Jan - Feb 2012: Article

Leveraging Sustainment Units for Alaska Maintenance

The Army Sustainment Command's expanded responsibility for supporting operational-level logistics in the continental United States was tested when mechanics from units in Washington, Kansas, and Texas traveled to Alaska to maintain equipment left behind by deployed units.

For small teams of Soldiers sent to Alaska last summer, it was a chance to do what they do best. For the commanding generals of the Army Materiel Command (AMC) and the Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), it was evidence that a memorandum of agreement (MOA) called "Leveraging Sustainment Organizations in the Continental United States" is yielding operational benefits.

Called "LSOC" in logistics circles, the intent of the MOA is "to build upon the already strong relationships between the Expeditionary Sustainment Commands (ESC), the Sustainment Brigades (SB), the Army Sustainment Command (ASC), and the Army Field Support Brigades (AFSB), all in support of the senior commander and his/her Army force generation (ARFORGEN) mission."

On the ground at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, LSOC meant that maintenance Soldiers from the "lower 48" spent the summer maintaining vehicles left behind when their fellow Soldiers of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division (1–25 SBCT), deployed to Afghanistan.

mechanic with the 1st Maintenance Company

The AMC–FORSCOM Partnership
Although the Alaska mission was clear-cut, planning for it broke new ground and exercised new lines of authority. For the past decade, installation directorates of logistics (DOLs) have provided maintenance capability to assigned units. With the advent of the Materiel Enterprise, DOL activities are being absorbed by ASC in its role as AMC's operational arm. Paired with LSOC, it is a new way of doing business.

As outlined in the four-star MOA, ASC plans, prepares, and executes operational-level logistics within the continental United States (CONUS). The agreement goes on to charge ASC with the responsibility for executing its CONUS mission by coordinating with FORSCOM sustainment organizations while supporting FORSCOM priorities.

At the Army command level, the operating force (FORSCOM), with its responsibility for the Readiness Enterprise, has agreed to partner with the generating force (AMC, with ASC as its agent) to integrate sustainment capabilities and apply them to readiness priorities.

The 13th ESC, headquartered at Fort Hood, Texas, coordinates activities in the newly created LSOC–West region, which encompasses all FORSCOM activities west of the Mississippi River (except for Louisiana) and liaises with ASC's 404th and 407th AFSBs. The 3d ESC, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, is partnered with the 406th AFSB to create LSOC–East.

295th Quartermaster Company

Leveraging Support in Alaska
Seeing that a tactical opportunity could be derived from the MOA's strategic direction, ASC's 404th AFSB, through its on-scene element, the Army Field Support Battalion (AFSBn)–Alaska, identified a requirement for additional maintenance capability at the Fort Wainwright DOL. Fort Wainwright's DOL needed more manpower to meet its commitment to maintain and return mission-ready equipment left behind by three deployed units. The mission was a good candidate for an LSOC solution.

Until very recently, shortfalls in installation maintenance capability were routinely solved by augmenting the DOL workforce with contracted labor. This is a costly solution and provides no training for Soldiers. "Bringing Soldiers into the equation creates new opportunities," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Billy J. Jackson, the chief of maintenance and workloading at ASC's Distribution Management Center.

In the case of the 1–25 SBCT in Alaska, Jackson noted, "The 404th delivered a business case analysis to ASC, which we used to help identify workforce requirements. Our workload planning method enabled us to identify specific skills and the number of people possessing those skills required to meet the mission."

Armed with its detailed analysis, ASC developed a concept of support for a Soldier-based solution that FORSCOM concurred with and tasked the 13th ESC to support.

"The 13th ESC canvassed the sustainment brigades in LSOC–West, and several were able to provide support," reported Major Edwin Marcelino, a 13th ESC support operations officer. Jackson added, "While they're on the job in Alaska, the LSOC Soldiers will be partnered with AFSBn–Alaska, which has a coordinating team on site." Soldiers of 3 sustainment brigades from the lower 48 states would service and repair up to 600 pieces of rolling stock.

Support Comes North
First to trek north in June were 593d Sustainment Brigade Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, followed in July by a maintenance support team from the 1st Sustainment Brigade at Fort Riley, Kansas. A maintenance support team from the 4th Sustainment Brigade at Fort Hood closed out the 1–25 SBCT LSOC mission in August.

On the receiving end at Fort Wainwright, Mark Chapman was the man on point for the Materiel Enterprise. A logistics management specialist assigned to AFSBn–Alaska, Chapman was the liaison between the visiting maintenance support teams and their Fort Wainwright hosts. "Our mission is enabling maintenance Soldiers to do their jobs without delay or distraction," Chapman said.

wheeled-vehicle mechanic

Soldiers Develop Their Skills
Besides attending to basic life support like quarters and subsistence for the visiting Soldiers, AFSBn–Alaska and Fort Wainwright teamed to ensure that mission-related logistics support was in place. "Ensuring repair parts are on hand, on time, is an obvious requirement," Chapman said. Many other details were less apparent, but equally crucial. "Arranging fuel for the vehicles in repair and ensuring hazardous materials are properly handled are just two examples of requirements for a successful maintenance mission."

