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Unit Deactivation Logistics in Review

A bustle of activity at units undergoing transformation permeated the air in Europe. Quite a few units had already transformed, yet, my search for information on the unit deactivation process yielded little.

My unit, the 130th Engineer Brigade, V Corps, received transformation orders to relocate its colors and heraldry items from Germany to its new home with U.S. Army Pacific in Hawaii. The brigade’s 37-year tenure in Germany was ended immediately following its second combat tour in Iraq. These orders fueled my need for information on the “quasi-deactivation” process. I call it “quasi-deactivation” because the brigade’s personnel were reassigned in just 6 months based on the Army’s needs, but all of the unit’s equipment stayed behind in Europe.

The deactivation was made possible by proactive planning and trial and error in the execution process. The brigade and its supporting agencies learned along the way and ultimately accomplished the deactivation and relocation tasks with style. This article provides insights from the 130th Engineer Brigade’s perspective on unit deactivation logistics and recommends actions to improve the process.

Plan for Success

Planning for a successful deactivation entails assembling a competent logistics team to execute deactivation tasks effectively. Accurate property accountability must precede property disposition. Seeking external support early to overcome the impacts of a dwindling unit personnel strength and time constraints must be on the things-to-do list, and establishing logistics milestones to gauge the progress of the deactivation process is extremely helpful. Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Halford, the 130th Engineer Brigade’s deputy commander, once said, “Proactive planning means beating the deadline and not just meeting the deadline.”

The first step is to assemble a team of noncommissioned officers and officers from the brigade S–4 office and unit supply rooms who are competent in anticipatory logistics; they also must have the proven coordination skills that are critical in negotiating the red tape that is specific to the unit deactivation and relocation processes. The S–4 staff should provide depth, breadth, and reach in logistics support. They should also be creative, mission-focused, and not easily shaken or deterred; these are skills that will be tested time after time. Progress may stall as the brigade undertakes seldom-exercised logistics deactivation events, and supporting agencies may not be as motivated as the S–4 staff to act quickly when problems arise. Settling for a weak S–4 shop equates to accepting the risk of failure. Fortunately, the 130th Engineer Brigade’s command team set the tone for its overall success.

Next, conduct a 100-percent inventory and maintain 100-percent accuracy of property on hand and on the books. Make adjustments as required by Army Regulation 735–5, Policies and Procedures for Property Accountability. Be very aggressive with the financial liability investigations of property loss process because the accelerated loss of unit personnel during deactivation and relocation will quickly deplete the witness pool. Be sure to find out who is responsible for lost property before the brigade’s personnel are reassigned. Consider identifying all contracted equipment up front and arrange for contract termination and equipment pickup.

To monitor progress on a weekly basis, develop internal brigade milestones. The improved Commander’s Checklist for Restructure/Rebasing is an invaluable aid in developing deactivation logistics milestones. The Hessen Garrison Community unit deactivation status slides, which accompany the checklist, suggest pertinent but easily overlooked deactivation tasks. The slides provide an opportunity to think ahead, ask the right questions, and deliver responsive deactivation logistics when it counts. The checklist is available on the U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) website at http://g3operations.hqusareur.army.mil/NewChecklist/
startup/default.htm
.

Turning In Property

Other than reassigning personnel, the main focus for a deactivating unit is property disposition. Units are required to deliver the equipment at –10/20 standards (fully mission capable) to gaining units or turn it in to the supply system. Considering a unit’s organic capabilities and the high volume of equipment involved, disposing of property in a short period of time is a difficult task. Inspecting thousands of items, ordering and receiving repair parts, and fixing items to standard are time consuming. The 130th Engineer Brigade alleviated this challenge by vigorously making its case to higher headquarters, and it eventually secured an exception to the policy so that it could turn in or laterally transfer equipment “as is.” Had the brigade not been able to turn in the equipment “as is,” the traditional lateral transfer process would have put the brigade behind its deactivation timeline.

Dedicated external support is required to negotiate relocation and deactivation smoothly because a unit’s typical organic support system is insufficient for the deactivation tasks. USAREUR’s 21st Theater Sustainment Command came to the 130th Engineer Brigade’s rescue with a novel concept: the Harvest Team. The Harvest Team consisted of personnel specializing in property book management; communications equipment; vehicle maintenance; nuclear, biological, and chemical equipment; and transportation. With the help of brigade personnel, the Harvest Team divided equipment into piles for lateral transfer and piles for turn-in to the supply system.

The Harvest Team also assisted with lateral-transfer executions and facilitated coordination with movement control teams for delivering equipment to gaining units. Sending 21st Theater Sustainment Command personnel with the equipment delivery party smoothed operations and quelled any reluctance from gaining units to accept the equipment
“as is.”

Prioritizing

Having parts left in the supply pipeline can delay the closing of unit Standard Army Retail Supply System accounts. Turning in rolling stock early will free up maintenance personnel to assist supply personnel in the effort to clear repair parts from the supply pipeline. Before turning in rolling stock, coordinate with the local transportation motor pool and movement control team to ensure they can support local transportation requirements.

