HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The world may seem to be getting smaller, but the distances the U.S. Army has to travel to conduct its missions have not, said Maj. Gen. Duane Gamble, commanding general of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
“Our biggest challenge as we move forward is time-distance. For example, Germersheim [Germany] to Estonia is the same distance as St. Louis to Key West,” Gamble said as panel chair of “Sustaining a Multi Domain Battle,” during the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium, March 14.
The 21st TSC, U.S. Army Europe’s lead organization for logistics support, transportation and combat sustainment, has the ability due to its location and specialized brigades throughout southern Germany to deploy its assets in an expeditious manner to Eastern Europe and across the globe.
While posturing from Europe may be new to Soldiers who enlisted or commissioned after the Cold War, it has some sense of déjà vu for Maj. Gen. Les Carroll, commanding general of the 377th TSC, an Army Reserve command headquartered in New Orleans that has components across the United States.
“We’re kind of the last generation that trained this way for a fight in Eastern Europe. Our commanders don’t understand the fast fight at the Fulda Gap, like we did growing up. That’s a challenge we’re going after, but it’s going to be a struggle for years to come, I’m afraid,” Carroll said.
The shift to Western Europe is something German air force Brig. Gen. Michael Vetter, commanding general of the Bundeswehr (German military) Logistics Center in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, said their armed forces has prepared for since the Berlin Wall was taken down in 1989.
“Germany will be the main transit nation in Europe, and the special emphasis needs to be on establishing personal relations with each other. We have to act like a coalition to be successful and conduct a hybrid environment to combat our adversaries. The real challenge is that we’re working under peacetime operations,” Vetter said.
After more than 15 years of war, the Army is refocusing its efforts back to the warfighter and their key Soldiering tasks, and relying less on contractors. Conducting operations under peacetime, and therefore less funding and contracting support, means Soldiers will need to return to their Soldiering skills.
“We have to teach our Soldiers how to be on the battlefield, not on the [Forward Operating Base], and how to survive on the battlefield. That’s the new environment we’re trying to teach, but there’s a gap in knowledge,” Carroll said.
This lack of knowledge comes as a byproduct of more than a decade of Soldiers not handling every aspect of day-to-day operations in a deployed environment, said Maj. Gen. Flem “Donnie” Walker, deputy chief of staff, G-4, U.S. Army Forces Command.
“We’ve not really done that since maybe the very early parts of [Operation Iraqi Freedom] when we were conducting refueling on the move and redistribution. Mastering those fundamentals is going to be more important than ever in an expeditionary environment,” Walker said.
Working in an expeditionary environment is what Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command excels at, said its Commanding General Maj. Gen. Kurt Ryan.
“We are on the march again, and we are relearning this deployment and distribution process in a big way. It’s important we maintain the freedom of movement between, and through, our various Combatant Commands. Projecting and sustaining the joint force is a challenge, and certain abilities have atrophied, but we are getting after the problem set and identifying the threat to the capability enterprise,” Ryan said.
Being honest with assessments, and working to close those gaps, is where Ryan says the focus should be.
“We’ve got to get our total force into the total fight,” he said.
Retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dowd, director of logistics, SOS International LLC, was also a panelist.