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Always There, Always Ready

I have been reading Army Logistician for many of its 40 years, and like an old, reliable friend, it hasn’t changed much. Sure, its content has changed to reflect how logisticians have transformed since Vietnam, when the magazine first appeared. In fact, it has been just 12 years since I wrote my first article, “Twelve Dirty Questions Leaders Should Ask Their Motor Pool Officers,” but technological advances since then have made some of those questions irrelevant.

Of course, the magazine’s look is new. Now, Soldiers read it over the Internet, not just the print version I’ve always read. And with this issue, the name changes to Army Sustainment to include coverage of human resource management and finance functions of which our sustainment units have oversight.

But the one constant in this sea of change has been the magazine itself. Just as it has done from day one, it’s still written by Soldiers and civilians on the ground, telling what’s going on in units so thousands of sustainers can benefit from their experiences. Future sustainers will be far different from those of today, just as we are light years from those in 1969—and I have no doubt that Army Sustainment will inform us how to meet the challenges of our new times.

Think about the changes Army Logistician covered. In Vietnam, logisticians were perceived as being in the rear with the gear and the weapon they carried was a radio. In Iraq, convoy ambushes, where cooks and other support Soldiers were taken captive, showed the new reality: Sustainers are now on the front lines. Logisticians must be warriors as well as logisticians. They must not only know tactical skills but also have appropriate force protection for all formations.

In 1969, man may have walked on the Moon, but a logistician’s tools were a typewriter, carbon paper, and a stubby pencil. It was a surprise to the depot operator where supplies were and when they would show up, and shipping via containers was just getting started. It cost $2,000 to equip a Soldier with a uniform, M16A1, and flak vest—not the $17,000 we invest today in flame-resistant uniforms, night-vision devices, close combat optics, infrared lights, and other high-tech gear.

Today, our depots’ workload is three times higher than in the Vietnam War era. Back then, the Army had 40 divisions; today we have 18. And not only is the Army doing more with less, but the sustainment force structure is being aligned to better support our new brigade-based Army. We’re 86-percent complete with this transformation.

The future challenges confronting logisticians that will be chronicled in Army Sustainment will be even greater. Right now, we’re building a stronger presence in land-locked Afghanistan, one of the most difficult places in the world to move materiel and Soldiers into and out of. We have created a distribution network that moves containers through Pakistan to Afghanistan, and we have developed an alternate route that moves supplies from Europe using planes, trains, trucks, and even ships through all of the “stans” into Afghanistan.

We must confront in Iraq what might be the hardest sustainment task yet: safely and responsibly drawing down the large number of Soldiers, civilians, and contractors, along with billions of dollars of equipment. Right now, we’re analyzing what we do with all that materiel—do we move it to Afghanistan, use it to re-establish Army pre-positioned stocks, move it home to fill holes in units not deployed, or leave it in Iraq to be sold to help fill Iraqi Army requirements? By scouring for efficiencies, we have cut in half the time it takes to redeploy equipment from Iraq back home, which is crucial for our efforts to repair the equipment from the wear and tear of 8 years of war and get it ready for the next conflict.

If that weren’t enough, we are in the midst of moving more than half of the entire Active Force in some way as we comply with base realignment and closure plans and the global realignment of our Army.

We’re fortunate that today’s young sustainers are more tech savvy than their predecessors, because what is difficult to do now will become effortless when we tap into better technologies. We are working toward the day when we have total visibility of our assets; when everyone from the commander in the field to an analyst at the Pentagon has the same ability to track equipment and supplies worldwide, whether in transit or stationary; when computers will diagnose and tell us what maintenance actions to take before equipment fails; and when GPS-guided cargo is airdropped in the most remote locations with no damage.

We will use the same kind of creative thinking to turn the Army greener, reducing the amount of energy we consume while keeping our troops safer, because every time we don’t have to put a fuel truck on the road in combat, we minimize Soldiers’ risk.

We’re streamlining how we distribute clothing and individual equipment, so we can see how much clothing is on shelves at each installation and redistribute it where it is needed. We’re changing how we develop new vehicles, so instead of enumerating a variety of specifications that say a truck must go this fast or carry this much, we also consider how much it will cost to maintain, fix, and upgrade.

Yet, as much headway as we’re making, we still need to do more, particularly in changing the sustainers’ mindsets. We still think too much in 80-card columns; too many management stovepipes still prevent technology from being implemented as quickly as it should; and we must get better at learning lessons when things don’t go as they should.

One-third of the Army, about 270,000 Soldiers, are sustainers, and last year we marked a new era when we created the Logistics Branch. In the 21st century, we need logisticians who are multifunctional, not simply focused on their particular branch, and who maintain a basic competence in all branches.

In the first Army Logistician issue in 1969, General F. J. Chesarek, Commanding General of the Army Materiel Command, observed that “the prescription for our logistics ills contains nothing new or radical. It is similar to the call of a football coach for harder drills in the fundamentals of the game.”

As Army Logistician has done for the last 40 years, Army Sustainment will chronicle the harder drills and better charging needed to prevent any ills and ensure sustainers are: Always There, Always Ready.

Lieutenant General Mitchell H. Stevenson is the Deputy Chief of Staff, G–4, Department of the Army.

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