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R–CAATs: Learning From Experience

In the January–February 2008 issue of Army Logistician, then Major General Mitchell H. Stevenson, the commander of the Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM), discussed the 2-year-old Reverse Collection and Analysis Team (R–CAAT) program and some of the key observations obtained through the program from sustainment commanders and their staffs. After conducting 50 R–CAAT sessions in the nearly 6 years since the program was implemented, I felt it was worth reflecting on the R–CAAT program's benefits and how, as the Department of Defense continues the drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, R–CAATs can continue to benefit sustainment organizations and leaders.

The R–CAAT program brings operational commanders and generating force organizations together to share observations, insights and lessons learned (OILs) so that the CASCOM community can then translate those OILs into needed changes in doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leader development, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF). This process serves the dual purpose of meeting the regulatory requirement for brigade-sized or larger units to submit an after-action review following their participation in any operation or major training exercise or rotation and provides additional opportunity for dialog and discussion that is not always possible if a collection team travels to a unit's location.

These first 50 R–CAAT sessions included recently deployed theater support commands, expeditionary sustainment commands, sustainment brigades, transportation brigades, an explosive ordnance disposal task force, brigade support battalions, combat sustainment support battalions, and movement control battalions with experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. They also included organizations such as Multi-National Force–Iraq and the Combined Forces Land Component Command.

Just recently, CASCOM hosted R–CAAT special sessions covering base realignment and closure, combat training center rotations, and a 1-year review of the Global Combat Support System–Army to ensure that observations and lessons learned were captured and provided to others preparing to engage in similar operations.

The R–CAAT program has provided two main contributions to the sustainment community at large. First, the R–CAATs provide a continual operational sustainment feedback flow into CASCOM's DOTMLPF process, reducing the flash-to-bang time for implementing necessary adjustments in the generating force. Second, the leader engagement and dialog that occurs as part of the process continues to educate the CASCOM staff on the current sustainment operational environment, contributing greatly to expediting change. These forums have resulted in changes to more than 250 tactics, techniques, and procedures and handbooks, in collective training adjustments, and in more than 90 major doctrine rewrites and 20 Army Sustainment articles.

The development of central receiving and shipping point doctrine, the identification of shortfalls in convoy protection platform training, and the requirements for contracting officer's representatives in theater are three critical insights and lessons learned that are directly attributed to those provided by units through the R–CAAT program. CASCOM, in collaboration with other strategic partners, has also developed a comprehensive Center for Army Lessons Learned Handbook titled "Responsible Drawdown and Reset Special Study." The handbook, currently awaiting publication, provides tactics, techniques, and procedures that can be used today and in the future to assist commanders at all levels with planning and execution of the responsible drawdown of forces.

Finally, one recurring concern that I have heard identified by field commanders at all levels and during multiple R–CAATs was the "overmodularization" of the sustainment force. This has led the Army Forces Command to reconsider how sustainment units are "bundled" to increase continuity and decrease turmoil in the deployment process.

Lessons learned through R–CAATs are not always focused on ways to improve doctrine and processes; they also can reinforce current doctrine or pending shifts in the focus of training. Two key examples of this are the value of the command post exercise–sustainment (CPX–S) to predeployment staff preparation and the need for units to reach out and train with the higher headquarters with which they will deploy. Both of these were previously identified through the R–CAAT process and reinforced by the Joint Sustainment Command–Afghanistan headquarters and by two sustainment brigade headquarters upon their return from Operation Enduring Freedom.

The U.S. Army Learning Concept for 2015 describes a model focused on continuous adaptation, stating very clearly that "Initial Military Training must have the agility to rapidly change training based on lessons learned and feedback from operational units." Only by decisively making the lessons learned collection process an inherent part of the training/deployment/redeployment cycle can we ensure that lessons learned are rapidly incorporated into the adaptive training model and that the institutional Army provides the most relevant training possible.

Scheduled for publication in the January–February 2012 issue of Army Sustainment is an article that will discuss the ever-expanding role of the warrant officer corps within sustainment organizations. This article is shaping up to be an outstanding example of the compounding influence of multiple R–CAATs. As we continue to reflect on the insights gained from the first 50 R–CAAT sessions and look forward to the next 50, you can expect to see more articles such as this in future issues of Army Sustainment.

