COL Anthony Walters (right) and MSG Phillip Schafer
Never one to pass up a trip to Hawaii, Master Sergeant Half-Mast spent a day visiting the 402nd Army Field Support Brigade (AFSB) and sat down with its commander, Colonel Anthony Walters, to ask some questions about sustainment operations in the Indo-Pacific region.
at the National Training Center
Col. Walters enlisted in the United States Air Force straight out of high school, then transferred to the Army. He attended the New Mexico Military Institute, where he earned his commission. Prior to assuming command of the 402nd, Walters was a senior fellow at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. Other key assignments include: Chief, Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) commanders planning group; commander, AFSBn-Stewart; deputy division chief on the Army G3/5/7 staff; the land forces branch chief for the Office of Military Cooperation, U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt; and brigade executive officer and brigade S4/support operations officer, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. Walters has deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Sir, as the Pacific theater’s importance increases, how do you see the role of logistics and readiness changing to counter the threat?
COL Walters: Beginning in the late 20th century, our Army has operated in environments where U.S. forces maintained superiority across all domains. From a logistics perspective, that superiority has allowed sustainment forces to provide logistics support from the strategic sustainment area to the front line with minimal security risk, especially from the joint security area back to CONUS. The basic tenants of logistics remain unchanged today: the Army will always have to forecast, plan and provide logistics support to sustain combat formations at the point of need.
The Indo-Pacific Command, or INDOPACOM, operating environment provides the Army and joint force with a complicated set of problems for planning and providing logistics support up to, and at the point of need, simply because of the proximity of the threat to the support area. The roles of logistics and readiness as they relate to the Pacific may directly contradict some of the Army's past doctrine. Joint sustainment coordination is essential as the Army establishes a presence across the Pacific in regions historically linked to our sister services. Our adversaries’ continued focus on global reach directly affects the Army's ability to move commodities, build combat power and sustain combat formations within the corps support area and, in some cases, the joint security area.
Our combat systems therefore need to be more technically advanced. Likewise, our sustainment formations must incorporate advances in logistics technology, such as autonomous delivery platforms, alternative power generation capabilities and remote diagnostics. Achieving these systems is necessary to sustain combat forces across the Pacific against adversaries focused on disrupting our joint sustainment capabilities.
What are the readiness challenges of commanding a brigade that supports Army units located in such diverse areas?
COL Walters: FM 4-0 Sustainment Operations states that forward-stationed Army field support brigades, or AFSBs, are allocated to Army service component commands, or ASCCs, to assist in setting the theater through the employment of Army Materiel Command, or AMC, capabilities. The 402nd AFSB supports the U.S. Army Pacific—or USARPAC—from a unique position because the brigade is one of three AFSBs that supports the Pacific. The 403rd AFSB supports Eighth Army in South Korea and U.S. forces in Japan, while the 404th AFSB supports I Corps, headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, when they deploy into the Pacific. USARPAC's span of influence covers 20 million square miles, encompassing extreme climate variations, multiple host nations, a vast array of cultural differences and multiple joint operating environments where the Army is not the lead service.
AMC's regional sustainment mission includes support requirements for 127 installation sites, four power projection platforms, one mobilization force generation installation site, two radar sites, one communication site and two Army prepositioned stock sites. The strategic sustainment mission to support these locations falls under the 402nd and 403rd AFSBs, requiring our two commands to coordinate and synchronize efforts in order to sustain USARPAC's combat power. The operating environment requires the 402nd AFSB to manage power projection requirements, much like a CONUS AFSB, as well as synchronizing deployment sustainment requirements, much like the 405th in Germany and the 401st in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.
The 402nd AFSB is a tailorable organization that integrates and synchronizes strategic key elements of the joint sustainment enterprise. The brigade supports installation, unit and equipment readiness that enables USARPAC to conduct large-scale combat operations. The 402nd AFSB and the greater USARPAC’s strategic sustainment team are postured to meet today's sustainment requirements. The 402nd is adapting our current formation and capabilities in order to meet tomorrow’s perceived challenges.
How do you actually measure readiness? That is, how do you know your unit and the units you support are more combat ready today than yesterday?
