Supply corps officers add value to SOF.
Upon arrival to J4 within the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in July of 2015 I was asked by the Command Sergeant Major (CSM) if my skill sets could add value to the organization. I'll admit that I was taken back by the question. This was the 13th time I had executed permanent change of station orders and, as clear as I could recall, it was the first time I had been asked if brought any sort of value to the assignment. Sensing my puzzlement, the CSM rephrased he question by asking which of my capabilities USSOCOM could leverage to become a more effective logistics organization. Still feeling a little off guard, but not wanting to face an additional question, I replied, "A strong logistics background."
The CSM replied, "This is J4, we all bring a strong logistics background. I'm asking which specific skill set of yours will add value to our Special Operations Forces (SOF) logistics efforts that are supported by USSOCOM or the Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs)."
Feeling somewhat frustrated and a little defensive, I replied, "I'll add value by getting the job done no matter where I'm asked to work."
The CSM smiled and replied, "I wouldn't expect anything less from a Navy Supply Corps officer. Welcome to USSOCOM."
Despite the CSM's confidence in the Supply Corps' ability to perform within the SOF community, it would be understandable for officers without previous SOF experience to question their own ability to work within the SOF enterprise. There is a running joke within USSOCOM that Joint means Army, which is a facetious take on the reality that most, if not all, common user logistics revolves around Army infrastructure. The focus of SOF logistics is to ensure the last tactical mile of delivery, and any layman who believes in Murphy's Law would undoubtedly think an Army logistician would be best suited to ensure that the last tactical mile for SOF was intact. But as many SOF leaders like the USSOCOM J4 CSM are realizing, the best way to ensure the last tactical mile is to flatten an organization's infrastructure. The best way to flatten organizational infrastructure is to have an incredible amount of flexibility. Supply Corps officers provide that flexibility.
Like many of my fellow 0-5s assigned to USSOCOM, this is my first assignment at a four-star level Joint headquarters command. However, unlike many of my fellow 0-5s from other communities, this is not my first assignment outside of my area of expertise. The variety of career opportunities both afloat and ashore, combined with strong desires to increase one's individual skill sets, makes it common to find Supply Corps commanders with multiple sub-specialties in fields such as contracting, financial management, supply chain management, or operations research.
Not that long ago, there was a fairly common assumption that Supply Corps officers who diversified their experience and skill sets throughout their careers would lag behind in the Joint environment compared to their counterparts from the other Services who follow more specialized career paths. But as the SOF enterprise has come to realize in the last few years, a "jack of all trades" Navy Supply Corps officer actually creates agility for a community that demands flexibility. Supply Corps commanders with experience at United States Transportation Command and membership in the Defense Acquisition Community with Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act level 2 and 3 certifications in Contracting and Financial Management can be assigned virtually anywhere in the USSOCOM organization thanks to their great exposure to the various facets of acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L) as compared to that of their peers from the other Services.
Making the Transition from Conventional Forces to SOF
Supply Corps officers assigned to USSOCOM or one of the seven TSOCs work within a Joint logistics environment that provides direct support to SOF operating in austere environments. Unlike conventional logistics that typically rely on large hub-and-spoke sustainment models, USSOCOM and TSOC logisticians provide agile and unconventional logistics support that ensures Service-common and SOF-peculiar requirements are delivered directly to SOF elements operating outside conventional supply lines. This unique approach to logistics support requires an outside-the-box thought process that can cut against the grain of standard supply chain management. Many non-SOF logisticians, like myself prior to arriving at USSOCOM, will look at SOF logistics as a smaller version of a big Service operation, moving materiel from point A to point B. However, it is usually much more complicated than that. Can you complete the last tactical mile when there is no conventional transportation or logistics infrastructure where you are operating?
