Integrating units in the BSA

Integrating units in the BSA

David W. Vergollo

When a forward support battalion (FSB) commander has to take command of a brigade support area (BSA), he generally has a problem with integrating all of the units and capabilities in the BSA that have come under his charge. The coordination and information flow between the BSA/FSB S-3/S-2 and the maneuver brigade S-3/S-2 is often insufficient, overlooked, or an afterthought. That, at least, was our experience as FSB observer-controllers for U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) and Seventh Army at the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) at Hohenfels, Germany. We noticed that BSA unit integration often was overlooked in home station training and repeatedly caused difficulties for BSA leaders and occupants training at the CMTC.

As FSB observer-controllers at the CMTC, we had the privilege of training with every FSB commander in USAREUR. We can say without reservation that our FSB commanders are extremely knowledgeable about tactical logistics, confident, and well prepared to lead their battalions. They clearly demonstrate their understanding of logistics doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), whether they are operating in a high-intensity-conflict (now called full-spectrum) rotation or as part of a mission rehearsal exercise at the CMTC.

However, we constantly observed FSB commanders wrestling with how to effectively integrate all the units, capabilities, and limitations of the BSA and execute overall command. Unfortunately, there is little written doctrine on this topic. Our FSB commanders have no trouble performing the duties of FSB commanders during a CMTC rotation. But they struggle greatly with how to function as BSA commanders and integrate all associated brigade combat team (BCT) units.

Unfortunately, FSBs are not always able to train with their BCTs. This is especially true in Europe. As a result, FSB commanders and staff, as well as BSA tenant units, are often unfamiliar with each other’s specific mission, purpose, standing operating procedures (SOPs), and TTP. Lack of understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities in the BCT and the BSA command structure often results in a degradation of mission support for all units involved. The addition of slice elements which have a habitual relationship to the BCT but do not train regularly with the FSB–under the FSB commander’s control in the BSA can cause dysfunction and friction as the units attempt to learn or create SOPs on the fly during an already intense training period.

As professionals, we always seek ways to continue to improve our units, ourselves, and ultimately our ability to accomplish the mission. In that vein, our observer-controller team has compiled some thoughts on improving this area of consistent confusion.

Know BSA Units

One deficiency we observed over the course of several CMTC rotations was the FSB commander’s lack of knowledge of the functions the FSB must execute, the assets for which it is responsible, and the requirements it must fill when it commands a BSA. This lack of knowledge caused problems when it was not identified clearly before a rotation began and then produced severe “growing pains” as the FSB developed solutions during the short period of the exercise.

Lack of knowledge is not limited to the FSB; the maneuver brigade tactical operations center (TOC) is equally confused. Often, guidance, orders, and missions will be passed from the brigade TOC through the parent battalion and on to the field trains, totally bypassing the BSA TOC. This can cause great frustration within the BSA for planning or reacting to defensive requirements. A typical response from a BCT S-2/S-3 is that they thought the brigade S-4 would inform the BSA. In many cases, this does occur. However, information should come through S-3 channels first. We must help train our BCTs to think and treat our FSBs and BSAs as they do any other fighting unit. We must ensure that FSB S-3/S-2s continue to solicit information on a constant basis until it becomes second nature for all. This practice has to start at home station.

FSBs in USAREUR know their mission of providing direct support to their component BCT units. However, integrating BSA defense and command and control increases their learning curve greatly when they are at the CMTC. In part because of the geographic separation of USAREUR units before they arrive for CMTC rotations, it is rare for an FSB to train with all the units that normally would occupy a portion of the BSA. As a result, when units deploy to CMTC, they are forced to learn during their rotation, and that can lead to loss of time and training focus.

Know Unit Locations

The FSB commander and staff provide command and control for the BSA and for all units that occupy ground within the BSA’s perimeter. The BSA TOC is the fusion center for command and control. The TOC must maintain situational awareness of all units within the BSA, including their requirements and capabilities for internal and external support of the BSA. Knowing the who, what, when, and where of friendly forces enables the BSA TOC to function at optimal efficiency. Some questions for the BSA staff to ask themselves are: What units will be occupying the BSA? What are those units’ capabilities, and what can they bring to the BSA “fight”? Where should they be located? Will they be on the perimeter or tucked within the BSA’s interior? Will they deploy or move frequently, and where will they go? Can they help plan the BSA’s defense or provide a battlefield multiplier? When will they occupy their positions?

A more detailed illustration of the “where” question involves placing the task force field trains on the BSA perimeter. While the field trains have a great deal of firepower and manpower, the BSA commander and S-3 must recall that they have an external support mission that will effectively pull the majority of the field trains off the BSA perimeter for long periods of time as they move forward to resupply their units. The S-3 must have a contingency plan for this situation. By knowing the schedule for resupplying the task forces (a schedule that must be provided by the task forces through the brigade S-4, coordinated with the BSA support operations officer, and updated on a constant basis until each mission is complete), the S-3 can give the BSA commander options for how best to defend the BSA perimeter when most of the field trains are away on a supply mission.

Know Capabilities of Units in the BSA

The BSA commander also must know the capabilities of friendly units in the BSA. Such knowledge enables the BSA commander to deal with the many diverse situations that may arise on today’s complex battlefield. For example, a common CMTC scenario is the approach of civilians from a nearby town to the BSA to request medical support for a farmer who has wandered into a minefield. This situation presents the BSA commander with several requirements to meet: providing medical support in the village, providing security for medical personnel offering that support, and identifying engineer capabilities for demining.

Improving FSB Command of the BSA

Given such problems, what are some ways to fix them? The following are some suggested actions that have proven successful in the past.

* Create strong leader relationships. If the FSB commander cannot get to the field as often as needed, he should conduct tactical training without troops to discuss what the BSA does–its mission, command and control, and command relationships between the BSA TOC and unit command posts, including the brigade TOC. He also must know what capabilities tenant units bring to the BSA fight. To strengthen relationships, the FSB commander should invite unit leaders to an FSB staff meeting once a month or quarter. The intent here is to get personal. He should know the faces, and then all concerned can begin to understand capabilities, limitations, requirements, and mutual needs.

* Develop a BSA layout. The FSB commander must know how big an area each unit needs for operations and how well that area can be defended. He must know where, based on enemy avenues of approach, the units with the most firepower need to be placed. Very importantly, he has to be able to adjust when those units receive a mission that pulls them off the line.

* Analyze communications capabilities. The FSB commander must understand which units have what communications equipment. He must know if BSA units are listening to the BSA TOC frequency, the parent battalion frequency, or landlines because communications assets are limited. The FSB commander must know how to ensure that everyone knows what’s going on, at the same time, all the time.

The tips described above are not earth-shattering, rocket science, or magical. Each one of us would say we already know these things and could figure them out–and for the most part we probably do and can. However, it is usually too late if this happens after a rotation or a mission starts. The key is to start the BSA integration training process as early as possible and in conjunction with other events, whether in garrison or a tactical environment. This ability is just as important as being able to execute our required tactical logistics functions; it is devastating to the overall BCT mission if we fail to integrate.

Our FSB commanders know how to command their units. The various units within the BSA (engineers, signal, military intelligence, military police, air defense artillery, field trains) also know how to perform their missions. But if we cannot integrate all units as a total BSA, soldier welfare and mission accomplishment are at stake.




COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group