In a 4th Sustainment Brigade officer professional
development session, Colonel Gustave Perna, the brigade commander,
spoke to a group of captains new to his formation about what
the unit had done in its previous Operation Iraqi Freedom
(OIF) deployment. Not only had the brigade served in combat
as a fully modular sustainment unit of action, accomplishing
its mission of providing supplies for over 70,000 coalition
Soldiers in the Baghdad area of operations; it had done so
without losing a single Soldier.
Logging 3 1⁄2 million miles on 5,000 combat logistics
patrols without losing a Soldier had never been done before.
This accomplishment has a tendency to pique interest, and
one captain asked Colonel Perna, “How did you do it?”
He answered, “I never take God out of the equation.
I thank God everyday for bringing everyone home.” He
went on to say, “Specifically, however, I believe our
success is owed to five areas of leadership involvement: the
AAR [after-action review] process, intelligence-driven operations,
creating logistics flexibility, standards and discipline,
and equipment maintenance.”
These areas, Colonel Perna explained, contributed to the unit
becoming proactive versus reactive, which is a term used daily
in the military, typically in a good versus bad or prepared
versus taken-by-surprise context. For the 4th Sustainment
Brigade, proactive verses reactive means success at implementing
the five aspects of leadership involvement that catalyze a
new system of logistics execution. When the brigade embraced
and practiced these areas in Iraq, they transcended some old
ways of thinking with unprecedented success.
Building the Foundation
The foundation of this new logistics system was built on organizational
changes. In the months leading up to deployment, the battalions
of the 4th Infantry Division Support Command were stripped
away and the Army drafted a new modification table of organization
and equipment (MTOE) for the remaining headquarters element
to create the fully modular 4th Sustainment Brigade. The idea
was to plug battalions from throughout the Active Army, Army
National Guard, and Army Reserve into the 4th Sustainment
Brigade once in theater. These units would work with the brigade
to provide supplies, maintenance, and transportation support
to coalition forces in the area of operations.
Although the brigade’s subordinate battalions would
not be in place until deployment, the Fort Hood, Texas-based
headquarters element began its internal transformation with
guidance from the commander. Colonel Perna wanted three sections
within his staff—future operations, current operations,
In a break from normal doctrine, the support operations officer’s
(SPO’s) role would change from handling day-to-day operations
to planning future operations—tracking repair orders,
researching future missions, scanning fragmentary orders for
future taskings, and looking for ways to improve storage capacity
on forward operating bases (FOBs). The S–3’s role
then would be moved to the forefront and greatly expanded
to handling current operations—overseeing all missions
once planning was completed, managing all transportation movement
requests, interfacing with battalions, informing battalions
of changing conditions, and modifying requirements.
The original breakout split responsibilities equally between
the S–3 and SPO. This approach, while the simplest,
gave both the S–3 and SPO unneeded personnel. Materiel
management office Soldiers, for example, were not fully utilized
in the current operations section; likewise, transportation
personnel were underutilized in future operations. As planning
continued, swap-outs were made to improve productivity and
refine the new structure.
Other changes to the future operations section included moving
all MTOE-assigned S–3 personnel to current operations,
moving the effects section from S–3 to SPO, and moving
the host nation personnel into the general supply office.
Current operations also underwent further changes, such as
moving the field service section to future operation’s
general supply office, combining distribution with transportation,
and transferring the property book office to the S–4
section over in administration’s group. The brigade
continued to adjust the organization while in Iraq.
With the structure more firmly in place, the 4th Sustainment
Brigade, once in Iraq, could shift its efforts to focus on
the five leadership involvement areas that would make it effective.
The AAR Process
Learning from the past and gaining feedback from convoys as
they accomplished their missions were integral to improving
effectiveness at FOBs and adjusting to changing enemy tactics,
techniques, and procedures. The brigade corresponded with
commanders from up to two rotatio ns before OIF 05–07
to find out what they had learned. While not all that they
learned was relevant for the 4th Sustainment Brigade’s
time in Iraq, the practice of being open to feedback and flexible
to change was the attitude Colonel Perna wanted to cultivate.
The brigade used the AAR comments from the previous rotations
as a starting point and built from there.
The relief-in-place/transfer-of-authority element was also
very important to the AAR process—not only for the brigade’s
headquarters element, but also for the battalions as they
entered and left the theater during the year. If outgoing
and incoming battalion commanders took the proper amount of
time to share how to conduct elements of operation, the incoming
battalion would have a far easier time adapting to the 4th
Sustainment Brigade operating tempo.
To help integrate battalions into the larger brigade picture,
Colonel Perna had each of his battalion commanders give him
an update briefing as a part of his daily update brief for
brigade operations. The commander’s update allowed battalion
commanders to respond with questions or concerns to the guidance
put out by the brigade staff. It also gave them a chance to
share information related to their mission effectiveness and
allowed Colonel Perna to monitor the progress of correcting
or improving situations for his battalions. The AAR process
continued throughout the year.
