It is a momentous occasion and highlight in any Supply Corps officer’s career to receive orders to lead a multi-million dollar logistics command. There is little more exciting than being at the helm of command and charged with the authority and responsibility to lead men and women. So for those who aspire to command, let’s for a moment imagine you have been board screened and selected as worthy of command and are now entrusted with all the authorities commensurate with your responsibilities. But exactly what (or whom) do you have authority over and responsibility for? What is the limit of your direct reach? What is the extent of your authority? What is the extent of your responsibility? What is the importance of trust as a standard of accountability? To whom are you responsible and accountable to, for the consequences of your decisions and actions? Every new commanding officer must be able to answer these essential questions and many more. On the surface, the answers might appear simple and obvious, but in practice many commanding officers have found that what they think they understand doesn’t reflect the real meaning. This is why it is the duty of every commanding officer to understand his or her authorities and responsibilities prior to assuming command – many will be specific to your command and others which are universal and rooted in law, regulation, doctrine, and naval tradition. For all you aspiring Supply Corps officers it’s never too early to start exploring these questions because they are important!
[caption id="attachment_2382" align="alignleft" width="300"]
Command and command authority have always been a serious subject and date as far back as the beginning of recorded history when Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian coined “the father of history” began investigating the origins of the Greco-Persian wars. In those early years, the lines between civilian and military command and command authority were very blurred. Kings and aristocrats were charged with commanding military forces often without regard of their personal capability or capacity to do so successfully. Over time, the successes of some, and more importantly the failures of many, accelerated the rise of militarism which prevailed across many organized societies up through the first half of the twentieth century.
It wasn’t until the writings of Sun Tzu and Carl Von Clausewitz that it was first argued military organizations were primarily the servants of the state, which was better served by a professional officer corps whose focus was politically neutral and autonomous, yet, under the obedient control of a separate civilian authority. This concept is what we refer to today as “civil-military relations.” While states struggled to try to codify civilian led military relations, many were unsuccessful. It was eventually found that in order for civilian authority to maintain control it needed a way to direct the military without unduly infringing on the prerogatives of the military world in order to prevent provoking a backlash or inciting a coup d’état. To achieve this precarious balance, it was determined that civilian leadership would decide on the objective of any military action but then leave it to military commanders through their charge of command to decide upon the best way of achieving the objective. While the evolution of civil-military theory is far more complex than portrayed here, command and command authority is without a doubt the fulcrum upon which the balance of civil-military relations rests – which is why the charge of command is so revered by the American public and vital to the success of our great nation and all it stands for and represents.
Charge of Command
In the poignant and clear words of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, “Command is the foundation upon which our Navy rests. Authority, responsibility, and accountability are the three essential principles which are the heart and soul of command. Effective command is at risk if any of these principles are lacking or are out of balance. Further, a commanding officer’s authority must be commensurate with his or her responsibility and accountability. This immutable truth has been the very foundation of our Navy since 1775.”
Thankfully, from the earliest days of our Navy’s founding, we have sought out, developed and entrusted many outstanding Americans to take on the challenges of command. Our American approach to leadership does not appoint naval leaders simply because of some past status or by virtue of their birth. Rather, our commanders achieve positions of authority through merit and hard work by best exemplifying the values our Navy holds most dear: “Honor, courage, and commitment.” Through these values we build and sustain trust and accountability with our subordinates and partners (including the American public) which are fundamental to our ability to achieve mission success. While a commander’s ability to execute his or her charge of command is essential to success, it alone is not the determinant for great leadership.
