When Col. Mark Simerly took command of 4th Sustainment Brigade in February 2012, he said he was inspired by the soldiers’ previous work as the last sustainment brigade in Iraq.
“It was inspiring it was to understand what the brigade had accomplished, what they had done in Iraq closing down Operation New Dawn, and what those soldiers had done with the sustaining mission here,” he said. “As I get ready to depart, the overwhelming sense I have again is their commitment, sacrifice and professionalism.”
On Thursday, Simerly will relinquish command of the “Wrangler” Brigade and move over to III Corps, eventually joining the headquarters in Afghanistan.
During his tenure, Simerly led the Army’s largest sustainment brigade, part of the 13th Sustainment Command, as it supported Fort Hood while training units as small as platoons to deploy around the world and then reintegrated those who returned. At any time, Simerly said he had 300 to 400 soldiers deployed from his brigade of about 3,300.
“It is a challenge to have a focus that motivates everyone on the same goals and performance measures, because everybody’s at a different stage in terms of their preparation,” he said.
Because of this challenge, the colonel said he relies heavily on the leadership of his battalions and companies, and he said there has been measurable growth on an individual basis, especially among junior leaders.
“I will say when I first came into command, as a career logistician, my focus was on our mission and accomplishing our mission in the best possible way to sustain readiness on Fort Hood. That’s our core competency and why we are here on Fort Hood ... and still that is a top priority for us, but at the same time I have seen the effect of our operational tempo and the effect of our (deployment readiness) cycle with soldiers and units at various stages of deploying.
“So for me a bigger priority has become the health of our force and to build the resiliency in our soldiers and our families,” Simerly said.
Take care of each other
He learned that while the Army is very good at making time for training or maintenance, it’s not as efficient at making time for counseling or dialogue and discussion among leaders and soldiers.
“We’ve had to be much more deliberate about the way we take time to take care of each other,” he said. “So that’s one area where we’ve replaced that system and built time into our training schedules to ensure we have that sort of contact.
“We have a greater level of understand of each and every soldier we have in the brigade. So I think the leaders in the brigade have really turned a corner on being able to focus on our soldiers, understand the risk factors better and apply mitigating measures better,” he continued.
Behind the scene
Even when Wrangler soldiers aren’t training for a specific deployment to Afghanistan or Kuwait, many are working behind the scenes to sustain Fort Hood’s 17 brigades.
“My soldiers have never disappointed me in the way they sustain Fort Hood and help build readiness here,” Simerly said. “You will see soldiers wearing the Wrangler patch in every corner of this post every day, almost every weekend, doing things that are important to train units and sustain units and to deploy units.”
Wrangler soldiers work at the airfield for every deployment and redeployment, helping load and transport cargo and moving containers. Brigade soldiers also man the fuel points at North Fort Hood where Reserve soldiers train for mobilization. A single company runs the ammunition supply point for every single round of ammunition fired at Fort Hood for training.
“It’s amazing what a few select soldiers can do and the difference they make, especially if they are well led,” Simerly said.
Help with drawdown
Once in Afghanistan, Simerly said he will work with III Corps on the massive drawdown underway to ensure all combat troops leave the country by the end of 2014 as directed by the U.S. president.
“Afghanistan is a vastly more difficult place to conclude our combat operations than Iraq was,” he said. “Due to situation with neighboring countries, the lines of communication, the highways coming out, and a whole host of factors that make it more difficult and complex. The good thing is we have the experience of what we just did in Iraq to translate some systems emplaced in Iraq and use them now. We just have to be able to adjust those to the conditions.”
Simerly has been to Iraq on several tours, but this will be his first in Afghanistan.
“We’re at a critical time in that operation and there’s an immense amount of work that needs to be done,” he said. “It’s very gratifying to be given the opportunity to go into something so important in our nation.”
He will be leaving the Wrangler brigade in the hands of Col. Timothy Luedecking.
“I will enjoy watching the wranglers do great things from afar,” Simerly said.
Contact Rose L. Thayer at email@example.com or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.