The AAR process transcended boundaries through the common
operating picture that the brigade had with the Command Post
of the Future and its relationship with the 4th Infantry Division.
Hearing what people had experienced and turning those lessons
into training and execution helped the brigade adapt to the
To keep the preponderance of good ideas from overwhelming
the company commanders, Colonel Perna acted as the filter
for good ideas. He wanted to ensure that Soldiers were focused
on doing the basics well and benefitting from the core lessons
One of the main differences between the 4th Sustainment Brigade
and logistics units of the past was the fact that it behaved
far more like a maneuver unit, with its integration of intelligence
into all aspects of operations. Logisticians of the past were
located in the rear with little danger; that is not the case
Logistics units in the past were only concerned with moving
things from one supply yard to another, usually both in the
rear where there were no direct-fire threats. The modern,
more asymmetrical style of warfare now experienced by the
U.S. military is forcing a change in the way even logistics
units operate. They now travel the same roads as the maneuver
units, requiring them to be more alert to enemy threats.
The old MTOE gave the S–2 just enough personnel to perform
basic administrative duties, such as updating
security clearances and managing the safe. However, the new
MTOE expanded the section to allow for a more thorough analysis
of operations and dissemination of intelligence products to
the subordinate battalions. The S–2 shop in OIF had
to stay on top of the situation—maintaining the status
of every route at all times—and keep leaders informed
of all potential or expected changes.
Another challenge for the brigade and battalion S–2
shops was having to start from scratch. No units, not even
maneuver units, had been tracking the specific threats that
would affect brigade combat logistics patrols (CLPs). The
S–2 shop had to start using pattern analysis to determine
the best courses of action. Although pattern analysis was
conducted by others, the information that they considered
was different from that needed by the sustainment brigade.
Brigade support battalions, for example, would look at five
or six roads since they only ran from FOB to nearby FOB. The
sustainment brigade, however, had to look at the entire Multi-National
Division-Baghdad area of operations, as well as camps and
FOBs far outside of that area of operations for frequent external
missions. So, the S–2 shop had to start from scratch
developing a database to use for the analysis.
Battalions, however, needed more-detailed views of specific
intersections and strips of roads. While the brigade S–2
focused on tracking emerging patterns for types of improvised
explosive devices (IEDs) and for the frequency and times of
attacks, the battalions began to glean from the larger picture
specific areas of interest that would affect their CLPs, normally
relegated to known routes.
Keeping Soldiers on routes they were familiar with was a way
to make further benefit of the intelligence gathering. The
brigade shortened lines of communication so that Soldiers
would not have to travel as far and could become more familiar
with their routes and be more aware of changes that could
portend potential hazards. By narrowing their focus to frequently
traveled routes, battalions could follow the enemy’s
patterns and tactics, techniques, and procedures, as put out
by the brigade S–2, and customize their own intelligence
products so that their CLPs could be equipped with the proper
equipment to counter known local threats.
The S–2’s patterns were derived from more than
just brigade operations. They also incorporated corps and
division assets into their observations in a way that helped
them pattern U.S. forces as well. By looking at as many missions
and assets on the roads as possible, a clearer and more complete
picture of when and where the enemy was planting roadside
bombs came into focus. All of it was used to plan missions
along the safest routes at the safest times possible.
Creating Logistics Flexibility
In the fluid and changing Iraq war environment, maintaining
a level of flexibility was necessary to adapting and overcoming
challenges. Logistics was no exception, and brigade and battalion
staffs made great strides at reaching this goal. Of course,
these strides were intended not to avoid risk but to mitigate
Throughout the year, the 4th Sustainment Brigade spearheaded
several initiatives to change the environment and protect
brigade assets from the enemy. Although each notable change
could be attributed to common sense, when taken as a whole,
their effect on how the formation conducted operations was
significant. Each of the areas of success helped lead to the
brigade creating logistics flexibility.
Because the brigade was conducting operations day and night,
the effect on CLPs of changes to road conditions or other
significant events could quickly be ascertained, and appropriate
changes to missions were quickly relayed to the subsequently
Establishing central receiving and shipping points (CRSPs)
at Camp Taji and Camp Victory added a tremendous amount of
flexibility to the brigade.
Acting as staging areas for all classes of supply, CRSP yards
shortened lines of travel and added regular runs, allowing
planners to foresee when and where supplies would arrive.
To reduce the number of trucks on the road and thus reduce
the number of Soldiers in danger on the road, CLPs were not
allowed to leave empty after delivering a load. That meant
CLPs sometimes would delay departure for a day, waiting for
a scheduled piece of cargo to arrive for them to take to the
next stop. However, although rest over nights did occur, the
short, regular runs from FOB to CRSP, CRSP to CRSP, and CRSP
to FOB meant that a flow of supplies was always available
for transport. Some units looked at rest over nights as a
bad thing—as an ineffective use of brigade assets. However,
in the larger picture, an occasional rest over night allowed
the brigade to minimize the number of trucks on the road and,
most importantly, to change patterns of operation.