During a three-year assignment at USSOCOM, a Supply Corps officer will rotate through multiple divisions and perform a variety of tasks. It's not uncommon for an officer to rotate from serving as desk officer/liaison for United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) to a SOF Service provider such as Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM) then to a TSOC such as Special Operations Command Central. Supply Corps officers provide key logistics support for high visibility programs such as the 1208 program, which supports surrogate forces seeking to conduct counter-terrorism operations in support of United States' interests. As a desk officer/liaison, you are the primary' point of contact and action officer who will provide timely information and give voice to concerns within your assigned area of responsibility. As the principle logistics assistant for a program such as 1208, you provide subject matter expertise concerning any and every aspect of logistics.
Similarly, during a three-year tour at a TSOC, a Supply Corps officer can expect to serve in multiple divisions within the TSOC's logistics directorate. As an exercise planner within the current operations division, an officer will support all logistical requirements during Joint Chiefs of Staff sponsored exercises and Joint Combined Exchange Training programs. These exercises provide training opportunities for SOF in countries where they may one day operate in response to a crisis, and provide training opportunities with partner military forces. A TSOC logistician would be responsible for supporting all reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSO&I) requirements for assigned SOF components participating in the exercises, often times conducting site surveys in the host nation. They are also responsible for the transportation of forces and cargo to the exercises, known as the Time Phased Force Deployment Data.
As a logistics planner in the Future Plans division, a TSOC logistician ensures SOF is supported logistically within the geographic combatant commander's theater campaign plan and supporting campaign plans.
Assignment to USSOCOM or one of the seven TSOCs without prior SOF or Joint exposure can present challenges in understanding the unique culture of SOF and the language of our sister Services. However, this is easily overcome by completing the Joint Professional Military Education program, which is highly recommended to gain a solid understanding of the fundamentals of Joint planning and execution and the terminology used within the Joint world.
Supply Corps Officers Consistently Proving Their Added Value
In May 2015, USSOCOM was tasked to provide an officer in charge (OIC) to establish an intermediate staging base (ISB) in Kuwait. The ISB was designed as a rapid, highly adaptive, flexible, networked, and decentralized logistics hub with a multitude of military, civilian, and contractor support providers. It provided several functions, to include base operating support integrator (BOS-I), RSO&I, life cycle logistics sustainment/planning/execution, ordnance handling and warehousing, and motor pool management. Cmdr. Andres Diaz, SC, USN, was the first OIC of the ISB that became known as Joint SOF Support Detachment Kuwait (JSSD-K). Under his leadership, JSSD-K strengthened SOF Combat Service Support to Operation Inherent Resolve by synchronizing and facilitating RSO&I requirements for general purpose forces, interagency components, coalition partners, and key SOF elements. Cmdr. Diaz' team also developed planning, programming, budgeting, and execution inputs for BOS-I requirements by building key relationships with USCENTCOM and its supporting components. Prior to his deployment, Cmdr. Diaz worked within the USSOCOM J41 supply chain management division, where he utilized his Naval Postgraduate School Operations Research degree to help shape USSOCOM J4's H9D Inventory Control initiative. This deployment also permitted Cmdr. Diaz to qualify as a Navy Expeditionary Supply Corps officer.
While the initial learning curve may be steep, Navy Supply Corps officers are inherently accustomed to adapting to fast-paced and dynamic environments where they quickly become subject matter experts. Cmdr. Diaz' successful performance as OIC of JSSD-K is but one of many examples of Supply Corps officers' ability to perform well at any level within SOF logistics. Ultimately, their flexibility and actions are recognized by SOF leadership as adding value to the entire SOF enterprise.
BY CMDR. TROY CARR, SC, USN, SOF AT&L-J4, PRINCIPLE LOGISTIAN ASSISTANT TO 1208 PROGRAM MANAGER/NAVSPECWARCOM LIASON OFFICER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND AND LT. CMDR. CHRISTIN CROWLEY, SC, USN, SOJ43 CURRENT OPERATIONS AND EXERCISES SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND PACIFIC