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Training Medical Logisticians

Medical logistics commanders must ensure that critical medical logistics skill sets do not diminish after Soldiers redeploy.

In his 2004 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lieutenant General James R. Helmly, Chief of the Army Reserve, stated, ďThe Army Reserve must be able to provide a variety of enlistment and retention incentives for both officer and enlisted personnel in order to attract and retain quality Soldiers.Ē Retention is sometimes a challenge because Soldiers feel that they spend too much time performing required warrior task training on battle assembly weekends and too little time exercising their military occupational specialty (MOS) skills.

As the new executive officer of the 172d Medical Logistics (MEDLOG) Battalion (Forward), an Army Reserve unit based in Ogden, Utah, I faced a major hurdle after the unit returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2004. In order to retain the Soldiers in the unit, I had to find a way for them to maintain their MOS skills, especially those with critical MOSs such as medical equipment repairer (91A), optical laboratory specialist (91H), and medical logistics specialist (91J). The Soldiers of the 172d MEDLOG Battalion had honed their skills during an intense year of service to their country and the people of Iraq. However, I knew that quality training is the best incentive leaders can offer their troops to retain them and prepare them for future mobilizations.

The new battalion commander and I met the returning Soldiers at Fort Carson, Colorado. We wondered how many would stay in the unit because we knew other units had experienced attrition rates as high as 60 percent when their stop loss ended. Contrary to our fears, almost all of the unitís original members reported to the first battle assembly drill 3 months later, on fire and eager to share their knowledge with new unit members. Now it was our job to devise a training plan for ensuring that the medical logistics skill sets they had acquired and practiced in Iraq did not decline at home station.

While in Iraq, the 172d MEDLOG Battalion had used a forward-deployed team (FDT) concept to facilitate the training of critical MOS skills. Because the FDT concept had been so successful during the OIF deployment, the new commander decided to apply it to the garrison hands-on training mission.

The FDT Concept in Iraq

More than 55 percent of the personnel who mobilized with the 172d MEDLOG Battalion to serve in OIF 1 had been cross-leveled from other Army Reserve units nationwide or from Professional Filler System (PROFIS) sources. (Eligible Active component officer and enlisted personnel with deployment-essential skills are identified as PROFIS fillers. During mobilization, they fill positions in field medical units’ modification tables of organization and equipment.) The cross-leveled personnel included the entire command group and staff, two company commanders, and a miscellany of enlisted personnel. Because the unit had departed Ogden for Fort Carson just 5 days after its activation, it was not able to conduct home station annual training that would have allowed its new leaders to evaluate individual MOS competency levels. Fortunately, after the Soldiers arrived at Fort Carson and completed required warrior task training, Soldier readiness processing, and logistics operations associated with mobilization, their leaders were able to arrange for them to receive medical supply, optical fabrication, and medical equipment repair on-the-job training with the Evans Army Community Hospital Logistics Department. Some 91Js also received refresher training on the Theater Army Medical Management Information System (TAMMIS) at the Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Medical equipment repairers usually retain their MOS 91A skills because they hold full-time civilian jobs in that field. However, 91H and 91J Soldiers rarely work in civilian jobs that match their MOS skills. As a result, battle assembly drills and 2 weeks of annual training are the only opportunities these Soldiers have to practice their MOS skills. In fact, the lack of MOS training created a potentially serious logjam in the medical logistics mission during the first stages of OIF 1 while these critical personnel relearned their MOS skills “on the fly.”

In March 2003, the 172d MEDLOG Battalion arrived at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, to conduct reception and staging operations. The unit then moved on to Forward Logistics Base Dogwood at Iskandariyah, Iraq, and finally to Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda in Balad for integration operations.

By the time the unit arrived at LSA Anaconda, its leaders had determined that the best way to support their customers was to send out FDTs to provide direct support to combat support hospitals and area support to joint and multinational forces. The battalion formed six FDTs. A team of three 91Js was assigned to augment the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. A team of three (and sometimes four or five) 91Js was dispatched to Camp Doha, Kuwait, to work with the Coalition Forces Land Component Command. Three 91Js composed a team that was sent to help the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force set up its medical supply warehouse. A team of 28 Soldiers [a distribution company (-)] formed a team that provided medical logistics support to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the Stryker brigade combat team in Mosul. A team of five to six 91Js provided medical logistics support to U.S. forces in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport. Finally, a team of two 91Js provided medical supply support to the multinational forces at Hillah. The 172d also stationed a liaison team at Camp Arifjan to assist with medical supply issues. That team included a Medical Service Corps officer with medical functional area 70K (health services materiel) and two to three 91Js.

Customers in the field typically used Very Small Aperture Terminals to send requests for medical supplies to the FDTs. The teams relayed the requests to the 172d’s logistics support company in Balad. The requests were consolidated and sent electronically to Camp Arifjan (later to the Army Medical Materiel Center Southwest Asia in Qatar). In the early stages of OIF 1, the medical supplies flowed back into theater through Camp Arifjan. Later, as facilities became available, the supplies were sent directly to Baghdad International Airport and LSA Anaconda from Qatar.

In addition to providing medical supply support, the battalion’s main body and the FDT at Mosul sent 91A contact teams and division medical supply offi-cers to the 21st Combat Support Hospital in Balad and to the respective division medical supply offices to provide biomedical equipment repair support as needed.

