The Tyranny of Distance: Maintaining Battery Readiness in a Dispersed Environment

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The Tyranny of Distance: Maintaining Battery Readiness in a Dispersed Environment

By CPT Stephen Campbell and 1SG Clayton Vaughn, Command Team of Bravo Battery 3-16 Field Artillery Regiment

The United State European Command (EUCOM) has a responsibility for over twenty-one million miles and 51 countries from Greenland to Russia. There are various units with countless missions spread out across EUCOM; however, all entities are responsible for continuing the administrative process and Soldier readiness. These two things are often seen as simple problems that are more of a nuisance than an actual problem. While stationed in Camp Saint Barbara (Torun, Poland) we did not have direct access to a lot of resources that would normally be available to a command team in order to ensure unit readiness. As a Battery command team it is imperative to project requirements, forecast resources, and develop creative solutions in order to ensure unit readiness and the ability to support the EUCOM and Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF) mission.

There are many categories that can fall within the administrative process, but for the purpose of this White Paper the focus will be on the legal and financial processes. The Army is an organization that is very capable of deploying to austere environments, and has learned a lot of lessons over the last almost two decades of deployments. Units prepare for deployments by doing legal rodeos, ensuring that Soldiers have Power of Attorneys complete, wills are created, and other legal actions are conducted; however, despite all of the preparation that can occur there are still issues that will arise whether it is a nine-month deployment or a fifteen-month deployment.

 Each unit handles problems differently and that can distinguish a good unit from a great unit. Depending on the location it could require a ground movement over eight hours or an air movement for more isolated bases. This means that personnel and resources are removed from their primary mission in order to conduct legal or financial actions. Not only does this impact the individual that requires the action, but also additional personnel that may be needed to escort Soldiers. Some of these problems can be mitigated telephonically; however, some locations did not have a dedicated Satellite Transportable Terminal (STT) to provide local phone capability. If not available the unit is then further limited to government issued cell phones, which are issued in limited quantity, or personal means of communication. Also, some of the issues need to be resolved in person, such as chapters and other administrative or legal actions.

The readiness of a unit is directly impacted by the administrative process and the ability to keep and maintain Soldiers in the fight. Depending on the dispersion throughout the area of operations it can go from a minor challenge to a monumental task that requires lines of efforts from the Battalion level for a solution. The forward unit’s ability to accomplish the mission, maintain readiness, and enhance lethality are directly tied to the resources available to maintain the administrative process.

The second impact on Soldier readiness in a dispersed environment is access to medical, embedded behavioral health (EBH), and dental resources. There are locations throughout EUCOM that offer some of the resources required and can help mitigate some of the issues; however, extensive work was limited to Grafenwoher, Germany which can range up to four to ten hours driving depending on location. Similar to the administrative processes mentioned above, it requires detailed integration in order to enable mission readiness and enhance lethality and readiness across the formation.

Systems were established in order to assist command teams in managing the requirement such as telephonic support for EBH and teleconferences for medical support. This allowed Soldiers to receive treatment and assessment while dispersed. The Brigade EBH team also conducted routine visits to the Forward Operating Sites (FOS) that further assisted in what they could provide. However, visits were not always able to be synchronized with operations and required the removal of Soldiers from training in order to allow them to seek medical treatment.

Dental was perhaps the largest struggle for Soldiers. Some routine appointments were scheduled through Tricare and resourced through local providers. However, there were occasional problems with appointment confirmations and getting it approved prior to the appointment. This led to Soldiers missing appointments; however, the issue was not identified until the Soldier arrived to the dental office for their appointment. If the dental work was required the Soldier could be sent to Grafenwoher; however, this required Soldiers to travel with an escort and the use of a Transportation Motor Pool (TMP) vehicle to move the Soldiers to Grafenwoher. This would be at minimum a three-day process as it would take one day for travel on either end, and one day to visit the dentist. This typically resulted in a three-day loss of training for the Soldier and all parties involved in the movement.

These extraordinary circumstances often take six times as long to provide the Soldier dental care that would normally take no more than half a day at Home Station, or at an established health care facility. It is imperative to understand the system and the time it takes to request resources. There were locations throughout the area that could facilitate additional dental work, such as Powidz or Poznan; however, base access requests (BAR) had to be submitted ten days prior and approved. There was no defined process to ensure that the BAR had been approved which led to Soldiers arriving to those posts and then having to spend additional time to get cleared because the BAR was not processed in a timely manner. This can be mitigated through detailed integration with the Regional Support Group (RGS) personnel at those locations.

Throughout the entire deployment we had to balance multiple requirements, limited resources, and changes in priorities. While the Battalion was able to maintain our own TMP fleet, they had to be used for ammunition pick-ups, Supply Support Activity (SSA) pick-ups, Soldier transportation to and from airports, and movements for Soldiers. Depending on the number of Soldiers or the amount of equipment that needed to be picked up it could quickly require multiple TMPs. Since we were limited on the availability of TMPs based on mission requirements we had to either forecast the resource early, adjust schedules, or develop creative solutions. Some instances required Soldiers to be dropped off at the airport several hours before their scheduled flight so that the TMP could be used for another mission later in the day. Other missions were shifted by either left or right in order to accommodate TMP availability. While we never tested it there is a train system that can transport Soldiers; however, given the austere location of many of the posts either in Poland or Germany it would require a TMP on both ends to pick up and drop off the Soldier. This would decrease the overall travel distance of the TMP; however, it would double the requirement for TMPs and personnel. Also it would require the Soldier to file additional paperwork in order to cover the cost of travel.

The administrative process and the action of taking care of Soldiers has a direct impact on sustained readiness and lethality. Simple missions during CONUS based operations that would require one individual and half a day instead take multiple Soldiers, vehicle resources, and multiple days to accomplish the same task. It is imperative to ensure that command teams understand the efforts and synchronization that is required to ensure their Soldiers are able to receive the support they need in a dispersed austere environment.