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For the sustainment command, it's all about managing change

By Maj. Andy Thaggard | 184th Sustainment Command, Mississippi National Guard | April 29, 2019

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – Just as Brig. Gen. Clint E. Walker and Soldiers of the 184th Sustainment Command started the process of assuming mission command, the priority of effort shifted. The U.S. would withdraw over 2,000 troops from Syria. Rapidly.

So began the mission, managing change.

The 1st Theater Sustainment Command (1TSC) is responsible for sustaining U.S. military operations in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, the most dynamic on the planet.

Maj. Gen. Flem B. “Donnie” Walker, Jr. is the 1TSC commander, as well as the deputy commanding general — sustainment for U.S. Army Central, the Army component of CENTCOM. Based at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, the 1TSC relies on expeditionary sustainment commands like the 184th to rotate through Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, to serve as their operational command post (OCP), charged with day-to-day mission command and sustainment operations in countries with familiar names — Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq. And names that may not be so familiar, like Yemen, Tajikistan, and Mississippi’s State Partnership Program country, Uzbekistan.

Now dual-hatted as the deputy commanding general, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, and commanding general, 184th Sustainment Command, Brig. Gen. Walker and his 250-plus Mississippi Guard members began the OCP daily grind of managing change in a footprint that spans 20 nations, 18 languages, 22 ethnic groups, and 550 million people.

“It’s truly a dynamic area. From combat operations in Afghanistan to helping the Jordanian Army professionalize their NCO corps, to medical subject matter expert exchanges in former Soviet-bloc countries, operations here never stop. And it’s our job to make sure American troops, partners, and allies have what they need to do the job, every day.” said Walker.

Change is expected, and to a reasonable extent planning mitigates potential risk.

But unexpected change, like where to put 2,000 troops, and all their trucks, weapons, spare parts, food, undelivered mail, undelivered supplies, bulk fuel, and so on, requires quickly determining the best course of action to meet a commander’s intent while also serving as a good steward of the nation’s resources.

Where exactly does all of that go, how exactly does it get there, and who makes those decisions?

“We call it a ‘Team of Teams.’ There are 27,000 U.S. military, civilians and contractors working together. Each one is important, for each one has an important job supporting the warfighter in the field,” said Walker. “Together, the team plans and executes the sustainment mission.”

The 184th serves not only as the 1TSC operational command post in Kuwait, but leads and directs the Syrian Logistics Cell in Erbil, Iraq, which provides dedicated sustainment support to Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve as they conduct operations to defeat Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Other 184th Soldiers also serve at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, and in direct support to the Multinational Force and Observers in Egypt.

Change happens every day, and everywhere.

“Just after we arrived in Kuwait, Maj. Gen. Boyles, the adjutant general of Mississippi, announced that several Mississippi Guard units would relocate. For us, that means consolidating our operations from Laurel and Hattiesburg to our new home in Monticello. Our rear detachment has been doing a great job of moving and getting ready for us to return later this year, and we look forward to getting to know our new neighbors soon.”

But that's part of change management. Events occur, plans are reviewed, revised, or created, informed decisions are made, and the mission succeeds. Daily.

Professional sustainers understand that change is a constant, and complacency leads to mission failure.

“I can say with absolute confidence that we have the right team here. Their civilian and military experience fits the mission, and I am so proud of the work they do every day. My boss, Maj. Gen. Walker, likes to say keep chopping wood. He means to keeping getting after it, every day. I like to say keep pulling the wagon, keep the sustainment wagon moving. Push it, pull it, drag it, do anything but sit on it, and you are moving the sustainment mission forward. That’s why we are here.”