As the dust settled on the first full-spectrum operations (FSO) exercise in 8 years at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in October 2010, the paratroopers of the 3d Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 82d Airborne Division, began the process of reviewing the events, rehearsals, products, and standing operating procedures that positioned the BCT for a successful rotation.
The JRTC Rotation
During the JRTC rotation, the 3d BCT conducted a nighttime airborne assault with approximately 1,700 paratroopers. The mission was to seize an airfield, clear and repair a flight landing strip, recover heavy-drop platforms, and almost immediately receive notional and actual air-land C–130 Hercules aircraft with key equipment and necessary sustainment resupply.
Throughout the force-on-force operation, the 3d BCT defended and attacked in two separate directions and received combat offloads and containerized delivery system resupply as the primary means of resupply to the brigade support battalion (BSB). The BSB's distribution company conducted the transport, inventory, and issue of supplies primarily through supply point distribution in the brigade support area (BSA).
To allow for supply point distribution, all four forward support companies (FSCs) staged their logistics resupply operations from the BSA. This seemingly "old school" way of conducting logistics operations required an exceptional amount of synchronization across resupply operations, communications systems, and future operations planning.
Despite the overwhelming logistics capabilities in today's modular BCT, striving for logistics synchronization in an FSO exercise is a great challenge. Part of the challenge is the chaotic nature of a forced-entry operation, such as our airborne assault, and the operating environment of an FSO. As many Soldiers have found, sustainment missions of the current counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in Iraq and Afghanistan rarely can be categorized as mission successes or mission failures—unlike what Soldiers face in an FSO situation at a combat training center or in an austere theater of operations.
To mitigate the inherent complexity of logistics synchronization in these types of operations for both COIN and FSO, we suggest revitalizing and updating the combat service support (CSS)/health service support (HSS) rehearsal to reflect the key logistics players and proponents on today's battlefield. The modular BCT is a large, complex organization that can fight and be supported in depth. In the same way that the combined arms rehearsal (CAR) attempts to synchronize the ground tactical plan, the CSS/HSS rehearsal must be briefed by all of the key personnel involved in order to synchronize logistics and medical operations across the battlefield.
All leaders, from team leaders to division commanders, emphasize the need to begin any phase of an operation with a rehearsal. We have rock drills, we have back briefings, we have full dress rehearsals, and we have terrain models that fill an entire hangar. What does it take, though, to conduct an efficient and productive CSS/HSS rehearsal? Does this rehearsal radically change for the type of operation a unit will conduct? Does it change for COIN operations versus an FSO? Our approach to the CSS/HSS rehearsal was to craft a blend of old and new into a product that is easily modified for any operation.
The Old Model
In the old days of FSO CSS rehearsals, the BCT S–4 and the support operations officer (SPO) would play huge roles in the execution of the rehearsal, much like they do today. In fact, much of the rehearsal would be dominated by their speaking roles. This technique synchronized the logistics plan from the top down, which could be beneficial, especially in a time-constrained environment or a brigade-level effort.
However, this method did not work well to decentralize logistics operations to best support the maneuver battalion task forces. It centered on the support battalion rather than the efforts of the field trains and combat trains. Another weakness was the way it focused first on CSS operations and then HSS operations, rather than synchronizing the efforts of both sustainment functions.
During the early years of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the Army began the process of transforming itself to modular BCTs. The modular BCT decentralized logistics operations and placed the logistics focus on FSCs. This change, though, has not been reflected in the synchronization between logistics and medical operations unless necessity absolutely dictates crosstalk among those operators.
The other area that has not evolved to support this new means of conducting operations is the rehearsal format. Gone are the days where the BCT S–4 and SPO spoke ad nauseam. Today, the battalion S–4, FSC commander, and medical operations officer (physician's assistant or medical platoon leader), should play important roles in rehearsals.
A Proposed Method
In today's logistics world, we have to focus the rehearsal on the logistics focal point in the BCT's area of operations: the battalion task force. For the JRTC exercise, we constructed a model based on a number of CSS rehearsal agendas and focused on the battalion task force concept of support. We looked for a one-size-fits-all model but found that many CSS rehearsals did not include or were not specific enough to the modularized BCT.
Another problem with the models we looked at was the lack of a dedicated moment for synchronizing the CSS operations with HSS operations. We knew our model would be used across multiple types of operations, so we began to identify the required components for our specific CSS/HSS rehearsal model. We created a model that places the emphasis of the briefing on the company commanders, BSB commander, the BCT S–1 and S–4, and key logistics enablers, such as the medical officer, the BSB S–3, BCT S–6, BCT S–2, and a representative from the BCT S–3.
