Transforming special operations logistics: the logistics support structure for Army Special Operations Forces is changing. But ARSOF logisticians can learn valuable lessons from the experiences and practices of their old organizationthe 528th Special Operations Support Battalion
Ronald R. Ragin
On 11 April 2005, Lieutenant General Philip R. Kensinger, Jr., Commanding General of the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, approved the Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) Logistics Transformation Concept. The concept calls for the creation of five regionally aligned Special Forces group support battalions, three Ranger battalion support companies, and a Special Operations sustainment brigade to replace the 528th Special Operations Support Battalion (Airborne). As the planning for implementing this transformation began, an important requirement became clear: the need to share the lessons learned and the training programs and unique capabilities developed by the 528th Special Operations Support Battalion (SOSB) over its 18 years of providing unparalleled combat service support (CSS) and combat health support (CHS) to Army and joint SOF throughout the world.
The nature of ARSOF operations places independent forces in remote locations without the logistics structure that normally supports conventional forces. ARSOF transformation is designed to provide an organic CSS and CHS capability to sustain deployed forces by means of internal capabilities, reachback for support, and coordination with Army conventional logistics units and by serving as a single point of contact for logistics in the earliest stages of ARSOF operations. Future modernization, in keeping with Army Vision 2010, will require digitization, automation, and fusion of capabilities to support the joint concept of Focused Logistics. ARSOF logistics must be transparent to the customers it supports and fully cost effective in terms of manpower and equipment requirements. The restructured ARSOF support assets will have to keep pace with the requirements imposed by contingencies and operations other than war in each theater; at any one time, on average, ARSOF are deployed to 35 to 45 countries worldwide.
An enduring objective of the 528th SOSB was to create a single, seamless, fully integrated organization to provide SOF-unique CSS and CHS for deployed ARSOF across the spectrum of conflict, anywhere in the world, from bare-base to urban environments. To achieve this objective, the battalion focused on four fundamental missions: Soldier development, SOF-unique equipping, operational planning and synchronization, and dynamic execution.
In codifying and building a Soldier development program based on training successes implemented over 18 years, developers focused on answering two important questions: What is a SOF support Soldier? What makes SOF Soldiers special? The answers are firmly embedded in the SOF truths: Humans are more important than hardware; quality is more important than quantity; SOF cannot be mass produced; and competent SOF cannot be created after emergencies occur.
These SOF truths must apply equally to the support Soldiers in order to develop the capabilities needed to sustain SOF operations throughout the SOF battlespace. The three-phased Soldier development program of the 528th SOSB incorporated a rigorous indoctrination phase, a multiskilled Soldier phase, and a “green cycle” training phase.
Phase 1. During the 3-day indoctrination phase, incoming Soldiers were screened and integrated into the battalion by indoctrinating them with the spirit of the Warrior Ethos mentality: Every soldier a rifleman first. Embedded in a culture where every CSS soldier maintained an individual conviction to achieve his personal best every day, the 528th SOSB paratroopers garnered a reputation as a Super Bowl-caliber team of teams to which every new Soldier wanted to belong. The remainder of the indoctrination phase included learning about ARSOF structure and advanced weapons, combatives [hand-to-hand combat, martial arts techniques taught to SOF Soldiers], obstacle course, land navigation, physical, and common task training.
Phase 2. This phase was designed to ensure that each Soldier was cross-trained in a variety of skills under a concept known as the Multi-Skilled Soldier Concept. This training consisted of four modules: military occupational specialty (MOS) mastery; MOS cross-training; Special Operations first responder (SOFR) training; and equipment operator cross-training.
All Soldiers had to be experts in their own MOSs; this required additional training and, in many cases, additional schooling. For example, mechanics had to attend schools to attain the skills required to maintain nonstandard vehicles and equipment, such as Toyota Tacomas, Mercedes, BMWs, and Polaris all-terrain vehicles.
The MOS cross-training module consisted of three, focused submodules (Super 92, Super 63, and Super 88). For example, the Super 92 submodule cross-trained fuel, water, supply, and ammunition specialists with the intent of creating an SOF logistician capable of operating in a fluid SOF environment and serving as a true combat multiplier under a reduced logistics footprint. (See the chart on page 30.) Each module combined the individual training a soldier had gained through his advanced individual training program and his experiences during previous assignments with unit cross-training; this cross-training was based on SOF-unique collective training and on the requirements and training times found in Soldier training publications. Soldiers were validated and certified by means of rigorous situational training exercises, field validation exercises, and operational deployments.