Chapman, who is a retired Army maintenance warrant officer, saw benefits accruing for the Soldiers who were turning wrenches 6 days a week at Fort Wainwright. "Their entire effort . . . focused on the shop floor. On the battlefield, or at home station, other demands reduce the amount of time and attention Soldiers can devote to their primary skill. While they're here, it's all maintenance, all the time. In my view, this helps them sharpen their skills."

Sergeant Joshua L. Brown, a wheeled vehicle mechanic from Fort Riley, echoed Chapman's assessment. "I've only been in this specialty a couple years, so this is a great chance for me to hone my skills," he said. "I've already completed two or three maintenance tasks I've never done before."

Brown, who is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 541st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, pointed to the variety of work as another bonus. "In a headquarters company, I don't have the opportunity to work on that many trucks, and the big jobs all go to another level. Here, I get up in the morning knowing I'm going to be inspecting, troubleshooting, and repairing trucks all day long. I'm absolutely improving my skills." Camaraderie will not show up on a work order or a briefing chart, but it is a point of pride for Brown. "We're Army mechanics doing Army work. When the 1–25 [SBCT] Soldiers return from Afghanistan, their trucks will be as good as we can make them."

Sergeant Jon F. Billiter has been downrange for many of his 12 years as an Army wheeled-vehicle mechanic. "There's not much opportunity to turn wrenches," he said, recalling entry control points, convoy protection, and all the other demands on Soldiers in combat. "This is a great opportunity, not just for me, but also for the five Soldiers in my squad," he said of the Alaska mission. "We need to get 'old school' and become expert mechanics so our skills are equal to our rank as we move up. NCOs [noncommissioned officers] have to be leaders and teachers, able to pass their skills along to the next generation."

Describing his Soldiers' enthusiasm for the intense, hands-on opportunity to get greasy, Billiter observed, "I can't pull 'em off the trucks to go to chow. I have to insist. This is the first time in years I have spent more time in coveralls than duty uniform. As far as I am concerned, a mechanic's duty uniform is coveralls."

Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Benefits to DOL
Besides hosting the Soldier-mechanics, the Fort Wainwright DOL also had a role, and a stake, in the LSOC mission. "We're all new at this LSOC opportunity, as well as being new to ASC's operations, so we're sorting out the most effective ways to partner my people with the visiting Soldier-mechanics while adapting to a new chain of command," said Anthony van Hoveln, maintenance supervisor at the Fort Wainwright DOL. "We're glad to have the help. Whatever turns out to be the best method, we're all about the mission. When the 1–25 Soldiers come home from Afghanistan, we'll hand over their left-behind equipment at [technical manual] 10–20 standard. They'll be good to go."

The operating force and the generating force agree that LSOC is one smart solution to the vexing problem of materiel readiness. "Our 21st-century, expeditionary Army is radically different than the one I grew up in," said Chief Jackson, a 29-year veteran. "For almost 10 years now, the operational tempo has demolished the garrison routine on which we based our logistics practices."

The incessant demands of combat on two fronts have required the Army to resort to contingency measures, including contracted labor, Jackson observed. "Contracts were the best answer, but now that we are winding down in Iraq, we have the opportunity to afford our Soldiers opportunities to hone their technical skills."

LSOC operations also have a financial benefit. "It is estimated that using military mechanics to perform the maintenance on the 1–25 SBCT equipment will avoid approximately $1.5 million in labor costs," Major Marcelino noted.

It all adds up. Materiel readiness gets a boost, enabling 1–25 SBCT Soldiers to come home to a fleet of ready vehicles. Soldiers' technical skills get an intensive workout, yielding a more capable sustainment base. And the Army saves significant money in a time of fiscal constraint.

Marcelino summed it up: "This maintenance mission showcases the flexibility and agility afforded by LSOC relationships and regional collaboration, even across traditional major command and combatant command lines, to solve collective sustainment problems."

There will be more LSOC missions in the future. The MOA on Leveraging Sustainment Organizations in the Continental United States calls on ASC to "translate the FORSCOM commander's operational priorities into priorities of continental United States sustainment support" while establishing "strategic and joint interfaces to facilitate synchronization and integration efforts. . . ."

Exploiting the collaborative nature of enterprise operations, the agreement focuses ASC on maximizing its "strategic, operational and tactical reach through close coordination with AMC, FORSCOM G–4 and continental United States Expeditionary Sustainment Commands."

It's a tall order, and one that places ASC squarely "on the line" with the Soldiers it serves.

Charles W. Fick, Jr., is the lead writer for the Army Sustainment Command Public Affairs Office at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. An Air Force veteran, he attended Ohio University and the University of Maryland and is a graduate of the Department of Defense Short Course in Communications at the University of Oklahoma and a number of Defense Information School courses.


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