Another aspect of creating flexibility lay with the level
of autonomy given to the battalions. Battalion commanders
could cancel CLPs if they felt it was necessary for safety.
Afterward, decisions could be scrutinized and corrected if
the commander’s intent was not fully realized.
The brigade worked to create Iraqi transportation companies
on certain FOBs, employing Iraqi civilian trucks and truck
drivers to move various loads. This allowed the battalions
to push more supplies to more locations while employing local
Enhancing the safety of high-mobility multipurpose wheeled
vehicles was a large issue tackled by the brigade. Installing
gunner harnesses, improved locks, and various armor upgrades
became a significant priority for the shops within the formation
since each enhancement would save Soldiers’ lives. However,
instead of requiring customers to arrive at specific shop
locations, the brigade created fly-away teams that went out
to FOBs across the area of operations. This minimized
the negative operational impact on maneuver units and maximized
the number of total enhancements installed by the brigade.
This ensured that the warfighters lost fewer hours to maintenance
and kept more brigade personnel fully employed to meet the
high demand for these life-saving enhancements.
During the first few months of OIF 05–07, the 4th Sustainment
Brigade started communicating with the 4th Infantry Division’s
Aviation Brigade to explore the possibility of using air mobility
assets to transport certain classes of supply and mail. The
intent was to minimize ground-based convoys as much as possible,
using the less-vulnerable and faster air assets to keep trucks
off the road. The structure of the brigade allowed the current
operations section to focus on missions at hand while future
operations could dedicate significant effort to working through
the details of the new arrangement. At the close of the deployment,
aviation brigade CH–47 Chinook helicopters had delivered
8,700 pallets of supplies and mail and Air Force fixed-wing
assets had moved 2,300 pallets, keeping 2,900 trucks off the
Standards and Discipline
All the training in the world doesn’t amount to anything
if the Soldier on the ground isn’t doing what he should
be doing,” Colonel Perna said.
Relying on leaders at all levels, the brigade commander constantly
emphasized the need for high standards and discipline within
the formation. In the opening weeks of the deployment, Colonel
Perna traveled on convoys from the various battalions to ascertain
where further guidance and attention were needed. After his
initial assessment, he directed his commanders to continue
enforcing standards and guidance.
The standards that needed to be maintained included lowering
convoy speeds, which is needed to effectively spot hidden
IEDs; minimizing collateral damage through the use of warning
shots; positively identifying hostile enemies to reduce the
chance of civilian deaths; and aggressively moving on FOBs,
maximizing effectiveness by quick downloads and uploads.
The brigade conducted safety stand-downs monthly. For a couple of days each
month, the brigade required its battalions to cease missions in order to conduct
extensive maintenance on their equipment. The brigade allowed the battalions
to choose the exact days (although no two battalions on the same day) to facilitate
their specific operational needs; but the stand-downs
With an endless number of pallets and containers to move, 70,000 Soldiers to
supply, and a war going on, the first reaction to the region’s only logistics
operations each month for “safety stand-downs” might be skeptical.
However, these periods of focused maintenance, when coupled with the logistics
flexibility already in place, actually allowed the brigade to deliver more supplies
because their trucks and equipment stayed operational.
The regularity provided by the CRSP yards and effective operations allowed the
brigade’s future operations section to foresee mission requirements and
the current operations section to dole out taskings for the battalions, giving
the subordinate units time to conduct this maintenance. Although the stand-downs
provided some challenges, the brigade eventually adapted to the rhythm.
Moreover, having all of a battalion’s trucks and equipment at camps allowed
the units’ mechanics and chief warrant officers to conduct extensive repairs.
Planning these periods of maintenance also gave battalions a chance to coordinate
the arrival of repair parts with the scheduling of more involved repairs.
In addition to the stand-downs, the brigade involved the battalion commanders
in extensive pre- and post-CLP checks. As a part of their daily reports to Colonel
Perna, battalion commanders gave status reports on the previous day’s missions
and any outstanding maintenance issues that might affect mission readiness. The
stream of daily information allowed the brigade commander to see any new issues,
issues that were being resolved, and any areas that might need his guidance.
Of the five areas of leadership involvement—the AAR process, intelligence-driven
operations, creating logistics flexibility, standards and discipline, and equipment
maintenance—none can be minimized or understated. Each aspect of operations
led to the other.
The brigade put great effort into conducting effective operations, maximizing
effect while minimizing waste—all to save Soldier’s lives. Through
staff realignment, careful planning, attention to trends and lessons learned,
foresight, and enforcing high standards, the leaders and Soldiers of the 4th
Sustainment Brigade fulfilled their mission to the uttermost. They employed a
new system of logistics to adapt to the ever-changing battlefield and left a
legacy of exemplary execution for other logistics units to imitate and adopt
for future deployments.
Staff Sergeant Joshua Salmons is a journalism instructor at the Defense Information
School at Fort Meade, Maryland. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications
from Cedarville University and is pursuing a master’s degree in business
administration from Baker Business College in Michigan.