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Human Resources Operations: A Force Enabler in the Sustainment Community

Field Manual (FM) 5–0, Army Planning and Orders Production, states, “The measure of a good plan is not whether execution transpires as planned but whether the plan facilitates effective action in the face of unforeseen events.” In the case of human resources (HR) in an operational environment, HR doctrine has not been executed as planned because of already established theater requirements. HR units were created, and then the doctrine was developed. When the 14th Human Resources Sustainment Center (HRSC) deployed to Kuwait in 2008, many of us who were new to theater HR doctrine and its purpose were challenged by the different constructs. Only time and knowledge gained from a deployed experience would change our perception of HR support to full-spectrum operations.

This article will—

  • Acknowledge the challenges of transforming while providing support to combat operations.
  • Highlight the importance of relationship building and how it affects success on the battlefield.
  • Review human resources operations branch (HROB) employment trends.
  • Examine the employment of select functions—postal operations, R5 (reception, replacement, return to duty, rest and recuperation, and redeployment) operations management, and HR companies.
  • Provide recommendations for the future.

Challenges With Transforming

Providing HR services to an ever-changing battlefield in support of full-spectrum operations has proven to be a challenge to the HR community. When modularity began over 4 years ago, the only HR personnel who could speak intelligently about the new theater-level HR support doctrine were those who wrote it. Many within the HR community were unfamiliar with the new doctrine and, in many cases, questioned the logic behind the changes. The changes removed us from our comfort zone and forced the HR community to step into the operational realm, working operational issues at every level as an HR enabler with logisticians in the sustainment community. This proved to be an especially daunting task for the HR community, which has employed many “itty bitty units” (or teams) throughout the theater.

For example, a casualty liaison team, which is composed of five Soldiers led by a sergeant (E–5), is often on its own away from its parent HR company and attached to a multinational task force’s level-III medical treatment facility or a two-star general officer headquarters. Another example of a typical HR “itty bitty unit” is the R5 personnel accounting team, which is composed of six Soldiers led by a staff sergeant (E–6), positioned at theater entry points, and tasked to perform personnel accounting at critical entry and exit nodes. HR “itty bitty units” generally operate at the tactical and operational levels and are critical to mission accomplishment. Although the units encountered some problems initially, providing theater HR operations in a modular environment works.


Members of the 14th HRSC are building relationships and sharing experiences with expeditionary sustainment commands (ESCs), sustainment brigades, HR companies, military mail terminal directorates, and theater gateway directorates across all Army components. Although having direct command and control would be helpful and could make things easier, good relationships and a common purpose are beneficial to modular HR operations.

Currently, the 14th HRSC is adapting and creating new procedures and continuously assessing itself with every lesson learned. It is also developing new training plans and standards that will enable future deploying HR units to prepare for the changing operational environment. Finally and most importantly, the 14th HRSC continues to evolve, like any learning organization. The way ahead for HR operations must be understood from the lowest nodes all the way to the HRSC level. Soldiers of the 14th HRSC must promote, educate, and infuse ourselves within the sustainment community because we are a part of the team.

HR Operations Branch Employment Trends

Over the first 5 months in theater, the HRSC staff observed many trends in the employment of HROBs at the ESC and sustainment brigade levels, some in accordance with doctrine and others based on operational needs. In the previous theater rotation, two sustainment brigades had put operational control of the HROBs under the brigade special troops battalion. In other cases, the HROB was completely disbanded or nonexistent, typically because of mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations (METT–TC).

Ideally, the HROB should remain staffed under the support operations (SPO) section, as is the case with all the other support branches. Within the HROB, at both the ESC and sustainment brigade levels, the staff must be manned with experienced HR personnel who are trained and allowed to execute their mission. Although commanders can employ their personnel as they determine appropriate to accomplish the mission, they should gain an understanding of the capability HR planners bring to the fight in an expeditionary environment. Senior commanders need to become aware of the benefits of properly employing the HR services provided by HR units and branches within the sustainment community.

To fully appreciate the HR support mission, the commander must first understand HR capabilities. Thus, it is important for HR planners to convey all the HR services that theater HR units provide to the sustainment community. The top 11 reasons a commander and SPO need a functional HROB are that the HROB—

  • Provides operational guidance to all subordinate HR units.
  • Understands which HR systems are critical to mission success.
  • Monitors and helps establish HR contracting efforts within the command’s battlespace (by writing performance work statement language and interacting with contractor management).
  • Analyzes redeployment or reallocation of HR units within the battlespace.
  • Develops the HR concept of support, to include courses of action (COAs) to support mission requirements.
  • Analyzes COAs to determine the best method to support HR operations in an unpredictable environment.
  • Conducts inspections of Army post offices, ensuring integrated, accurate, and timely mail processing.
  • Provides current and future planning capabilities through the SPO to the commander (HR unit distribution management).
  • Understands and coordinates HR unit force tracking to ensure that staffing has no gaps or excessive overlaps and develops mitigation strategies as required.
  • Provides the commander’s HR subject-matter experts in all of the HR functional areas (postal operations, casualty operations, R5, and personnel accounting and strength reporting).
  • Acts as the conduit through which commanders influence the HR concept of support in the battlespace.

