Army Logistics Leaders Review Progress, Way Ahead
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2010 A panel of senior Army logisticians this week praised advances they’ve seen in the field while stressing the need to retrain the force in military property management.
The panel was part of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting here.
Lt. Gen. Mitchell H. Stevenson, Army deputy chief of staff for logistics, said that while Army logisticians have done tremendous work supporting the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, challenges remain in preparing the force for full-spectrum operations.
Stevenson said an after-action review following successful relief operations in Haiti revealed areas needing attention. “What we learned is we have gotten rusty in some of our skills,” he said. “When you deploy today to Iraq or Afghanistan, you know a year ahead of time. The whole institution is helping push you out the door. We know how to deploy forces.”
But in contingency operations such as disaster relief efforts, he said, equipment that troops are used to “falling in on” in Iraq or Afghanistan has to be taken along. The force is now accustomed to having equipment pre-positioned, the general noted, and must retrain on how to account for and maintain equipment on a unit basis.
“We have forgotten some of our basics,” Stevenson said. “We’ve got to get back to that.”
Stevenson said the force now is accustomed to counterinsurgency operations, and needs to prepare logistically for full-spectrum missions.
“We’ve got to keep remembering that this war we’ve been involved in since 2001 is a special kind of war,” he said. “It’s relatively secure. … We can bring contractors in to support us. We’ve got to keep reminding ourselves of that so we don’t design an Army, and an Army logistics system, that’s reliant on a benign environment where you operate with relative impunity.
“If we get into a full-up, heavy fight with somebody else … we’re not going to have the luxury of secure supply lines and contractors who can go where and when they please,” he added.
Lt. Gen. James H. Pillsbury, Army Materiel Command’s deputy commanding general, said that as the Army looks ahead to resetting the force following the current conflicts, leaders must stress property accountability.
“That’s a skill that we’re going to have to bring back to our Army,” he said, noting that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, has emphasized the need for the service’s leaders to get back into a garrison leadership role.
“We have been out of that, because we’ve been deployed so much,” Pillsbury said. “Part of garrison leadership is property accountability, and getting that culture back, ingrained in our soldiers.”
Lt. Gen. William N. Phillips, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said contracted security, vehicle maintenance and life-support services such as food, housing and utilities have been crucial to success in the current conflicts and have underscored the important role Army contracting officers play.
“You can never separate contracting from logistics,” he said. “It has to be linked.”
Contracting, logistics and combat specialists have to integrate planning, he said, or “bad things are going to happen.”
“You waste taxpayer dollars, and at the end of the day a soldier needs something, and you don’t give it to them. You have to be linked,” he said. “That contracting officer has to sit with that battalion commander or that [logistics officer] and understand what they’re doing. That is critical – operationalizing how we execute contracts is critical.”
Phillips said in response to Casey’s request for training to develop leaders’ understanding of contracting processes, the Army is establishing a contracting course for general officers and senior civilians.
“It’s going to be a short course dedicated to contracting, so our senior leaders across the Army that manage contracts and deal with them every day can better understand how contracts are executed,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Jack O'Connor, director of logistics for 3rd Army, was the final panel member to speak. As U.S. Central Command’s Army component, 3rd Army manages day-to-day operations and planning for Centcom land forces.
O’Connor said the logistics challenge involved in reducing U.S. forces in Iraq while surging troops to Afghanistan and supplying coalition partners there had been phenomenal.
“You can only imagine the complexity of what’s going on out there,” he said.
U.S. bases in Iraq have been reduced from 412 to 90, forces have dropped from 136,000 to 52,000, and 58 percent of equipment on the battlefield has been withdrawn, he said. Meanwhile, 30,000 troops have been added in Afghanistan, and equipment there essentially has doubled.
“We did that in under a year,” O’Connor said. “That’s what we’re there for -- to work through the complexity, the synchronization and integration. That’s what logisticians do every day.”
The effort involved transferring not only people and equipment, but also the means to sustain them, he noted. That means contracts for security, vehicle maintenance, housing, food and utilities in a combat environment.
“Five years ago when I was in Iraq laying in a lot of these major contracts, I thought I’d never see that again,” he said. “Five years later, they all came due, and we had to go out there and resize, reshape, rescope all these contracts.
“We are doing things today that we never thought we would be able to do with the infrastructure and the tools that were in our kit bag,” O’Connor continued. “Logisticians today are figuring out new ways to do business.”
As the Army meets current missions and resets the force for future missions, he said, logisticians have to learn from each other as they prepare to effectively meet future acquisition, maintenance, distribution and contracting needs.
“Supporting mission, people, teamwork,” he said. “We’ve got to be ready. … We know the call is coming. It’s right around the corner. We’ll get this one just about right, and a new complexity will hit us right between the eyes. We’re going to be moving out to the next objective.”