COL Walters: From time to time, I find that some individuals have a misconception that the AFSB measures readiness. In reality, a theater AFSB supports unit and equipment readiness as an enabler to the theater sustainment command. As a theater-focused sustainment organization, the 402nd AFSB tends to look for equipment readiness trends that are systematically causing a unit’s readiness to drop below Army standards. Systemic equipment readiness shortfalls can be caused by maintenance- or supply-related issues, as well as operator and mechanic training gaps.
The 402nd AFSB supports unit readiness through the coordinated efforts of aligned Army field support battalions, the employment of logistics assistance representatives who directly support those battalions, and the logistics management specialists who sit in the battalion support operations office and plan, coordinate, synchronize, receive, issue and divest equipment and parts from almost every type of organization within the Army's force structure. The AFSBns remain linked to the commands they support and, when required, deploy with those commands. The AFSBns participate in brigade- and division-level readiness reviews while the AFSB participates in Corps and ASCC readiness reviews.
The AFSBns and the AFSBs possess the necessary skill sets within each organization to identify ways the sustainment enterprise can support, and in some cases, increase unit readiness. In short, the greater AMC community strives to meet unit readiness requirements on a daily basis. We know our efforts are paying off each time a Soldier can train on a particular piece of equipment, deploy with the required equipment and meet the unit’s mission requirements with little to no downtime due to equipment readiness issues or supply-related shortfalls.
What are the readiness challenges due to COVID-19, and what lessons-learned are emerging from operating during a pandemic?
COL Walters: COVID-19 forced our Army to rethink the definition of mission-essential and mission-critical personnel. Installation sustainment requirements did not stop when COVID-19 hit and, in some locations, the demand for installation support increased. Telework criteria works well for sustainers who work in offices; however, one thing we found out very quickly was that it couldn’t work for our sustainers who work in warehouses, maintenance bays and transportation centers. Based on our new COVID-19 realities, our installation sustainment support organizations had to mitigate the spread of the virus though the implementation of social distancing, increased cleaning and, when possible, a reduction or modification to the services our AFSBns provide to each installation.
MSG Half-Mast: What advice or message would you give young Soldiers and junior leaders about how they can each positively affect Army readiness?
In addition to adapting our support to installations, our life cycle management command—or LCMC—LARs had to adjust how they support our Army formations. In the early days of COVID-19, our units decreased the training OPTEMPO, which in turn allowed the LARs to implement social distancing and personal protection measures. However, as the pandemic timeline increased, our units had to get back to training and this placed a strain on our LARs and AFSBn’s workforce because, the reality is, our civilian employees and LARs are a bit older than the average Soldier and their health risks with COVID-19 are a little different. Each AFSBn, in coordination with their LCMC counterparts, implemented different measures to ensure the safety of our team while supporting USARPAC and our units as they train and deploy. We will continue to wrestle with balancing unit and equipment readiness requirements with individual safety as long as the COVID-19 threat exists. I am confident that the 402nd AFSB team will work though the challenges associated with operating in a COVID-19 environment and will effectively and efficiently support unit readiness requirements through effective planning and leader involved execution.
COL Walters: Being a sustainer in today's Army is extremely demanding. Our adversaries understand the Army's reliance on sustainment and will do everything they can to disrupt our supply chain and our ability to maintain combat power. Our systems are becoming more and more technically-advanced and the requirements associated with sustaining our Army's warfighting platforms and support equipment will get harder over time. Before we can sustain our Army, each sustainment Solider must be proficient in the skills we were taught at basic training or at our basic course. The idea of back-to-basics cannot be overstated when you think about the dispersed and remote operating environments our Soldiers will have to contend with, if ever deployed to a large-scale combat environment. This reality becomes even more apparent when you lay a large-scale conflict over any portion of the INDOPACOM region.
A second area of focus should be on our junior leaders’ ability to serve as sustainment experts on the ground with our combat partners. It is vital that our junior leaders have the training and confidence to delegate, adapt and assume risk as they sustain operations in an environment with little to no senior leader sustainer oversight. They must also be experts in understanding the operational situation on the ground and clearly articulating the anticipated requirements associated with supporting a particular formation. By focusing on our basics, and training sustainers at every level to lead, adapt to their environment and anticipate requirements, we will enable today’s fight and guarantee victory on tomorrow’s battlefield.