Maintaining active involvement in the continuous learning and improvement process is a challenge we each face as we forge ahead and evolve into the Army of the future. We must seek out opportunities to provide feedback to the wider Army audience; the R–CAAT process is a proven model that can assist commanders achieve this end. Only by remaining engaged can we firmly establish the continuous adaptive learning model necessary to maintain the most effective sustainment force the Army can field.

While serving as the commander of the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC), I saw firsthand the invaluable contributions made to the fight by the Reserve forces. They clearly understood the importance of support to the warfighter, embraced the mission, and melded seamlessly into the organization with the Active component.

Because the Reserve component is such an important part of the sustainment force, the Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) and its proponent schools are heavily engaged across the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities spectrum to ensure continued institutional support to the Guard and Reserve.

That engagement begins with CASCOM's organizational structure, where Reserve component personnel are integrated at every level. The integration starts in the command group, where CASCOM's Deputy Commanding General (DCG) for Mobilization and Training is a Reserve brigadier general. Supporting the DCG are over 70 Active Guard Reserve Soldiers assigned to the CASCOM staff and its proponent schools. These Soldiers' understanding of the Reserve component's structure and training environment provides the critical insights that CASCOM needs to effectively support the Guard and Reserve.

The knowledge and understanding possessed by its Reserve component personnel, in turn, provide the foundation for CASCOM's direct support of Reserve component education and training. The size of this support can be seen in the student load for 2010, when CASCOM schools trained more than 27,000 Reserve component sustainment Soldiers.

CASCOM also worked closely with the Army National Guard's regional training institutes and the Army Reserve's 94th Training Division to train an additional 28,000 sustainment Soldiers. CASCOM's ongoing effort to update both Active and Reserve component programs of instruction in its schools ensures that all Soldiers, regardless of which school provides their training, meet the same standards upon graduation.

Beyond the schoolhouses, CASCOM provides major support to the collective training of both Components through the Command Post Exercise–Sustainment (CPX–S). This innovative collective exercise fills a training gap for Active, Guard, and Reserve expeditionary sustainment commands, sustainment brigades, and movement control battalions as they prepare to deploy.

Reverse collection and analysis team events for redeploying units have identified the CPX–S as one of the most important training events Soldiers received during their preparation for deployment. The CPX–S is not currently a program of record, so CASCOM is working with the Army Training and Doctrine Command, the Guard and Reserve, and the Army Forces Command to develop a long-term training strategy to meet sustainment units' needs.

In the coming months and years, CASCOM support of the Reserve component faces two major challenges: a more austere funding environment that will affect all Army organizations and programs, and the transformation of the Army's way of doing business to an enterprise approach.

At a time of funding constraints, CASCOM is using new technologies and strategies to maximize institutional training for the Guard and Reserve. Innovations resulting from the new Army Leader Development Strategy, Army Learning Concept, and Army Training Concept hold great promise for the Reserve component. Increased use of distance learning, digital applications, and skills-based training will facilitate instruction that reaches Guard and Reserve sustainment Soldiers more efficiently and effectively.

Delivering training directly to the point of need, testing Soldiers before their training, and tailoring their learning based on the results of those tests will improve the quality of training provided to Reserve component Soldiers and help to reduce the time they spend away from their civilian jobs. Funding and careful integration of the Reserve component into CASCOM's overall strategy will remain vital, but these new strategies hold the promise of enhanced institutional training for the Reserve component in the future.

The Army cannot retain its dominance in the future without a ready, operational Reserve component. The last 10 years have demonstrated that the Reserve component is fully up to all challenges. As the Army faces a new, more resource-constrained environment, CASCOM is dedicated to ensuring that its support of the Reserve component does not falter. Challenges remain, but the Reserve component will be ready when called and, through them, so will the sustainment community.

Major General James L. Hodge is the commanding general of the Army Combined Arms Support Command and Sustainment Center of Excellence at Fort Lee, Virginia.

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