Requests from outlying units for eyeglasses came through the combat support hospitals to the battalion’s Optical Fabrication Section at LSA Anaconda. The 172d also set up an eye clinic in the troop medical clinic there to provide area support to troops stationed in and around Balad. When they received a prescrip-tion, the 91Hs ground new lenses and sent the glasses directly to the customer or back to the troop medical clinic for personal pickup if the customer preferred.

The FDT Concept at Home Station

The 172d is the only MEDLOG battalion west of the Rocky Mountains. Headquartered in Ogden, Utah, with a distribution company based in St. George, Utah, the battalion is ideally located to provide medical supply, optical fabrication, and medical equipment repair support for 15 Western states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming). With the assistance of its higher headquarters—the 2d Medical Brigade in San Pablo, California—the unit could easily set up FDTs in some of those states.

Each team would have a derivative unit identification code of the parent unit, but it would receive personnel and logistics support from the Army Reserve unit with which it collocated. For example, medical equipment repair and optical fabrication services could be based with the unitís main body in Ogden, and support requests typically would flow through that location. However, units could schedule 91A and 91H contact teams to come to their locations (or to their servicing FDTís location) to conduct annual medical maintenance or mobilization assistance as needed.

Medical supply requests would flow through the teams as either routine or emergency requisitions.

Routine requisitions. Most medical supply requests would be treated as routine because units normally are able to schedule training 90 days in advance. On battle assembly weekends, Army Reserve units would submit requisitions to their servicing FDTs by email. The FDTs would forward the requests to the 172d MEDLOG Battalionís hands-on training mission manager in Ogden. He would consolidate the requests before forwarding them by email or TAMMIS to the medical supply source for filling. The hands-on training mission manager would be either an Active Guard/Reserve 91J or a civilian contractor with experience in medical supply processes. To maintain continuity of services when the MEDLOG battalion is mobilized, the hands-on training mission manager ideally would be either a civilian contractor who is not a mobilization asset or a retired or discharged 91J.

Emergency requisitions. Because units sometimes receive little or no notice of mobilization or changes to training schedules, customers would generate emergency requests on a fill-or-kill basis. For example, Army Reserve units in each geographic area would submit their medical supply requisitions by email directly to the hands-on training mission manager in Ogden. If he had the item in stock, the manager would ship it immediately to the customer. If he did not have the item on hand, the manager would forward the request to his medical supply source for fill or kill. If the item was on hand, the supply source would ship it to the hands-on training mission manager, who would FedEx it to the customer. Under extreme circumstances, the hands-on training mission manager would have the medical supply source ship the item directly to the customer. If a medical supply source was located nearby, the customer’s servicing FDT could order and receive the item from the source and ship it directly to the customer.

Feasibility of the Home Station FDT Concept

Because of the potential time lag for receiving medical supplies, some unit commanders are hesitant to support the home station FDT concept. Army Reserve units located near Active Army installations want to know why using the MEDLOG battalion’s services would be better than setting up their own medical supply account and receiving supplies directly from the hospital on post. This is a valid concern because using the FDT concept actually would add a few days to the customer wait time.

The hands-on training mission can meet the demand for most authorized medical supplies in a timely manner, provided a unitís ordering agent follows the appropriate requisition processes. It is true that units can receive medical supplies directly from the source while at home station. However, once deployed to a combat area, they have to use the supply requisition system that is managed by the theater MEDLOG battalion.

The home station FDT concept complements the Army Reserve Expeditionary Force model in three ways. First, it ensures that Army Reserve logistics personnel understand the medical supply requisition processes used in theater. Second, it provides a viable means for 91J and 91H Soldiers to maintain and sharpen their MOS skills. Third, it enhances the ability of combat support hospitals and forward surgical teams to maintain the operability and readiness of their medical equipment sets.

Medical logistics commanders must ensure that critical medical logistics skill sets honed during deployment do not diminish when Soldiers redeploy. If implemented regionally throughout the Army Reserve by the Army Reserve Command (USARC) and the new Army Reserve Medical Command (AR≠MEDCOM), the home station FDT concept would provide the quality MOS training that combat-experienced Soldiers want and need. Combined with warrior task training, this support concept would produce a synergy that would help the Army Reserve retain and field a fully trained and ready force.

The USARC, AR≠MEDCOM, and unit commanders must work together to retain critical medical logistics assets by affording 91A, 91H, and 91J personnel regular and realistic MOS training in conjunction with warrior task training. They can do this by using the FDT concept to facilitate the training of these critical MOSs while improving the readiness of all Army Reserve units, especially medical units. This, in turn, will enhance the readiness of the Army Reserveís Expeditionary Force by generating and retaining trained and ready medical logistics personnel who can support the force effectively during mobilization.

Major Paul Wakefield is assigned to the 84th Army Reserve Readiness Training Center at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, with duty as an instructor for the Department of Logistics and Resource Operations, Army Command and General Staff College. He served previously as the executive officer of the 172d Medical Logistics (MEDLOG) Battalion (Forward) in Ogden, Utah, where he worked to develop the home station forward-deployed team (FDT) concept of support. He has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Weber State University and a master’s degree in administration and management from Lindenwood University.

The author wishes to thank Colonel Jeffrey Cockrell and Command Sergeant Major Vicki Briggs, former Commander and Command Sergeant Major, respectively, of the 172d MEDLOG Battalion, for their input to the development of the FDT concept.