By Timothy L. Hale
U.S. Army Reserve Command
The largest sustainment brigade across the active Army and reserve components spent the last two weeks working in a complex battlefield environment and improving their “Sustainment One Stop” processes during Command Post Exercise-Functional (CPX-F) at the Fort Bragg Mission Training Complex, March 11-April 4, 2019.
Hailed as “America’s Sustainment Brigade,” the 55th Sustainment Brigade, 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 377th Theater Sustainment Command, based at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, has more than 3,000 men and women in 25 units spread across the East coast from Delaware to Virginia.
The 55th provides sustainment in an area of operations by planning and executing sustainment, distribution, theater opening and reception, staging, and onward movement of all Army forces in the full spectrum of operations as directed by their higher commands.
Exercising this capability ensures the brigade meets the intent of Lt. Gen. Charles D. Luckey, Chief of Army Reserve and Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserve Command – being capable, combat-ready, and lethal.
Conducting the CPX-F also ties in with Luckey’s Ready Force X initiative, a program within America’s Army Reserve to be able to “Fight Fast” by conducting critical training and validation before mobilization to reduce deployment timelines. Luckey said Ready Force X units “must be ready to step out the door to meet and engage adversaries anywhere in the world.
“When I talk about Fight Fast, when I talk about capability and combat-readiness, I’m talking about lethality for America’s Army Reserve,” Luckey said.
The CPX-F tested the 55th’s capabilities of moving the entire family of ten classes of Army supplies and commodities that included ammunitions, fuel, water, and food, across a simulated battle space.
“Ultimately the sustainment brigade's goal is to ensure freedom of maneuver, extend operational reach and prolong the endurance of the warfighter or maneuver forces on the ground. That's how we are combat ready and lethal,” said Col. Chris M. Briand, 55th Sustainment Brigade commander.
“We are a Ready Force X unit so we have to have our combat capabilities and readiness at a high level. This is a great exercise for that fast walk of really getting to a collective training event to exercise our brigade level staff,” Briand said. “It provides enough injects and energy to exercise all the different commodities of supply. Our goal here is to get at sustaining the warrior on the battlefield. Our customers are the maneuver forces that are on the battlefield. We want to give them that operational reach, that freedom of movement, and we also want to give them that endurance to fight the battle.”
Briand said the Army Reserve soldiers of the 55th come from various occupations and they bring those experiences and skills to bear when it comes to their military job.
“We have so many unique people that we bring to the fight. We have a multitude of nationalities, skill sets they bring from the civilian world, experiences from all over the country and even outside of the United States,” she said.
The leadership team said harnessing this diversity is one of the key components of the success of the 55th.
“Our Soldiers bring forth their everyday civilian tech skills and utilize them to ensure we meet a larger spectrum of the mission,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Olmstead, 55th Sustainment Brigade command sergeant major.
“For example, having a logistician-heavy organization with many of them employed as Cyber/IT professionals in their civilian jobs gives the Army Reserve a truly unique capability that only it can bring to tomorrow’s fight.
Olmstead said the real value they bring to the unit is their creativity.
"They couple the skills from their daily job with their Army-trained logistic skills and they move out to accomplish the mission,” Olmstead said.
Master Sgt. Sean Fleharty, the ammunition noncommissioned officer-in-charge, said maintaining a real-world focus in a simulated environment was key to the success of the 55th during the CPX-F. He also uses his previous experience as an infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom I to instill the importance of the sustainment mission with his younger soldiers.
“Usually, as we are pressing forward, we always want to think about would could happen if those units on the ground, the infantrymen, don’t get the ammo they need,” Fleharty said. “When I was in Iraq that happened many times – we were just burning through tons of ammo. Some of the times, we were wondering, ‘How are we getting all of this ammo? Where is it coming from?’
“When I’m with my soldiers, I try to express to them that importance to ensure they (the maneuver forces) are getting everything they need and just thinking forward all the time,” Fleharty said.
He said the key is finding the right balance.
“At any point in time, anything can happen to where they absolutely need no ammo and we’re pushing them too much or we’re not pushing them enough,” Fleharty said.
Testing the capabilities of the brigade during the CPX-F reached down to the lowest level of the command – not only in the area of logistics but other staff functions.
Spc. Courtney Funkhouser, an intelligence analyst, who joined the U.S. Army Reserve as a high school senior, provides valuable information to the staff sections that can be used when planning sustainment missions.
“Our job is to understand the battlefield in order for our units to be able to travel down the MSRs (Main Supply Routes) safely and efficiently,” Funkhouser said. “We need to be able to understand where the threat is, what their capabilities are, and what our protection assets are.”
Even though she is a young soldier, Funkhouser understands her role in the bigger sustainment picture in the Total Army Force structure.
“Without sustaining the fight, the war would be over,” she said. “We have to have the sustainers, even though they are not on the front lines. The front line guys are really important but without having the people there to keep them going, we’re going to lose.”
Briand and Olmstead said they were pleased with the outstanding efforts of the entire command and after the CPX-F is over, they will analyze the lessons learned, and be even more ready to deploy in an operational environment to support maneuver forces.
“Combat Arms cannot do anything without us,” Briand said. “They can’t eat, they need to be clothed, they need maintained equipment, they need ammo, they need transportation – all of those classes of supply – they can’t function without us on the battlefield.”
Fleharty echoed his commander adding, “Once we go into a theater, we are going to control everything from all of those classes (of supply) and supporting all of those units. Like I said, when we were in Iraq, we didn’t know how were getting that ammo, how were getting that water or food, but someone, like the 55th is working all of that; crunching all the numbers and working just as hard.”