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Tips From Sustainment Brigade Commanders

What makes a successful sustainment brigade commander? The Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff, G−4, asked commanders with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan for their insights.

Some of you may recall the article I penned in the September−October 2007 issue of Army Logistician entitled “Thoughts for Sustainment Brigade Commanders.” Now that many of our Active and Reserve component sustainment brigades have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan (and performed brilliantly, I might add), I thought it would be useful to ask: What has made them so successful? What leadership skills helped when, like clockwork, they enabled the drawdown of nearly 100,000 combat troops and their equipment out of Iraq last year and when we added 60,000 more troops in Afghanistan over the past 2 years? And what leadership strategies are they now employing to be successful?

So, I asked them. And here’s what they told me, providing very sage advice to those who command sustainment brigades. With their tremendous amount of theater experience, they know what works. You’ll see a fair amount of similarity to what I wrote 3 ½ years ago, but that’s OK—it just validates that we are on the right track!


Colonel Ed Daly (43d Sustainment Brigade): “We started our training approach in garrison. Our ‘train to fight’ and ‘fight to be relevant’ approach paid huge dividends when deployed. NCOs [noncommissioned officers], officers, and Soldiers understood the importance of using every opportunity to engage with support units and leverage our capabilities across the battlespace.

“This approach taught the staff that intelligence drives operations and operations dictate sustainment. We had to understand what was occurring operationally in order to make the right adjustments to our concept of support. It was also important to meet and train with all supported units, when possible, in order to begin building relationships even before deployment.”

Colonel Michael Peterman (101st Sustainment Brigade): “The 101st Sustainment Brigade was very lucky to deploy with the division from our home station. We were provided an opportunity, as we prepared for deployment, to leverage training dollars and academics from the higher headquarters. When not deploying with a division headquarters you are stationed with and support in garrison, it is critical that additional TDY [temporary duty] dollars be allocated to allow participation in the various train-up exercises and culminating training events for these supported headquarters.”


Colonel Mark Barbosa (7th Sustainment Brigade): “My focus in going to BSB [brigade support battalion] commanders was to see how they were holding up and then focus on where I needed to enable him or her. We would go over their concept of support for any upcoming major operation or just the general support we were providing. I was able to pick up on a lot of things you just don’t get in a report or an email. Since we were tied in closely with the G−4/G−2, we knew where to inject ourselves.

“The monthly division commander’s conferences were a great time to engage with the brigade combat team commanders outside of their forward operating bases. We were so tied in with the division and their BSBs [that] they thought we were part of the division. I believe none saw the sustainment brigade as an encroachment to their authority; we enjoyed unrestricted, routine access and dialog, and vice versa.”

Colonel Daly: “We developed an engagement plan to ensure we were supporting as well as shaping, influencing, synchronizing, teaching, and coaching. Overall, there were 67 different organizations—tactical to strategic—that we were engaging on a regular basis. Routine battlefield circulation and engagements were key.

“We took every opportunity to meet with all strategic partners—AMC [Army Materiel Command], ASC [Army Sustainment Command], DLA [Defense Logistics Agency], ASA (ALT) [Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology)], SDDC [Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command], DCMA [Defense Contract Management Agency], LOGCAP [Logistics Civil Augmentation Program]—so these organizations knew our requirements and where they could assist.

“I personally attended regional commanders’ conferences and briefed weekly as I wanted the senior battlespace leadership to know that I understood the operational commander’s intent, my commander’s critical information requirements (CCIR) were nested with the regional commanders, and my staff and I had a good understanding and visualization of future operations and upcoming decision points.”


Brigadier General Andre Piggee (15th Sustainment Brigade): “Work to be part of your supported division commander’s daily battle rhythm; participate in the division’s daily commander’s update with quick, hard-hitting log actions and solutions. Collaborate daily with the division’s G−4, and convince the deputy commanding general that you are his senior log adviser for all log issues regardless of who’s responsible for the action. I would check in with my deputy commanding general every day either in person, by phone (preferred), or email. I would invite the division commander to visit my units and ask him to participate in ceremonies. Let him know your units are part of his team.”

Brigadier General Steve Lyons (82d Sustainment Brigade): “This is all about effects—ensuring everything we do in the logistics community is aligned with the desired campaign outcome of winning. This often requires thinking out of the box. The best logisticians understand operations—sometimes better than operators. We’ve come an incredibly long way in this regard.

“It is paramount [that] the sustainment brigade align its battle rhythm to the decision cycle of the supported commander. In addition to being ‘on the net,’ it is equally important to be ‘inside the wire’ with the liaison officer network. It is important [that] liaison officers inside of division headquarters be active planners in shaping outcomes. This affords sustainment brigades the ability to anticipate and link the supported commander’s intent with the reality of the physics of logistics. It also provides important top-cover and leadtime for Soldiers and company-level leaders who actually execute tasks on the battlefield.”

Colonel Barbosa: “The command sergeant major and I circulated the battlefield constantly. It gave us a chance to sit down with the brigade combat team commander and the brigade support battalion commander. It also allowed us to engage with our folks who were on the road, operating from a forward base or the mayor/installation staff we supported.