The SOFR module was a 3-day course conducted under battlefield conditions. It was designed to provide nonmedical Soldiers with the skills required to identify and treat life-threatening injuries, such as hemorrhages and respiratory distress. The course also emphasized battlefield evacuation using SOF-specific platforms and preventive medicine.
The fourth module focused on equipment operator cross-training, regardless of specialty. Soldiers were required to maintain qualifications on multiple pieces of equipment, including forklifts, trucks, fuel and water equipment, and generators. The goal was to have Soldiers licensed on all platoon equipment in order to ensure unit flexibility and depth. Leaders were required to maintain documentation on each Soldier’s progress through the program.
Phase 3. The final phase of the Soldier development program was a 3-month training cycle, called the “green cycle.” While the company was in green-cycle training, it was protected from all garrison and operational requirements so that it could focus on mission-essential task list (METL)-based training. As part of the green-cycle program, each company was required to complete individual training, platoon and company collective training, advanced weapons training, convoy live-fire training, improvised explosive device (IED) training, a company external evaluation exercise (called “Black Dagger Strike”), and an operational readiness survey. The battalion standardized equipment and aligned as many collective training events (such as multilaterals, bilaterals, Gunsmokes, and Joint Readiness Training Center and National Training Center rotations) as possible with supported ARSOF units before beginning a mission cycle or deployment. [“Multilaterals” are combined arms joint (and sometimes multinational) live-fire exercises, usually conducted with SOF ground and aviation elements and Navy and Air Force aviation platforms. “Bilaterals” are combined arms exercises, usually with ARSOF ground and aviation assets. “Gunsmokes” are live-fire exercises conducted with ARSOF aviation assets.]
ARSOF logistics units must remain uniquely equipped to sustain current and future SOF operations. Since the beginning of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, one-third of the 528th SOSB has been deployed to support SOF operations worldwide while the other two-thirds have been training or refitting for deployment. Because of the operational sensitivity of its multiple deployment locations, the battalion had to develop a means to command and control and securely communicate with forward-deployed elements.
Deployed SOF units conducted weekly command or operational video teleconferences (VTCs) with continental United States (CONUS)-based elements to ensure continuity and synchronization of combat operations. These VTCs were followed by a logistics VTC to communicate and synchronize time-sensitive changes and critical logistics issues and conduct backbriefs. The weekly meetings enabled the 528th SOSB’s Support Operations (SPO) Section to successfully synchronize logistics support with SOF operations and bridge gaps between the requirements of deployed units and CONUS-based capabilities.
The battalion maximized the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies to design and build a state-of-the-art mission support center at Fort Bragg. This center enabled the commander to better communicate with and command and control split-based logistics operations and rapidly reinforce forward-deployed logistics assets. To communicate with assets deployed to remote or bare-base locations with limited communications infrastructure, the battalion began the process to acquire SOF Deployable Node Lite (SDN Lite) communications systems. These compact, high-tech communications systems would enable the battalion to establish ubiquitous connectivity rapidly; transfer secure, high-speed data; and establish voice and video reachback capabilities from remote operating bases to ensure continuity of support to deployed SOF elements.
When a theater matures and incorporates conventional forces, or when ARSOF are integrated into a conventional force footprint, SOF logistics must interface with conventional Army logistics support to maximize efficiency, reduce the logistics footprint, ensure connectivity, and provide SOF-unique support. This requires ARSOF logisticians to synchronize their operations with updated CSS capabilities and initiatives so they can leverage new technologies and information systems.
New technologies such as the Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3) will greatly improve ARSOF logistics capabilities. By fusing data from existing systems, such as the Standard Army Management Information Systems (STAMIS), in-transit visibility (ITV), Joint Deployment Logistics Model (JDLM), Integrated Logistics Analysis Program (ILAP), Global Command and Control System-Army (GCCS-A), and medical information systems, BCS3 will enable support assets to develop a logistics common operating picture. BCS3 also will allow ARSOF logisticians to securely manage critical CSS information, such as movement data, theater logistics data, running consumption data, collaborative logistics tools, and military decision-making process products.
