply specialist. This mixture of job specialties provides a broad range of logistics and signal abilities that allow the SASMO to support many logistics support functions.

One lesson learned in the SASMO section is the importance of slowing the pace of fielding when possible. One of the challenges of standing up a new BCT is that new personnel and equipment are flowing in simultaneously. This parallel flow does not work well when personnel skills must be matched with equipment; this is especially true in the case of SASMO duties since many Soldiers may not be fully trained on troubleshooting STAMIS systems. Given time to identify the true skill sets of their personnel, leaders can put them in training that better suits each individual’s capabilities.

Slowing the fielding process would allow not only for better training of personnel but also for better selection of support personnel for these systems. One of the current problems that the Army faces is that the SASMO section, although not new to the Army, is new to most Soldiers. With more time to identify the more experienced signal and logistics troops, the SASMO could be staffed with Soldiers who can support the STAMIS architecture with minimal training. The fielding process belongs to the unit; the emphasis should not be put on speed but on the ability of the personnel to field and employ the equipment.

The STAMIS network comprises many systems that together support a complex but intuitive logistics architecture. With the correct fielding schedule and personnel, the logistics network can be installed quickly and will function with minimal maintenance or downtime. Training and personnel are the keys to installing and maintaining a quality logistics network. Proper coordination with all players involved in fielding and training for equipment is important to making operators and support personnel successful in the operation of the BCT’s logistics system.

Force Health Protection

The brigade support medical company in the BSB provides medical support and supplies for the 3d IBCT. Based on a lack of healthcare providers and the influx of new personnel to the brigade, a conscious decision was made to consolidate resources and personnel to staff a consolidated brigade aid station and operate a consolidated combat lifesaver academy.

Executing these courses of action required much from our leaders in terms of planning and resources. Despite initial difficulties, the consolidated aid station has greatly increased the quality of care that Soldiers receive, reduced patient load at the troop medical clinic, and helped to keep Soldiers available for training.

Medical care is a necessity for all Soldiers, and the aid station must be in close proximity for sick call so those who do not have transportation will be able to go without any hassles. The building selected as the aid station must have Internet connectivity so that the healthcare providers will be able to log patients into the medical system and input prescriptions from the aid station. The building also needs to be large enough to protect patient privacy.

These were initial challenges based on the capabilities of the transient facilities that our BCT was initially using. All the medics in the brigade should be included in the 90-day rotation plan to work at the consolidated aid station so that the patient workload is evenly distributed among all medics in the brigade. Adequate class VIII (medical materiel) supplies are needed, including thermometers, pulse oximeters, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and other supplies that the physician assistant deems necessary for use at the aid station.

The stand-up costs for medical supplies should be built into the activation budgets of BCTs so that adequate capability is in place at the effective date. The brigade medical supply section must have an established account designated only for class VIII. All transactions should go through that account, and all orders for the brigade should go through the medical supply warehouse and authorized vendors. The medical supply processes need to be built earlier into the advance party process so that proper oversight procedures can be in place before unit activation.

A tracking system should be developed early to ensure proper ordering, receipt, issue, and accountability of medical supplies. A standing operating procedure must be published in order for the units to know the proper procedure for ordering medical supplies.

Facilities and technology must be considered by installation planners, especially when building new units on installations with limited permanent infrastructure. Adequate space is required in the brigade medical supply warehouse for storing medical supplies. Activated computer systems need to be in place in the warehouse to track orders. Shelves and pallets must be placed in the warehouse according to medical supply regulations.

The Army Combat Lifesaver Program

The Army’s combat lifesaver (CLS) program trains nonmedical personnel on lifesaving skills to improve their chances of saving fellow Soldiers on the battlefield. The course teaches the basic skills needed to sustain life in an emergency situation before a wounded Soldier can be evacuated to a medical treatment facility. The CLS certification is 40 hours and includes classroom instruction and hands-on training.

In the classroom, the CLS students are instructed on basic first aid theory, advanced lifesaving measures, and the reasons behind giving initial care on the battlefield. If the Soldiers pass a written test, they will be evaluated in the second part of the class, which focuses on hands-on skills in the field. In the field, tactical combat casualty care is stressed and includes care under fire, tactical field care, and evacuation of a combat casualty.

The 3d IBCT’s CLS Academy cadre learned two important lessons when they established their program. The first is to have dedicated facilities with audiovisual capabilities for the duration of training. The second is to secure land, ammunition, and training resources to support the field portion of the course.

Official CLS books, which are ordered from Fort Sam Houston, Texas, take about 30 days to arrive, so units should order them early in the advance party process. Advance party personnel should be qualified as range officers-in-charge and range safety officers early on in the activation process to ensure that training is not hindered by noncompliance with post range regulations.

