When the Army added human resources (HR) and financial management (FM) companies to sustainment brigades during its conversion from traditional area support groups, many secondary effects were anticipated. These included benefits such as better service to all Soldiers, more self-sustaining capabilities among brigades, and better support to units located in remote locations. But other effects were not fully anticipated and have caused leaders within sustainment brigades to be more adaptive than ever.
When it deployed to Afghanistan, the 43d Special Troops Battalion, 43d Sustainment Brigade, became the headquarters of a recently deployed Active Army FM company (FMCo), the 126th FMCo, and a Reserve component human resources company (HRCo), the 912th HRCo. The two units provided unique mission command challenges for the companies' leaders as well as for the command team of the 43d Special Troops Battalion.
FMCo and HRCo Deployment
Although the 126th FMCo and the 912th HRCo were based out of Kandahar Airfield, each company always had several teams of Soldiers on various missions throughout Regional Commands South, Southwest, and West. The companies also permanently manned 11 other locations with FM detachments, permanent FM support teams, satellite Army post offices, or a combination of FM and HR offices. These companies were responsible for supporting Regional Commands South and West with HR and FM functions that included postal operations, military identification cards, casualty tracking, personnel accountability, EagleCash cards, casual pay, military pay, and funding pay agents.
Unit Support Problems
When the HR companies were added to the sustainment brigade, their modified tables of organization and equipment did not change to reflect the new mission set. The 912th HRCo experienced the results in Afghanistan.
The company deployed without the integrated retail terminals needed to manage satellite Army post offices (APOs). Integrated retail terminals are necessary to provide money orders, stamp sales, and package postage. Without the integrated retail terminals, the APOs used Pitney Bowes machines, which were considered a secondary means of postal finance support and could not service oversized packages.
The company also needed 4,000-pound forklifts to move and download triwalls and 5-ton medium tactical vehicles to transport mail to and from the flight line. This became increasingly important at forward operating bases (FOBs) where the flight line and the APO were not located in close proximity to one another. This problem was largely solved by the company command team establishing a strong working relationship with the units at each location.
The 912th HRCo executive officer noted that the problem with using other units' equipment for unit support was that the unit's mission had priority over the mail. If the unit needed its forklift or truck, postal personnel had to wait until the unit finished with the equipment before they could use it. However, overall, the units were very supportive of the 912th HRCo's mission.
The distance between the HRCo's headquarters and the HR Soldiers on missions posed obvious mission command constraints. HR Soldiers were always on the move throughout the theater, but the HR company had no organic convoy capability. As a result, HR Soldiers traveled in the supported units' convoys and required support from the supported units in the form of office space, communications, and billeting during stays at FOBs. Leaders learned early that overcoming this challenge required working well with terrain owners and other supporting units, coordinating with over 10 different agencies for transportation, and maintaining constant communication with the supported units. By working closely with FOB mayors, FMCo commanders improved resourcing capabilities at all of their lo-cations. This was a lesson in adaptability.
Battlefield Circulation by Leaders
Both company commanders also realized quickly that frequent visits to their Soldiers throughout the area of operations were essential to maintaining good mission command. The HR and FM companies were not equipped to be split among 12 different locations, so communications equipment was at a premium and finding the right junior leaders to be out on their own was essential. The leaders' battlefield circulation ensured that their Soldiers were continually producing quality work and facilitated a good working relationship with terrain owners, which was critical to obtaining the support necessary for mission success.
The commander of the 43d Special Troops Battalion also recognized the need to ensure that his leaders could move throughout the theater. Within days of arriving in country, he and his staff had completely revised the battalion battle rhythm.
"I made the conscious decision to err on the side of having too few meetings and of having all meetings that required commander participation on one day of the week," said Lieutenant Colonel Simonsgaard about the restructuring of the battalion battle rhythm. "This gave the 126th and 912th commanders the freedom to be off of the FOB and conducting continuous battlefield circulation."
The HRCo and FMCo commanders ran with this freedom, ensuring that they visited Soldiers regularly and participated in various missions. This ensured that the Soldiers were taken care of and were producing quality work, and it raised the morale of Soldiers in distant, austere locations.
The 912th HRCo operated nine satellite post offices at FOBs and supported very small combat outposts surrounding each FOB with mobile mail missions. These two-man postal teams received, sorted, and processed thousands of pounds of mail each month. The Kandahar APO was the only full-service post office located in Regional Commands South and West and was the second largest mail hub in the country.
In addition to the daily missions of mail handling and delivery, the HRCo also conducted several identification card issuing missions throughout the region. Each month, the company sent out teams to update and issue identification cards for members of all branches of the U.S. military and Department of Defense civilian employees. Conducting these missions taxed the company leaders, who had to determine if planned locations were technologically capable of supporting the mission before they could send out a team. The leaders began informally surveying sites for common access card production capabilities when on location during battlefield circulation.
The 126th FMCo commander was faced with similar challenges. She was responsible for three FM detachments, which were responsible for all finance support within Regional Commands South and West. The company maintained operations continuously at eight FOBs and had regular missions throughout other locations in the area of operations. Its services included disbursing; pay support to all military members, civilians, and contractors in the theater of operations; and contract payment support to multinational vendors.
The 126th FMCo also provided EagleCash card services for secure transactions with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, post offices, and vendors on U.S. and coalition bases. When not conducting these tasks, the 126th's Soldiers also validated and verified servicemembers' entitlements, resolved pay issues as needed, and administered special programs such as the Savings Deposit Program.
As FM support teams, they provided direct financial services to Soldiers in various remote locations and supported paying agents. Small teams moving throughout the battlespace had presented challenges. However, the FMCo commander expressed the belief that the circumstances also strengthened leaders, stating that the geographic dispersal gave the FMCo commander greater leadership opportunities and forced units to become more self-sufficient and creative in problem solving.
The sustainment brigade is a relatively new concept to the Army. In many ways, it is similar to the former area support groups. The sustainment brigade provides mission command to combat sustainment support battalions and to special troops battalions. To outsiders, the evolution is only a name change. To those who know best, the sustainment brigade is very different from previous support groups. The new structure allows for better support in performing the traditional roles of the area support group, such as fuel, common ammunition, medical supplies, and wheeled-vehicle repair parts.
The sustainment brigade provides new services, neatly packaged in each brigade's special troops battalion. The new features—financial management and human resources support—are as essential to daily operations as they are to morale. The companies that provide these services are successful because of their ability to execute decentralized operations, communicate and coordinate with battlespace owners, and serve the Soldier with a "yes, we can do that" mentality. The transformation did not simply occur; it came with the daunting task of adapting to new challenges in an ever-changing environment.