SOF-unique CSS systems developed or acquired through the years include airdroppable 250-gallon-per-minute fuel pump systems; all-terrain vehicle (ATV)-mounted TECWAR (Tactical Environmental Components–Water Asset Recovery) Pro 3000 portable reverse osmosis water purification (ROWPU) systems; lightweight manpack-portable or ground-mounted LS3 ultraviolet ROWPU systems; lightweight digital x-ray machines; 5.4-pound handheld ultrasound machines; and a state-of-the-art critical care patient-hold section. [“Manpack” is an individual, lightweight communications system. The “patient-hold section” is a rapidly deployable module with a 10-bed holding capacity and a 4-bed critical care section. It provides a unique capability that typically is not found anywhere in the Army except in much larger organizations such as a combat support hospital.]
Other 528th SOSB equipment includes the Special Operations individual aid bag and the NASCAR rapid tire-pumping system. The battalion’s investment in COTS logistics technologies and equipment innovations facilitates operational planning, synchronization, and execution and is paying enormous dividends in sustaining current ARSOF operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
Operational Planning and Synchronization
Effective staff planning for logistics support of ARSOF operations requires an aggressive and efficient battle staff. Logistics planning must be done in tandem with the staff of the supported unit through development of orders, review of historical records, and creation of after-action reports. Anticipating mission requirements that will shape the battle favorably for deployed ARSOF elements is not enough. Immediate follow-up actions to verify and validate identified requirements are essential to success.
ARSOF logistics elements should conduct mission analyses at every level and develop a logistics support plan that is fully integrated into the combined/joint Special Operations task force J-4’s or regiment S-4’s overall logistics plan. The SOF planner should know the operation plan and scheme of maneuver for supported ARSOF units; equipment systems; standing operating procedures; tactics, techniques, and procedures; and the geopolitical sensitivities of the region. ARSOF logistics planning conferences with the staffs of supported units, predeployment site surveys, daily communication of significant activities, and battle update reports are keys to developing a solid logistics plan.
Before conducting a routine replacement of forces in support of ARSOF operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 528th SOSB SPO Section conducted a planning conference with the 75th Ranger Regiment, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and Special Operations Support Command to validate mission requirements against capabilities and develop a detailed concept of support plan using all available data. The plan highlighted the locations of conventional logistics units, theater pipelines, and contractors; available capabilities; and CONUS and theater point-of-contact listings. The plan was briefed to ARSOF commanders for approval before it was executed. The collected research data were used throughout the deployment, and the knowledge of units, locations, and major CSS hubs proved invaluable. The battalion’s planners were able to synchronize events, times, personnel, and equipment to set the conditions for optimal CSS force positioning and execution in support of SOF operations.
To augment ARSOF assets in Afghanistan, the 528th SOSB SPO planners maximized the use of the extensive logistics network established at Bagram Airfield and staffed by the Joint Logistics Command (JLC). Historically, ARSOF units have not exploited the capabilities of conventional logistics assets because of security and training concerns or a lack of understanding of what other units can provide to ARSOF. However, the SPO planners recognized an array of possibilities when conducting predeployment site surveys and mission analysis. The JLC deployed a tremendous transportation capability, which enhanced the ability of ARSOF elements to move all classes of supply (except class V [ammunition] and sensitive items) to forward locations.
The 3d Special Forces Group’s service detachments coordinated with the JLC to include their forward operations bases (FOBs) and advanced operations bases in the JLC’s maintenance support team (MST) rotations. The MSTs diagnosed non-SOF-specific equipment in forward locations and sent parts requests back to the FOB at Bagram Airfield to be ordered through the FOB’s Unit Level Logistics System-Ground computer. The conventional MSTs were augmented by SOF logistics assets to provide SOF-specific support. Planners learned to minimize the requirements of deployed ARSOF by synchronizing the concept of support plan with supported ARSOF units and already-deployed conventional logistics assets, thus obtaining support on an area support basis.
