Leading small-team logistics

By Chris Paparone.

Steven Menschelyi recently described in a great article how armies can manage combat service support units best if it sees them as they really are: a collection of mission-focused teams. As a CSS Bn Cdr, I came up with a management scheme to organize around small teams instead of platoons or companies. I described this method in a piece in Army Logistician — “CSS: A collection of teams” by Paparone, (May/Jun 2003): pp. 20-21. There were two charts (the first one is important) — but they will not show up in the following pasted text:

While we may consider combat service support (CSS) to be a unit-based capability, I believe that, in reality, the Army’s CSS capability is provided by a collection of diverse CSS teams that are “cared for” by a unit structure. You might ask, ‘what’s the difference between CSS teams and units?’ I think the difference is huge. I also believe that thinking of CSS capability as provided by teams instead of units requires a paradigm shift in how we command, lead, and manage people, equipment, training, and overall readiness.

Fuel teams, maintenance teams, medical teams, transportation crews, ammunition transfer teams, and supply teams all determine the capable delivery of logistics. The main reason for a unit structure is to provide administrative and operational control over these teams and to position them in the right place to render support as close as possible to the point where support is needed.

Not only is the realization that the Army operates primarily through teams important to today’s Army, but it also is important to achieving the Objective Force concept of how things must be done in the future Army. Much of the creative writing on the Objective Force has focused on the need to integrate all functions into combat formations that are dispersed over a non-contiguous battlespace. Under this concept, CSS teams will be working hand in hand with units that are in contact with the enemy, not enjoying the positional safety once afforded by an echeloned, linear battlefield. Layers of logistics headquarters in theater will be replaced with delivery of logistics to the point of needed support by small teams that reach as far back into the communications zone as possible.

One technique for commanding, leading, and managing teams is to focus battalion-level systems on those teams rather than on company-sized units. For example, assessing readiness and developing training schedules should focus first on the team, not the company. When I commanded the 47th Support Battalion (Forward), 1st Armored Division, in Germany, we developed this team-based mentality and operated accordingly. Our battalion weekly training meetings, quarterly training briefings, and unit status reporting process were oriented on our CSS (and later our command and control) teams.

We developed the chart below to track the current and projected readiness of our teams. The color ratings used in such a chart can be determined locally; we saw black (labeled “B” in the chart below) as ineffective, red (R) as minimally effective, amber (A) as partially effective, and green (G) as totally effective. We looked at the current status based on team reporting and projected the status based on “PETC” team forecasts and staff analysis. (“PETC” stands for personnel gains and losses, equipment maintenance projections, individual and collective training, and team cohesion.) We eventually added the “headquarters team” (not indicated on this chart) for companies and the battalion to indicate command and control ratings. This chart became our mainstay for both quarterly training briefings and unit status reporting.

Team Ratings Chart

The “PETC” chart for 47th Support Battalion (Forward)

These color-coded charts were used by the 47th Forward Support Battalion to assess the readiness of its CSS teams.

CSM's role

An illustration of the battalion command sergeant major’s team readiness assessment process

In addition to the battalion’s use of the charts, our command sergeant major developed ad hoc non-commissioned officer (NCO) teams that conducted monthly assessments of designated teams within the unit. The NCO teams were made up of rotating NCOs from above the platoon level and from multiple companies. The NCO teams scheduled the monthly assessments on company and battalion training calendars. The assessment process involved visiting and talking to soldiers. The NCO teams would ask such questions: Do you have what you need to do your job? How is morale? Do you have any issues concerning your command, leadership, or the management climate? The NCOs who served on these teams learned a lot about the capabilities of the battalion and a lot about coaching and leadership. (See the chart above)

These assessments were based on a command, leadership, and management philosophy. They were not inspections, nor were they used to lay blame on sergeants or officers. As battalion commander, I did not require a written report or formal oral feedback on these assessments, just a qualitative confirmation of current and projected status. The assessments were designed to assess systemic problems that blocked the teams from achieving “green” status. The results influenced, and most of the time validated, the color-coded charts.

The color-coded charts were very useful in demonstrating to higher headquarters the status of personnel, equipment, training, and morale in our battalion’s teams. When the teams’ status was presented in one chart, it was possible for higher headquarters to gain an overall impression of their capabilities. This made resource decisions at higher levels easier to make: Do we accept risk, or do we do something about these issues?

I believe that looking at CSS capabilities in terms of teams is an important step toward attaining the Objective Force vision. In our battalion, this concept eventually empowered team leaders and followers with a voice they never had before. On the whole, soldiers were delighted with the focus on teams because it got the attention of unit commanders and staff. While some in the chain of command at first thought focusing on teams disrupted the traditional Army hierarchy, they soon learned that, to be effective, their roles had to shift from “authoritative direction” to “servant leadership.” I commend this philosophy and these tools to all commanders because they reflect the kind of organizational image we need for a transformed Army.

Chris Paparone, COL, US Army retired, served 29 years as a logistician and since 2002 has been involved in the US Army military education system.

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2 thoughts on “Leading small-team logistics

  1. Chris, I like your approach as I agree that a unit should be structured as it would fight. The Australian Army has recently restructured its CSS and Health assets under a constrained resource construct which limits our ability to mirror your approach. In the barracks, a CSS Bn commander does not own half of the assets you list in your chart, but I will say that it doesn’t stop the small team approach in the field.


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