Supporting the Navy Expeditionary Warfighter – A Decade of Change

BY PHILLIP KNAUSS, DIRECTOR, SUPPLY CORPS OFFICER PLANS NAVSUP, OFFICE OF SUPPLY CORPS PERSONNEL

In 2007 I joined the Supply Corps Office of Personnel in Millington, Tennessee after nearly 25 years in uniform, the final 14 as a Civil Engineer Corps officer. Hired with consideration for my analytic background and extensive experience with data and data management, I began, with the help of Ms. Beth Zimmerman, to assemble data sets that would be useful for my craft. An athlete, of sorts, and avid runner, I met a lifelong friend, Charles Andrews, who today serves as the commanding officer for Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal. My relationship with Charles became a gateway to friendships with a couple of our Navy SEAL detailers with whom I had the chance to run. Ok, so what?

In the past nine years, the Supply Corps crossed a tipping point. One of my earliest curiosities led to a data query that revealed that the Supply Corps had no captains, other than full-time support (FTS) officers, who had earned the Seabee Combat Warfare pin. Anecdotally, I would hear that junior officers were led away from expeditionary assignments by savvy mentors who didn’t see a strong path to promotion. Looking backward, they probably had a point. Less than 10 percent of the Supply Corps premiere milestone assignments, operational commander billets, were expeditionary in nature. However, during the past nine years, a great deal has changed.

My SEAL and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) running mates (election year pun not intended) routinely reminded me how much they valued their Supply Corps officers. The SEALs were, in fact, quite content to have Supply Corps officers in command of the Logistic Support Units freeing up SEAL officers to plan missions and lead troops. Apparently, someone was listening. Today, the Supply Corps is about 5 percent smaller than it was in 2007. Despite this change, we have nearly double the number of Supply Corps officers (97) assigned to Naval Special Warfare commands. We also have 23 officers directly supporting the EOD community contrasted with 13 in 2007. Our support for cargo handling battalions has been steady since 2007 and with the loss of several mobile construction battalions recently we have lost about 10 opportunities with the Seabees.

It’s more than simply new opportunities. As our community got smaller, we also lost operational commander opportunities. Commander billets on board Military Sealift Command Combat Logistics Force ships vanished. This, however, created opportunity and the Supply Corps met strong warfighter demand for expeditionary support with new command opportunities that support the SEAL and the EOD communities. Expeditionary Support Units ONE and TWO were established and Logistics Support Unit (LOGSU) THREE joined LOGSU Units ONE and TWO as milestone commander billets. Coupled with our FTS command billet at Navy Cargo Handling Battalion ONE, one in five operational commander assignments is expeditionary in nature today. Officers often find these assignments fascinating, but this is no free lunch as these are the only operational commander billets where a Supply Corps officer is entrusted with the charge of command.

Changes have happened in the junior ranks, as well. Today, you will find Ensigns assigned filling division officer roles, and lieutenants in their second operational tour can expect to serve as department heads. Fitness reports (FITREPs) recognizing department head responsibilities confirm the scope of responsibility and leadership experiences that promotion and administrative selection boards want.

But, are they getting promoted?

In 2007, there was only one 3100 designated captain who had served in an operationally coded expeditionary assignment during his career. Similarly, there were only eight 3100 commanders with this experience and only two ever wore the rank of captain. Today, six 3100 Supply Corps captains and 33 commanders have operational expeditionary experience. We have examples of captains with this experience serving as commanding officers for major commands such as Fleet Logistics Centers and two more captains with this experience were selected at the most recent major command screening board. Additionally, lieutenants competing for lieutenant commander last year who possessed a 928, 929 or 93E Additional Qualifying Designator, whose summary FITREP average was more often above than below their reporting senior average for their rank and who were without a physical fitness assessment failure or a failure to secure an early promote when one was available (air gap), were selected for promotion. This confirms that sustained performance matters regardless of where an officer is assigned.

Times change and we are changing with them. We still have plenty of great assignments at sea, but don’t overlook an exciting opportunity within our Naval Special Warfare or Expeditionary Forces.

September/October 2016