It is essential that ARSOF logisticians be firmly grounded in conventional Army logistics systems and procedures in order to guarantee minimum adverse impacts on dynamic ARSOF operations. ARSOF task forces normally consist of joint and combined forces along with other Government agencies. Elements can range from civilian contractors to other SOF organizations with direct action missions, some of which will have specific mission requirements for specialized items. The independent nature of ARSOF units and their general unfamiliarity with the logistics system have required detailed coordination and dynamic execution to alleviate support concerns.
ARSOF, by design, are versatile and resourceful–qualities that enable them to set the time, place, and manner of achieving victory. Their specialized ability to adapt and adjust to changes in a dynamic environment guarantees a high probability of mission success. The ARSOF logistics system must provide a similar level of flexibility to the execution of the logistics support plan.
The 528th SOSB recognized that an essential element for adding flexibility was centralization of logistics operations under one deployed command node for elements deployed in the U.S. Central Command area of operations (AOR). This provided a forward central command and planning presence that had the authority to rapidly shift logistics assets across traditional SOF boundaries in response to the changing dynamics of operation plans. On several occasions, assets dedicated to support Special Forces units were shifted to assist Ranger operations and assets dedicated to the Rangers were shifted to support operations of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The ability to coordinate the movement of high-demand assets between mission sets provided required flexibility, maximized the use of personnel with low-density MOSs, and reduced the overall logistics footprint.
Unforecasted changes in SOF operational requirements in both Afghanistan and Iraq required deployed logistics Soldiers to maintain a high degree of flexibility. Junior enlisted Soldiers performed as sergeants, and sergeants performed in roles traditionally filled by junior officers. At times, cooks acted as supply specialists, water specialists conducted aviation hot-refuels, riggers worked as movement specialists, and mechanics fixed nonstandard vehicles. Planners shouldered duties of contractors and base defense coordinators, and all performed their part as vital enablers in the successful execution of the SOF operation plans.
The trained, multiskilled Soldiers of the 528th SOSB were tremendous combat multipliers for ARSOF elements operating from remote bases with limited access to supplies and services. In particular, they provided trained mechanics for nonstandard vehicles, engineers, and supply specialists. As ARSOF mission requirements expanded, the battalion’s Soldiers were responsible for rapid coordination of receipt, storage, and issue of all classes of supply; engineer heavy-equipment operations; base support functions such as billeting, power generation, and airfield and motor pool parking space management; reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSO&I); and land management. [“Land management” is the process of allocating space and land to units occupying a certain geographical area.] If operational requirements exceeded the logistics capabilities of deployed SOF, the SPO cell forward, in conjunction with the special operations theater support element, coordinated across the AOR to find SOF-specific or conventional assets to meet the validated operational requirement before submitting a Request for Forces for CONUS-based assets.
By operating globally in “the seams” between peace and war, SOF will remain our Nation’s instrument of choice to find, fix, and finish any emerging threats. An essential combat multiplier for sustaining this lethal strike capability is maintaining a fully integrated and synchronized SOF-unique logistics base that is capable of providing staying power, rapid force projection, early entry, versatility, flexibility, and responsiveness to supported SOF units.
As we move into the future, the lessons learned by the 528th SOSB and the training programs and unique capabilities it developed over 18 years of providing unparalleled CSS and CHS to all Army and joint SOF must not be lost. To guarantee expert SOF support, all newly designed ARSOF logistics organizations should remain firmly rooted in the tenets of Soldier development, SOF-unique equipping, operational planning and synchronization, and dynamic execution.
THE AUTHOR THANKS CAPTAIN JOHN M. BALBUENA, CAPTAIN JOSEPH R. KURZ, CAPTAIN BOBBY BRYANT, AND CAPTAIN ALLEN BYRNE FOR THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS ARTICLE.
MAJOR RONALD R. RAGIN 15 THE BATTALION EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE 7TH GROUP SUPPORT BATTALION (AIRBORNE), 7TH SPECIAL FORCES GROUP (AIRBORNE), AT FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA. HE HAS A MASTER’S DEGREE IN NATIONAL SECURITY AND MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES FROM THE NAVAL WAR COLLEGE AND IS COMPLETING A DEGREE IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS WITH A CONCENTRATION IN GLOBAL STUDIES FROM TROY UNIVERSITY IN ALABAMA.
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