Field Maintenance Operations

One of the most significant challenges our maintenance shops had to deal with was the quality of facilities they initially occupied. This was especially true with our service and recovery, communications and electronics (C&E), general support equipment, field maintenance, and armament shops, which had issues with facility infrastructure, special tools, and senior personnel influx. The following are examples of issues we encountered or had to overcome in order to make our mission as successful as possible using the resources and facilities available to us.

The motor pool allocated for our maintenance operations required more space and tighter security than were available at the time the IBCT activated. The installation was in the process of building our permanent brigade facilities; however, we had to occupy transient facilities in the interim.

The advance party must have adequate expertise in the logistics requirements of the BSB in order to establish semipermanent infrastructure that meets the unit’s needs. Our motor pool had too few cages to store tools, parts, and general equipment separately. The cage our field maintenance section had for parts was also used to store other equipment. And our clamshell facility’s doors locked, but the facility could still be entered through the retractable door.

Work orders for better physical security measures took a long time to start and complete, including those for our C&E facility. Over $140,000 worth of physical security upgrades still needed to be started by the Department of Public Works in order for us to be able to fully support the brigade.

We worked to ensure that the C&E facility was in compliance with regulations and local physical security demands. To emplace a C&E shop in a semipermanent facility, several requirements need to be met, including reinforcing ceiling and walls, placing bars on windows, installing an intrusion detection system, emplacing restriction bars on air-conditioning ducts, and securing roof access control. The work orders on these requests take approximately 15 to 24 months to complete.

Other needed upgrades included upgrading the amperage of each power outlet, installing more power outlets near workstations, and increasing the square footage of the shop from 1,050 to at least 2,100.

The lack of storage containers made it difficult to properly secure new equipment as it arrived. This was compounded by the lack of DODAACs for the unit, which limited our ability to order storage containers until the beginning of fiscal year 2010, even though we activated in fiscal year 2009.

Likewise, new equipment arrivals did not coincide with personnel inflow or the training schedule of the BCT. Some of the company’s maintenance equipment, like our toolboxes, did not arrive until later in the fielding process. The ideal time for the arrival of toolboxes and needed maintenance equipment (technical manuals and safety equipment) would be before any of the MTOE [modified table of organization and equipment] equipment requiring maintenance arrives at the unit.

Moreover, our MTOE did not reflect the critical repair equipment needed to support an IBCT, such as night-vision special tools, storage containers, and distribution boxes. We were unable to submit an operational needs statement for these and other items until 365 days before an operational deployment.

The specialty shops’ MTOEs are often missing the personnel and equipment required to maintain some of the brigade’s specialized communications equipment. Including them on the MTOE requires earlier identification of needed commercial maintenance equipment. New equipment training is also required so that maintainers have the proper skill sets to use the equipment before the start of collective training.

At the time of its activation, the 3d IBCT had less than a dozen vehicles, over 250 Soldiers operating out of 2 buildings, and no motor pool, SSA, or aid station. In less than a year, we organized units, established the logistics footprint of the brigade, received most of our required equipment, established command and support relationships between FSCs and their supported maneuver battalions, and began collective training.

Our culminating event was a brigade-level field training exercise in June. During this exercise, our battalion performed exceptionally over the course of 21 days in a field environment where the daily average temperature exceeded 100 degrees. We pushed over 12,600 meals, 100,000 pounds of ice, 40,000 gallons of fuel, and 60,000 rounds of live and blank small-arms ammunition and provided maintenance, transportation, and medical support to over 2,600 personnel. During a 96-hour brigade force-on-force exercise, we relocated the brigade support area and supported maneuver elements that were as far as 30 kilometers away.

The lessons learned over the last year of our activation have been remarkably educational for the officers, noncommissioned officers, and Soldiers of the 125th BSB. We acknowledge that while we have traveled far since the early days of our BCT advance party’s operation at Fort Bliss, our unit still has a long journey ahead of us as we continue collective training, transition to being the first FCS-equipped BCT, and ultimately enter the force-available pool. However, as things continue to change in today’s dynamic operating environment, we hope that others can benefit from our experiences, avoid some of the challenges we encountered, and find opportunities for excellence.

Lieutenant Colonel Leon G. Plummer is the commander of the 125th Brigade Support Battalion, 3d Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida A&M University and a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and Command and General Staff Officer Course.

Major Eric A. McCoy is the executive officer of the 125th Brigade Support Battalion, 3d Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. He has a bachelor’s degree in mental health from Morgan State University, a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University, and a master’s degree in public policy management from Georgetown University. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, the Combined Arms Services and Staff School, and the Command and General Staff Officer Course (Common Core).

The authors would like to thank Captain Gregory Darden, Captain Jimmy Deer, Captain Adam Hughes, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Juan Dorado for their assistance in developing this article.


 
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