Organizational Changes

In 1 year, all components of the Army deployed over 65 percent of the R5 plans and operations teams and personnel accounting teams in the HR force. The high employment of these teams was the result of inadequately evaluating the number of teams needed based on doctrinal missions in a changing operational environment. This mistake was exacerbated by a disagreement between the HR and logistics communities concerning how to employ HR elements. In the end, the HR accountability mission could have been accomplished with fewer HR teams, provided the gateway’s vital non-HR activities, such as convoy escort duties, were performed by other appropriate units. The mitigation strategy was as simple as determining the HR requirements and providing the right number of units capable of executing the mission.

HR units must become more interoperable in order to remain relevant in the future. The current modular HR system deploys “plug and play” HR units separately from their parent elements. HR companies must begin to train and deploy as consolidated units, not as separate, independent HR elements. The value of this type of training and utilization enables company commanders to practice receiving a mission and sourcing it with the necessary skill sets. Today, it is possible for an HR company commander to serve anywhere from 18 to 24 months and never see or know some of his Soldiers because of the current operating tempo.

HR Operational Support Mission

In the 14th HRSC, we are just starting to fully understand our responsibilities as theater HR planners. By developing the same analytical skills associated with combat operations, we have learned to accomplish our HR operational support mission. We also must continue to educate the sustainment community on what we can do for them. The sustainment community has been receptive; however, more progress is needed. Some logisticians have embraced the modular transformation, inviting us to their meetings and seeking our input. This is a good start. We must continue efforts to educate not only those in the sustainment world but also those in the HR community. Too many of our HR Soldiers are not aggressively studying the changes to HR doctrine and still perceive the HR world to be centered only on G–1 and S–1 functions.

Although no formal training focuses on HROB functions yet, it will soon. Some HR personnel believe that the doctrine needs to change, but perhaps the doctrine needs to be fully implemented first. Doctrine is not perfect, as its purpose is to provide a common philosophy and language that enhance unity of effort. However, this is not an excuse for leaders within the HR community not to take the initiative in training HROBs now. Some general resources are available that will help HR staff prepare for their roles in an HROB, including FMI 1–0.02, Theater Level Human Resources Support, FM 3–0, Operations, and FM 5–0, Army Planning and Orders Production. The modular operational HR structure is here to stay, with minor changes in the HR company structure expected in the future. HR operations play an integral part in the overall sustainment effort and will continue to remain relevant to this effort at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.

Postal Operations Mission

From a postal perspective, the HR operational impact on the sustainment community is maximized when the SPO understands the importance of command and control and contractor relationships, the SPO understands the importance of postal knowledge and adaptability to the deployed environment, and when ownership implies use of postal assets for appropriate HR missions. In postal operations, the guidance we provide is often directive in nature because it is based on statutes and regulations. However, based on experience, our effectiveness derives from the relationships we develop with the sustainment brigade and ESC HROBs, HR companies, and postal platoons. Because an HRSC has no direct command and control relationship with HROBs and subordinate HR elements, the 14th HRSC has worked diligently to establish a good rapport with its HR counterparts. This has worked so far, but we understand that it may prove difficult for others who do not recognize or value the importance of these working relationships.

While HROBs must take ownership of their postal assets and become subject-matter experts, the HRSC postal operations division provides tremendous technical expertise and support to HROBs and postal platoons. Nonetheless, having HROBs take ownership of postal assets creates a more efficient operation and fosters greater interest in ensuring mission success.

The relevance of HR relationships in the modular structure is clear. All involved must work toward incorporating the new theater HR doctrine, and the HR and logistics communities need to continue relevant communication. Only through our common purpose, expeditionary mindset, and will to succeed will this new structure work. Although HR units are relatively small, the impact of HR support on servicemembers’ morale and welfare is enormous. The way ahead will entail finding a way to transform HR units into the right fit for HR operations and support missions. To achieve this end, HR planners cannot afford to be intellectually complacent.

Lieutenant Colonel Darwin A. Frett is the 14th Human Resources Sustainment Center plans and operations division chief at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. He holds an M.S. degree in human resources and is a graduate of the Human Resources Management Course and the Air Command and Staff College.

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