While authority, responsibility, and accountability are the three essential principles which are the heart and soul of command, the concept of “Mission Command” requires the commander to blend the art of the “Charge of Command” and the science of control, as he or she, supported by the staff, integrates all joint warfighting functions – or for Supply Corps officers – all joint logistics functions. In mission command, Supply Corps commanders must understand the problem, envision the end state, and visualize the nature and design of the operations we are charged with supporting. Commanders must be able to describe complex processes in time, space, resources, and purpose in order to effectively direct logistics functions (commander’s intent); and, be able to constantly assess those complex processes to adjust course. Command and command authority is not a mechanical process that commanding officers follow blindly. Instead it is a continual cognitive effort to understand, to adapt, and to direct effectively the achievement of commander’s intent. Understanding equips the staff at all levels with the insight and foresight required to make effective decisions, to manage risk, and consider second and third order effects as the environment changes. A commander’s intent fuses understanding, assigned mission, and direction to subordinates. Just as understanding informs intent, trust informs the execution of that intent. Building trust with subordinates and partners is probably the most important action a commander will ever perform enabling the command to keep in stride with supported commands – which more than likely will only travel as fast as the speed of trust.
Continuum of Supply Corps Command
While the most significant aspect of command is a commander’s ability to execute the charge of command and mission command responsibilities, the most significant military problem for any forward operating naval commander has always been logistics – how to get there over great distances, fight and sustain operations from forward locations. Although the technologies, tactics and techniques have improved, the logistical problem of operating across vast distances from shore and sea bases remains much the same as it did in World War II, less the number of ships in our current battle force. Consequently, naval logistics and our Supply Corps, in particular, has had to progress over the years to meet our evolving force requirements. The once autonomous Navy Supply Depots (NSD) and Navy Supply Centers (NSC) which were strategically placed across the U.S. and abroad have since been replaced or consolidated by the centralization of warehousing and data management, and the infusion of optimized transportation solutions to yield better, faster more efficient “Just in Time” logistics. Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Centers have replaced the NSCs from which evolved the Fleet Industrial Supply Centers (FISC) that were eventually transformed into their present state as NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Centers (FLC) under the integrated command and control of NAVSUP Global Logistics Support (GLS). NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support and Navy Regional Contracting Centers are both one of many examples of Supply Corps led commands that have undergone similar consolidation and transformation efforts over the years to match evolving requirements.
Today, our Navy’s mantra of Warfighting First, Operate Forward and Be Ready sends a clear signal our naval forces must be positioned “forward and ready for crisis” demanding our logistics enterprise to be seamlessly integrated to operate across naval and joint forces. One doesn’t have to look far to see how our past and present senior Supply Corps leaders are anticipating the demand signal and acting accordingly by transforming and creating new and improved logistics capabilities and organizations to support the Fleet; and with it has come new command opportunities for Supply Corps officers. In recent years, we have both explored and formed alternative logistics formations such as NAVSUP Global Logistics Support (GLS), the Littoral Combat Ship Logistics Support Team (LST) which is proving to be a powerful capability for NAVSUP GLS and existing NAVSUP FLCs, as well as the establishment of new expeditionary logistics forces inherent to Naval Special Warfare Logistics Support Units (LOGSU), Explosive Ordnance Disposal Support Units (EODSU) and an eighth NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center Bahrain to operate forward as a stand-alone command to further support the ships and increase services and support across the Southwest Asia area of responsibility. Today, Supply Corps officers have the opportunity to command more than 50 diverse logistics organizations spanning the naval and DoD support enterprises. The range and responsibilities held by our Supply Corps commanders has never been broader than it is today – and by all accounts Supply Corps officers have risen to the challenges and are performing superbly! Highlighted below are just a few of the many command opportunities available to you.
At the tip of the spear in the naval operating forces our LOGSU commanders are responsible for manning, training, and equipping fully capable Combat Service Support (CSS) troops to serve with and provide logistics support to deployed SEAL teams. Charged with commanding more than 470 personnel, comprised of 45 officers from 12 designators (including 17 Supply Corps officers), 55 CPOs and 315 Sailors (including SEALs and Seabees) representing 20 manpower ratings, and 57 civilians; their breadth and depth of command is impressive. Our Explosive Ordnance Disposal Expeditionary Support Unit commanders have similar scope and responsibility in providing navy component and combatant commanders support forces ready to conduct Explosive Ordnance Disposal operations and offensive maneuver for conventional, joint and special operations. Both commanders operate and maintain an impressive inventory of vehicles, boats, robotics, parachutes, weapons, ordnance, visual augmentation systems, and supplies necessary to carry out their assigned and implied missions for supported commands.
The Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group (NELSG) and their Navy Cargo Handling Battalions (NCHBs) are a crucial part of both the Supply Corps Reserve component and the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command. NCHB commanders are responsible for fielding and maintaining units critical for peacetime support, crisis response, and humanitarian and combat service missions. The NCHBs are capable of loading and off-loading cargo from maritime pre-positioning ships and merchant vessels, operating temporary ocean cargo terminals, loading and off-loading Navy and Marine Corps cargo carried in military controlled aircraft and operating an associated expeditionary air cargo terminal.
At the other end of the Supply Corps command continuum, the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) affords our 1306 subspecialty coded officers with significant command opportunity. DCMA commanding officers are responsible and accountable for contract administration functions for the Defense Department Acquisition Enterprise, and provide a direct interface between industry and procuring contracting offices to ensure proper execution of defense contracts. DCMA commander’s manage and lead on average more than 150 government civilian acquisition professionals including a small footprint of officers and enlisted soldiers, Sailors and airmen. Also within the DoD Support Enterprise is DLA’s Defense Distribution Centers (DDC) whose commanders are responsible for managing distribution channels within the defense supply chain. Supply Corps captains and commanders lead DDC workforces comprised of Supply Corps officers, government civilians, and contractors that perform standard and Fleet tailored distribution functions including receipt, store, ship, and issue of Navy and DoD owned material which account for, on average, over 100,000 line items worth more than $4.5B and number in excess of 600,000 transactions per year.
Within the Naval Support Enterprise reside many of our most recognizable Supply Corps led commands. The Navy Supply Corps School is responsible for providing young Supply Corps officers with the personal and professional foundations for success. It is there that the commander is responsible for developing and executing a curriculum driven by Fleet requirements that ensures all Supply Corps officer graduates are prepared to provide basic supply and global logistics support services to the Navy and the Joint warfighter.
Eight NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Centers (FLCs) based around the world in San Diego, California; Norfolk, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; Yokosuka, Japan; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Bremerton (Puget Sound), Washington; Sigonella, Italy; and Bahrain provide contracting, fuels, global logistics services, hazardous material management, and household goods movement support, integrated logistics support, postal, regional transportation, and warehousing; and provide base supply support for Navy installations worldwide. NAVSUP FLC commanding officers serve as NAVSUP’s operational “face to the Fleet” and are firmly aligned with regional, Fleet, DLA and type commanders. Together, under the integrated command and control of GLS, they operate as a single, agile logistics enterprise for Fleet and Joint forces. Within their respective regions, NAVSUP FLC commanders are best positioned to orchestrate, integrate and synchronize the unity of effort of multiple logistics service providers across a very broad and diverse customer base.
Although we highlighted only a small sample, there are full range of command opportunities available to both active and reserve Supply Corps officers. While each command plays an important role across the DoD and Naval Support enterprises, it’s the commander’s ability to execute his or her charge of command and mission command responsibilities that matters most in setting the command climate conditions for success. Whether active or Reserve component, in command or not, we might all be better naval leaders if we were to think about and approach our duties and responsibilities in similar manner as we expect of our commanders. As a division officer, department head, deputy or director, your ability to understand your charge of command responsibility and mission command role is a cornerstone foundation for exceptionalism.
By Capt. Peter G. Stamatopoulos, COMNAVSURFOR Force Supply Officer, Former Commanding Officer Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center, San Diego; and Lt. Ryan Tobin, COMNAVSURFOR N41 Plans and Policy