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The Health of the Command

The 3d Sustainment Brigade’s special staff met regularly to discuss key issues that affected the lives, morale, and welfare of the brigade's personnel.

During the 3d Sustainment Brigade’s deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 07–09, the brigade special staff played an integral role in day-to-day operations. The brigade relied heavily on a regular special staff meeting known as the “health of the command” to monitor the health, safety, and morale of its Soldiers.

Special Staff Organization

Brigade special staffs perform a diverse group of important functions. In the 3d Sustainment Brigade, the special staff includes the unit ministry team (UMT), surgeon cell, safety office, public affairs office, equal opportunity (EO) office, retention office, and brigade judge advocate (BJA) office. While deployed, the brigade was unique among its sister sustainment brigades in that, in addition to its normal sustainment operations, it was also responsible for the contingency operating base (COB) mayor, base defense, and force protection functions. Because of these additional duties, the brigade was assigned a combat health team, dental services assets, veterinary services assets, a preventive medicine team, and an inspector general (IG). These specialties, along with the existing special staff of professional officers and noncommissioned officers, formed the nucleus of the eyes and ears of the brigade command.

An additional member of this professional cadre was the brigade sexual assault response coordinator (SARC). Although not officially a member of the special staff, the brigade SARC played a vital role in ensuring that all Soldiers in the brigade were trained and aware of the proper response to sexual assault incidents. So in that capacity, the SARC fell under the jurisdiction of the special staff umbrella.
The command immediately realized that this large group of individuals needed a single, authoritative head to ensure they were synchronized with the operations of the brigade and the primary staff. With that goal, the day-to-day oversight of the special staff was provided by the brigade’s deputy commanding officer (DCO).

Health of the Command Meetings

The specialized skills and unique capabilities of the diverse special staff were apparent in the bimonthly health of the command meetings. These forums, developed by the brigade commander, were used to bring all of the special staff together to discuss key issues that were usually sensitive in nature and had a significant impact on the lives, morale, and welfare of Soldiers, civilians, and contractors in the brigade and on the COB. The meetings afforded the brigade commander, DCO, and command sergeant major the opportunity to discuss concerns and issues and formulate courses of action collectively with all of the special staff.

The health of the command council reviewed trends and cases—always discussed under the condition of anonymity—that were of common interest to many of the members and that affected Soldiers within the brigade. Many of the cases discussed during the health of the command meetings crossed professional boundaries. For example, the legal team brought to the command’s attention that some Soldiers were huffing canned air to get high. The command’s investigation revealed that many of the Soldiers involved either had pre-existing issues or suffered from some form of depression. The health of the command council discussed this problem and decided to refer Soldiers for mental health treatment or to the chaplain.

During the deployment, the brigade was tasked by Multi-National Corps-Iraq and the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC) to form a suicide prevention response team. Many members of the special staff were involved in developing standing operating procedures, training guidance, and unit responsibilities to address the major issues that result in suicide or attempted suicide. Special staff personnel also scheduled monthly and quarterly meetings with key leaders and drafted a policy letter on suicide prevention for the brigade commander’s signature. Thanks to efforts from the brigade surgeon, the combat stress team, the chaplain, the BJA, and the DCO, the brigade met all of its suicide prevention requirements.

Special Staff Functions

Special staff personnel came together to discuss and work through challenges most of the time without additional guidance. They functioned as a team to ensure that Soldiers in the command succeeded in day-to-day operations and worked through personal or professional issues. Special staff members assisted Soldiers with issues at home and generally lifted their spirits with kind words or prayers. Each of the sections brought their own unique strengths and capabilities to the table.

UMT. The UMT’s focus was ministering to the Soldiers’ spiritual needs, which the command recognized as essential to maintaining strong morale over lengthy deployments. The brigade UMT’s contributions to the health of the command meetings were to educate brigade leaders on Soldier counseling trends, provide an analysis of religious services and attendance, and discuss special events sponsored by the brigade chaplain staff or one of the subordinate UMTs. The brigade UMT also discussed the most significant emotional health areas that affect Soldiers during the deployment, such as stress, grief, workplace morale, and family and marital concerns.

Brigade surgeon cell. The surgeon cell provided an analysis of the brigade’s medical threats for the commander. Surgeon cell personnel outlined the medical issues that most often affected Soldiers. These medical issues were quite diverse and included battle injuries, combat operational stress, sports injuries, and infections. After presenting objective data, the surgeon cell provided recommendations on the best ways to mitigate these threats.

Brigade safety office. The safety office contributed to the health of the command meetings by providing awareness of safety-related issues and concerns that could potentially threaten the overall readiness of personnel and equipment. The trends documented by the safety office and the data presented by the surgeon cell tended to overlap. The safety office applied management principles like trend analysis to identify new techniques and methods to prevent accidents and promoted the advancement of safety awareness through educational programs.

Brigade EO adviser. The EO adviser brought to the table issues raised by command climate surveys, EO reports, and other analysis tools. The EO adviser used anonymous data to present underlying issues to the other sections.

Public affairs office. The public affairs office produced publications and marketed stories as a means for the command and key staff members to distribute general information that could affect all personnel on the base, thus ensuring a healthy command climate. The public affairs office also ensured that accurate information was being released to the public.

BJA. The BJA contributed to the health of the command meetings by reporting misconduct that occurred within the brigade. The BJA provided insight into legal trends and analyses associated with Soldier misconduct and legal issues.

IG. The IG is a special staff position normally located at the senior Army command level and higher. The 3d Sustainment Brigade therefore was not authorized an IG as part of the special staff. However, the brigade was very fortunate to be augmented with an assistant IG from the 316th ESC. The 316th ESC’s assistant IG was assigned the task of supporting COB Qayyarah-West and 3d Sustainment Brigade Soldiers located at other forward operating bases and COBs throughout Multi-National Division-North. Although the IG team was rather small to cover such a huge area, it succeeded in supporting the commander through the four main functions of an IG: inspections, assistance, investigations, and teaching and training.

Combat stress control team. Although not an organic part of the 3d Sustainment Brigade, the 85th Medical Detachment’s combat stress control team (CSCT) played a vital role in maintaining the fighting force and significantly contributed to the overall health of the command. Integrating into the 3d Sustainment Brigade as a part of the special staff allowed the CSCT to serve as effective consultants. Coordinating with other members of the special staff promoted a multidisciplinary approach to behavioral health issues.
The special staff’s coordination with the CSCT increased command visibility on behavioral health issues within the brigade. It also allowed for a more proactive approach in dealing with behavioral health problems and lessened their negative impact on overall unit morale and cohesion. The CSCT’s close relationship with the 3d Sustainment Brigade directly assisted Soldiers and units by increasing awareness of behavioral health issues and promoting individual services and unit-level education.

The efforts of the special staff, teamed with other units and elements of the brigade staff, made the 3d Sustainment Brigade successful in meeting its mission to sustain coalition forces, civilians, and contractors on the battlefield in Multi-National Division-North. The special staff’s mission to provide the commander a forum to discuss and develop solutions for troubled areas in the command was extremely successful. The unique skills and expertise of each member of the special staff and the health of the command council truly lived up to the brigade motto, “Heart of the Rock.”

Colonel Linwood B. Clark is the deputy brigade commander of the 3d Sustainment Brigade, which was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom when he wrote this article. He has a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University, and he is a graduate of the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, the Inspector General Course, and the Army Command and General Staff College.