“We embedded liaison officers in the brigade support battalion staff or in a forward operating base when a brigade combat team wasn’t there. Many times, we supported more than the brigade combat team on the same forward operating base. We also placed a small team of liaison officers with the division G−4, and in every case they proved they were worth their weight in gold. This always kept us two steps ahead of any issue and focused our battlefield circulation visits.”

Brigadier General Gus Perna (4th Sustainment Brigade): “Besides developing strong relationships with the deputy commanding generals you support, I recommend you make an effort to get inside the chief of staff’s routine. Walk the division hallways weekly. Also, make sure your staff understands the [division] G−4 and staff have free access to your headquarters. They have to know you are always available to brainstorm, assist, or just talk.”

Brigadier General Darrell Williams (3d Sustainment Brigade): “The sustainment brigade must be the biggest team player on the battlefield, and getting the job done is all about positive relationships and building trust up, down, and laterally. There can be no light between the sustainment brigade, supported brigades, supported brigade support battalions, supported aviation support battalions, the division G−4/G−1, and the sustainment command you work for.

“Every plan the division G−3/G−4/G−1 even thinks about developing based upon the division commander’s guidance must automatically include the supporting sustainment brigade. If that doesn’t happen, you’re already too late.

“The engineer section is among the most critical enablers on the sustainment brigade staff, especially in active IED [improvised explosive device] areas. The sustainment brigade engineer’s relationship with the sector division engineers, engineer brigade, and local route clearance teams is literally a lifesaver. The relationship is vital to sector-wide support and keeping convoys protected and moving.

“Also ensure your supported units know that you are responsible for human resource and finance support functions. Many of them still don’t know they can come to the sustainment brigade for help in these areas. Have good CCIR in place for these functions, and treat them just as important as you do other sustainment functions.”

Colonel Daly: “Our staff attended over 75 meetings each week—a high price, but well worth the investment to drive sustainment and demonstrate that we were team players. We developed a nested sustainment action plan with 5 lines of effort/operation and 93 sustainment measures of effectiveness.”

Colonel Peterman:
“The importance of nesting with your higher headquarters is essential. Building relationships with these units, being tied into training events, and knowing how the commander and his staff operate will allow the sustainment brigade the ability to be proactive with providing the anticipated support, understanding their missions, as well as leveraging the capabilities they bring to the fight. The regional command has ownership of the assets and combat multipliers necessary for a sustainment brigade’s success.

“Relationships with battlespace owners ensure that when our Soldiers require assistance, we’re able to go to the source directly and conduct coordination for the required assets. For example, we cover multiple battlespaces delivering commodities but have zero organic intel assets. Once a convoy leaves a forward operating base, they’re in someone else’s battlespace.”

Brigadier General Lyons:
“There is no substitution for battlefield circulation. It is imperative to develop or reinforce networks, enable battlefield visualization, and facilitate early-on problem identification and resolution.”


Colonel Barbosa: “Our nightly reports to the expeditionary sustainment command were concise but thorough. We shared these with our organic combat sustainment support battalion and all of the brigade support battalions. I believe it gave the commanders a broad look at the logistics preparations going on in and out of the division’s sector. Many of the commanders then adopted our format as their own, sharing with us what they were sharing with their commanders.”

Brigadier General Williams: “Continue to mentor brigade and aviation support battalion commanders. You must be available for oversight, personal and professional counsel, and advice. Reach out and have a direct relationship with each brigade combat team. They must know they can call you personally any time, day or night, and get results. Support operations officers work out 90 percent of the critical support issues, but often in crucial, time-compressed situations, and sometimes commanders want to speak to a fellow commander.”

Brigadier General Perna:
“Go visit your supported brigade support battalions. Many don’t know what they need or what capacity you bring. You don’t have to own them to influence them. Have the CSSBs [combat sustainment support battalions], BSBs, and AFSBns [Army field support battalions] conduct capability tours with each other, and together they will figure out how to fill seems and gaps.”

Final Tip

Brigadier General Lyons: “Doing more is not always better. The most important decisions you make are what you are willing not to do in order to ensure limited resources are allocated to the most important tasks.”

Well, there you have it—some really valuable advice from commanders who have been there and done that. Due to space constraints, I did not include all that these former commanders sent me, but all of what they sent is available from the Army Combined Arms Support Command’s (CASCOM’s) Directorate of Lessons Learned and Quality Assurance.

And I have a tip of my own. It has to do with supply support activity (SSA) management and oversight. Given the limited automated materiel management capability resident on the BSBs and CSSBs, the sustainment brigade really has to step forward and provide oversight—monitoring performance of the SSAs in the supported area of responsibility and enlisting the help of AMC’s Expert Authorized Stockage List Review Team at the Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA) as required. I think if you talk to those who contributed the advice above, and any other successful sustainment brigade commander, they’d all tell you that they did this—it was just another key to their success.

I hope all of you out there who aspire to command our sustainment brigades save this article and refer back to it from time to time. If you have tips to add, please send them in to CASCOM so others can learn from your experience! Army Logistics—Always There, Always Ready!

Lieutenant General Mitchell H. Stevenson is the Deputy Chief of Staff, G−4, Department of the Army.

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