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Special Operations Logistics Support: Sustaining Victory

The nature of a Special Forces unit makes providing its logistics support a unique challenge.

Supporting operational detachments alpha (ODAs) at the Special Operations task force
(SOTF) level in a theater of operations requires efficiency and speed. ODAs do not have time for the logistics hierarchy to run its course. The support company organic to the Special Forces battalion must be able to exploit “Big Army” systems and must be proficient in procuring local host-nation support because logistics functions always have to outrun operations.

Accurately forecasting future requirements will ensure that the Special Forces battalion leaders have the maximum combat power available at all times. The logisticians of the support company’s service detachments must help to ensure that ODAs can remain focused on pressuring enemy networks and conducting their wartime mission.

The organic battalion support company in a Special Forces battalion has four main detachments: headquarters, military intelligence, signal, and service. The primary logistics arm of the company is the service detachment, which is tasked to provide the battalion with immediate direct logistics support, including all aspects of deployment, redeployment, transportation, and maintenance. The service detachment’s responsibilities include coordinating the delivery of all classes of supply to the battalion’s 3 operational detachments bravo and 16 ODAs.

Service Detachment Organization

The service detachment has five sections: aerial delivery, food service, transportation, field maintenance, and electronic maintenance. The detachment provides direct sustainment support for the entire Special Forces battalion and its attached elements. In some cases, the support battalion of the Special Forces group will augment the service detachment’s mission. The mission load for the service detachment in a theater of operations depends on a number of factors, including the theater’s level of development, the operating tempo of the operational detachments bravo and ODAs, and the availability of contract support.

The service detachment does not have an organic line-haul capability, so it must rely heavily on the theater support command, sustainment brigade, group support battalion, or contracted local-national support to get things moved. When the theater support command, sustainment brigade, or group support battalion are in close geographic proximity to the SOTF, coordinating transportation assets is simple.

However, as the distance from these entities to the SOTF increases, coordinating movement becomes much more arduous. As the SOTF spreads out farther from its headquarters, the combined joint special operations task force headquarters, it becomes more important for the service detachments to be able to use alternate methods of procurement, such as P2 (conventional Army sustainment funds), P11 (sustainment funds for special operations), and sole-source contracting for logistics support.

Service Detachment Manning

Based on the fiscal year 2010 modified table of organization and equipment, a Special Forces battalion service detachment is authorized 42 Soldiers. The service detachment commander is designated as a functional area 90A logistics officer. The detachment sergeant is slotted as a military occupational specialty (MOS) 92Y4S, sergeant first class unit supply specialist, with a Special Forces additional skill identifier.

As primary logistics advisers to the battalion support company commander and first sergeant, the service detachment commander and detachment sergeant must be proficient in complex logistics functions. The service detachment includes 3 officers, 5 sergeants first class, 3 staff sergeants, and 31 Soldiers in the ranks of sergeant and below. Critical manning positions are seen throughout each section.

The service detachment mission is multifunctional. The unit has parachute riggers, small-arms repairmen, cooks, fuel handlers, water purification specialists, and various other skill sets that keep the gears of a Special Forces battalion moving. These skill sets enable the battalion to complete its combat mission. Although most of the required skill sets are included in the current modified table of organization and equipment, it does have some glaring shortfalls.

The service detachment would be much more capable of accomplishing its mission if it were augmented with some MOS 88M wheeled vehicle operators and MOS 88N movement control specialists. Although the Special Forces battalion has one 88N assigned to the S–4, the battalion would be better served by having three or four 88Ns in the service detachment where all movement is coordinated. The constant deployments and movements of the Special Forces battalion brings the spotlight to those movement specialists. This increased capability would allow more streamlined processes for submitting time-phased deployment data and physically moving cargo to and from theaters of operations.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom 09–11, SOTF–52’s service detachment provided critical sustainment support across all of southern Iraq. In addition to its core competencies, the detachment completed 12,500 miles of line-haul convoy support delivering critical goods and supplies to the battalion’s ODAs and to Navy SEAL (sea, air, and land) platoons.

The aerial delivery section moved 350 tons of equipment via sling-load operations. The transportation section coordinated for the movement of more than 500 pieces of equipment through the local central receiving and shipping point and movement control team. The food service section facilitated the acquisition of class I (subsistence) supplies for a dining facility that served 1,000 service members daily. The supply element of the service detachment turned in over $10 million worth of excess property as part of the responsible drawdown of forces in Iraq.

All of these actions, although usually transparent to the warfighter, make a difference. The service detachment of the Special Forces battalion provides the battalion’s leaders with a critical service that should never be overlooked.

Captain Cisco J. Fuller is the S–4 for the 3d Battalion, 4th Special Forces Group. He is a graduate of the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, the Aerial Delivery (Rigger) Course, and the Jumpmaster Course.

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