We wanted to replicate the successful traits of the CAR. From the outset, the BCT S–4 and the BSB SPO understood that we had to work together to craft, coordinate, and synchronize the CSS/HSS rehearsal. We also understood that we needed to involve the BCT surgeon and the medical planners and executors to maximize logistics synchronization across the battlefield.
As we began to design our rehearsal, we understood that we had some constraints on how we conducted the rehearsal. One constraint was a limited amount of time to conduct the rehearsal. Another was that the CSS/HSS rehearsal usually occurred directly after the CAR. After the CAR, fatigue would begin to set in, causing the quality of the rehearsal to suffer.
During our JRTC rotation, we conducted two CSS/HSS rehearsals that averaged 2½ to 3 hours. The first rehearsal was conducted before the CAR and the airborne assault. We conducted the second rehearsal as we began the transition from defensive to offensive operations. The first rehearsal incorporated our new model, and despite the unfamiliarity with the new model, the participants and, most importantly, the BCT commander and his senior leaders felt a surge of confidence at how well the concept of support seemed to be nested with the ground tactical plan.
Conducted after the CAR, our second rehearsal faced multiple challenges. The first challenge was being notified before the CAR that the BSA would need to move to shorten the lines of communication (LOC) while the BCT transitioned into offensive operations. One benefit of our rehearsal model was that, despite the chaos of support being interrupted from the BSA, the rehearsal focused primarily on the concepts of support to the maneuver units.
One challenge was primarily caused by environmental conditions. The terrain model was outside, and wind degraded the terrain model a great deal. The model was also used for the CAR, which caused some degradation as well.
Another consideration was that we had a group of presenters and an audience that may have had a solid understanding of their maneuver battalions' ground tactical plans and concepts of support but not of the entire logistics picture. We knew that with the spatial distance between units, the austerity of the operating environment, and the intermittent problems in communications, the CSS/HSS rehearsal had to be something more than a briefing on the current logistics disposition. It needed to be synchronized as much as a combat operation is synchronized.
Presenting the CSS/HSS Rehearsal
Our final consideration was our dearth of experience in conducting and presenting during a CSS/HSS rehearsal. We had conducted one CSS/HSS rehearsal with all of the current logistics commanders and staff before the JRTC rotation. This first rehearsal was a lesson in abject failure. The BCT S–4 and the BSB SPO did not take advantage of having all of the BCT's key logistics planners and executors together. They should have synchronized efforts and focused the rehearsal on the requirements and actions of logistics and medical operations. We also found that many of our company commanders and staff officers did not have experience with speaking during rehearsals, especially rehearsals that focus on their own responsibilities in the BCT.
The desire to place the logistics executors at the forefront shaped the final product. Our proposed rehearsal agenda attempts to balance those constraints. (See sidebar above.) We found great success in placing the logistics company commanders and staff officers in the primary speaking roles during the rehearsal. After the initial rough transitions between speakers, we found that battalions briefing by phase instead of by function actually did more to synchronize our efforts.
We found areas that we can refine and improve as we continue to train using this model. Here are some suggestions to consider as your own unit plans its CSS/HSS rehearsal:
- The briefer needs to be comfortable with the terrain model. The briefer should either move across the terrain model as Soldiers will during that phase of the operation or use assistants to move the appropriate icons.
- The battalion executive officers are the key to success for the CSS/HSS rehearsal. We found that executive officers do a remarkable job working with their S–4s and FSC commanders, but they need to work on incorporating their S–1s and medical operations officers or physician's assistants into their concept of support.
- Presenters should be calm, confident, clear, accurate, knowledgeable, and efficient. They should also be willing to address any gaps or misunderstandings in the overall concept of support during the rehearsal.
- Special attention needs to be given to the recon-naissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) squadron's resupply and medical evacuation concepts of support. Specifically, focus is needed on how best to synchronize their sustainment efforts with those of the units behind the RSTA squadron on the battlefield.
- Injects are vital to showing friction points in the concept of support. The BCT S–4 and BSB SPO should identify 4 to 6 injects before the rehearsal and work with the BCT executive officer and BSB commander to identify who will inject and who will receive the inject. Those units receiving injects should have prior notification in order for their response to be knowledge-building instead of a response to a "gotcha" moment.
Revitalizing the CSS/HSS rehearsal was crucial for our success at JRTC. The rehearsal is a key component in mission preparation as we assume the global readiness force mission. From the CSS/HSS rehearsal comes better synchronization and actionable products, such as the CSS/HSS synchronization matrix and fragmentary orders. The 3d BCT's method of conducting this invaluable rehearsal gave the BCT commander the confidence that his ground tactical plan was supportable and that his logisticians would minimize any and all logistics friction points.