After serving operational tours on five separate warships and deploying on each one, I can say confidently that I am “Ready for Sea.” Our great sea-going corps has taught us well since our earliest days as ensigns, always be prepared to live without a lifeline while supporting the warfighter abroad. We have earned the respect and admiration of our peers of the line by consistently staying a step ahead of them, anticipating their needs. Supply Corps officers have given them what they need exactly when they need it over centuries of legendary storms and battles. All of us remain “Ready for Sea,” and of that we should remain justifiably proud. Yet, after receiving my first orders to D.C. after 20 years of service to our fine nation, I seriously wondered if I was ready for the Pentagon. To me, the storms and battles within her hallowed halls were mythical, not as easily maneuvered for a man lacking such bureaucratic experience. As I’ve come to realize we Supply Corps officers are indeed ready for the Pentagon and ready for the Joint Staff; I’ve learned a few things about joint logistics along the way.
As the U.S. transitions from the war in Afghanistan, logisticians across all services plan and prepare for the billions of dollars’ worth of national treasure that will be retrograded out of theater. We are charged with managing this process with good stewardship of our resources in mind. Such stewardship requires tradeoffs and risk assessments that were new to me. An example pertains to the iconic Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles that have saved invaluable American lives in the fight. I’ve learned that we have over 6,000 of them in theater, and we anticipate that not all of them are needed to support projected future operations. Yet, it isn’t quite as simple as just disposing of those not needed. There are political concerns that need addressed like a desire to potentially gift them to partner-nations as Excess Defense Articles (EDA). Such concerns need vetted properly through all of the services, various Combatant Commands, and other agencies like State and Commerce Departments. This vetting must ultimately include Congress and even the National Security Staff (NSS). There are capacity concerns with regard to retrograde through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), the Pakistan Ground Line of Communication (PAK-GLOC), and with the Defense Logistics Agency’s Disposition Services (DLA-DS) for proper demilitarization and disposal. As a captain in the Logistics Directorate on the Joint Staff, I have found myself deeply ingrained in each of these questions, and am looked upon to provide collaborative feedback to senior leaders on how DoD should proceed with particular aspects of retrograde, like MRAP divestiture.
In the business of national defense, you will be asked to view things from a truly global perspective. Supply Corps officers are well versed in understanding the challenges associated with constrained resources when keeping a ship at sea, and this challenge remains true in supporting operational plans across multiple theaters and multiple geographic combatant commands. Whether the commodity is fuel, tanks, trucks, or munitions, you will be asked to help coordinate the most efficient use of those constrained resources. This will require you to gain an appreciation for the Army’s position on preferred munitions, or the Marine Corps’ position on pre-positioned stocks, or DLA’s position on global petroleum inventories. It will require you to become familiar with industry’s capacity to produce precision guided munitions and gain an understanding for how petroleum markets can potentially mitigate risk by employment of swing stock strategies across geographic regions. It will be your job to advocate for the Combatant Commands and the services by ensuring their voice is heard when determining the risk associated with various courses of action that may or may not be employed in the business of national defense.
I have found that the Supply Corps has trained me well to adapt to this global view of joint logistics. Additionally, I’ve learned a great deal about how DoD provides the national defense our citizens expect and demand. Some of the lessons learned along the way are time-tested, basic concepts. Collaboration between services is critical in developing the best strategy for addressing any challenge. The Army may offer a course of action the Air Force never thought of, and even one that proves mutually beneficial to both. Simplification of complex issues is critical to the success of a Navy captain on the Joint Staff. One must quickly develop the instincts and skills necessary to focus senior leadership on the most important aspects of such issues to allow for efficient decision-making at the highest levels. One also quickly realizes the importance of avoiding the magnetic draw to tactical level thinking and problem solving. The Joint Staff has to have a global, strategic perspective, and it will be your job to consciously strive to maintain and promote this strategic perspective for leadership. You will find as a Supply Corps officer that you are well suited to adapt to all of these basic lessons and excel here on the Joint Staff. As the Athenian General Thucydides once said, “War is a matter not so much of arms as of money.” Clearly, financial management is at the core of our business, and understanding the sage advice of general officers remains a critical characteristic for success. That age-old adage you learned on your first ship and re-learned at NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support, of course, remains true on such a senior staff. Be right – be brief – be gone.
By Capt. Patrick O’Connor, SC, USN; Supply Division, Division Chief, the Joint Staff, J4