Life for the 13th Sustainment Command is steadily returning to its normal ebb and flow after returning from its historic deployment to Afghanistan three months ago, said Brig. Gen. Clark W. LeMasters Jr., the unit’s commander.
Instead of serving in the traditional role of a sustainment headquarters — commanding subordinate units to provide supplies and support American forces — the command supported Deputy Command-Support Operations to advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces on their own logistics systems to ensure they are ready to be self-sustaining by the end of 2014.
During the 13th’s year in country, the directorate and its contractors trained more than 4,700 Afghan National Security Force members.
LeMasters sat down with the Herald on March 6 to discuss the unique mission, as well as what the next few months have in store for the sustainment command and its subordinate units.
Having Afghan forces manage their own logistics is one of the most important things they can do to become self-sustainable, LeMasters said.
During the deployment, one of the elements of Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger’s mission statement as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan was not only for Afghans to be self-sustainable from a perspective of being able to recruit and train soldiers, but more importantly, sustaining soldiers, LeMasters said.
“They were able to do food on their own, but they needed the ability to fix their own trucks, to have a system of supply from the national down to the unit level,” LeMasters said. “It’s easy to do the training and recruiting; they could do that and they could fight the enemy. The hard part was maintaining the facilities and supplying them to be operable, and to be able to go into combat they’ve got to be able to supply themselves. They’ve got to be able to fix their trucks. They’ve got to be able to deliver fuel.”
LeMasters said one of the many things they were able to accomplish was to create a 20-page field manual with some of the Afghan’s logistics doctrine, then translate it to Dari for the units to use to train leaders and noncommissioned officers.
For the 13th’s soldiers to work within another country’s logistics system, made them more flexible for future missions, LeMasters said.
“I think when you go into something that’s completely alien to you, you have to figure out which elements are important,” he said. “In some cases, my right solution that would work here at Fort Hood, will never work in Afghanistan.
“So how do I now take that and understand that it’s about the input and the output. It doesn’t matter what the sausage-making looks like on the inside. As long as I’m getting something in on this end and the result is a soldier has fuel for his vehicles or he’s got food to eat or he’s got a uniform.”
U.S. Army Europe’s 16th Sustainment Brigade, out of Germany, is continuing this mission in Afghanistan and the 13th will help train the 55th Sustainment Brigade, an Army Reserve unit, “so they can get their head around how they’re going to do that mission in August when they go take it over.”
The 13th also will conduct some training of its own to get soldiers back into their specific specialties.
“We are trying to look at the right way to organize ourselves here on post with the resources we have while we’re still preparing ourselves for our next mission. We’re potentially going to deploy again ... to Kuwait in ’14 as a headquarters,” he said.
Many of the battalions operating under the command’s 4th Sustainment Brigade are also moving between Fort Hood and Afghanistan. The 49th Movement Control Battalion is expected to return this spring from Bagram. Unlike the command headquarters, the battalion has been conducting its traditional mission — control and movement of trucks all over the country.
Units staying on post will continue training under a new philosophy of how to train sustainment units in the Army, called a command post exercise functional. The 13th will take on the pilot program.
Meanwhile, LeMasters said he will be studying the budget to make some of those tough decisions related to the sustainment operations center, which looks at all the sustainment support that goes on at Fort Hood.
“We try to organize that and line it (and) synchronize it a bit better so we can make the most out of what we have here,” he said. “I see that thing playing a more key role. ... I think money is going to continue to be a challenge for us and how we can do better with the money that we have.”
But there is a silver lining, he said, within the budget crunch — young leaders are going to learn to think more creatively.
“How do you train your company if I tell you, ‘You can’t go out to the field to train?’ So how do you train supply and different things and come up with some creative ways to do that,” he said. “I think it’s going to help them solve problems and it’s also going to force them to get back into some things we hadn’t done in a while, and that’s more attention in the motor pools, more attention for our young NCOs to train their own soldiers, because we won’t have all the contractors helping us do individual readiness training. For all the right reasons it’s going to bring some additional stress on us and make better leaders.”
Also on the agenda are some fun, family-oriented activities such as an Easter egg hunt, the Bluebonnet Ball and getting involved with the local community.