Another task to tackle early is the turn-in of central issue facility (CIF) items for Soldiers leaving for permanent changes of station. Clear their CIF accounts as soon as possible. Disposition of heraldry equipment needs approval from the Center of Military History, and the sooner these turn-in actions are initiated the better. Use contracted packers to ship unit heraldry items, and do not forget to have customs officials present during the packing.

About 6 weeks before the deactivation date, the unit should conduct its deactivation and colors-casing ceremony—before all its members ride off into the sunset. Clear training aids from home station training areas, walk the grounds with representatives from the installation directorate of public works and the Defense reutilization and marketing office, and develop the clearing plan.

Personnel Considerations

Carefully factor into your decisions the mass exodus of personnel that will reduce the unit strength to 35 percent by 60 days before the deactivation date. The unit personnel roster from the 180-day mark to the deactivation date was one of the parameters used to prove the 130th Engineer Brigade’s need to turn in equipment “as is.” Personnel turnover can be complicated by retirements, leaves, chapter actions, and school attendance. A robust personnel roster can be deceiving in a headquarters company where a majority of the personnel are senior officers and noncommissioned officers.

Even if senior members of the unit are not directly involved in equipment turn-in, their departures will still affect the unit’s deactivation. The 130th Engineer Brigade’s key personnel losses included the command sergeant major, the headquarters and headquarters company commander and first sergeant, several noncommissioned officers-in-charge, and a few primary staff officers. The manpower drain on the unit, along with the uncertainty of the personnel reassignment process, elevates a deactivating unit’s stress level. In the 130th Engineer Brigade’s case, an amiable command climate and strong second-tier leadership saved the day.

Recommended Improvements

Some improvements to the “quasi-deactivation” logistics enterprise could help deactivating units in the future. For example, the deactivation base orders should be more detailed to reduce red tape and provide access to available transformation information. Deactivation base orders need to address vital information, such as the Commander’s Checklist for Restructure/Rebasing. The exact date when the deactivating unit should be off the red-cycle tasking line-of-sight must be specified so that deactivating units do not constantly have to submit reclamas for taskings to their higher headquarters. The base orders should also address any changes to the normal equipment transfer and turn-in processes. Gaining units should accept equipment from deactivating units in serviceable “as is” condition.

Make it a priority to support deactivating units with selected services—Harvest Team is a prime example. The base order’s coordinating instructions should direct supporting units to find out what the supported units need so that they can genuinely employ the good customer service approach. Some supporting agencies lean toward being bureaucratic sticklers, hiding behind regulations that do not necessarily cover situations like a “quasi-deactivation,” and units may be left trying to figure out alternative solutions to fit their needs. Besides putting a strain on the unit, personnel at the brigade level may not be familiar with USAREUR and Army regulations, which are important to understand when developing alternative solutions.

If you go by the book while trying to get funds for refreshments for the unit deactivation and colors-casing ceremony, you will discover that, while appropriated funds can pay for the expense of conducting the actual ceremony, they may not be used for pre- or postdeactivation refreshments without an exception to policy from the Office of the Secretary of the Army (Army Regulation 37–47, Representation Funds of the Secretary of the Army, paragraphs 2–3c and 2–10). I suggest that the Army reform the cumbersome process of obtaining such a small amount of money for an official military function.

Unit deactivation tasks are like postcombat reconstruction tasks that are rarely talked about until it is necessary. The time has come to include these unique essential tasks in a mission training plan (MTP). We live in a fast-changing world, and our military must continue to transform to remain relevant. USAREUR has developed a very useful checklist that can be used as a starting point for establishing a deactivation mission essential task list. Unit deactivation tasks ought to be on a formal military record, such as an MTP, for easy reference and certification purposes.

Although many Army organizations maintain excellent unit products for accomplishing a variety of tasks, access to those products is often limited to their own personnel. Great products generated in organizations are not optimized and shared with counterparts across the Army. As a result, units waste time reinventing the wheel like I did, trying to pinpoint information on unit deactivation processes when other units had already been through the process.

An Army-wide “Unit Special Products” website should be created and tied to Army Knowledge Online. It should be accessible only with a common access card to mitigate security concerns. A link to the “Unit Special Products” site should be a standard fixture in units’ websites. For the venture to be useful and successful, a file-naming convention and specifications for quality files should be established and custodians of the files (from company to major command level) should be appointed. Quarterly submission of quality products, such as critical deactivation documents, military ceremony scripts, mission analysis documents, milestone charts, standing operating procedures, policy letters, training calendars, and briefing slides, should be required. The repository of these products should be categorized by command and staff functions to facilitate research.

Deactivation is a known phenomenon in the current process of Army transformation, but scant information is available to tackle the logistics missions that are part of that process. Deactivation base orders should sufficiently detail subordinates’ specific tasks to a degree that defines processes and addresses the implications of accelerated personnel loss and red-cycle taskings. When dealing with equipment disposition, the deactivating unit’s internal support system is likely to be insufficient given the high rate of personnel attrition, equipment volume, and time constraints. The deactivation logistics process should be improved so that Soldiers can take apart the unit in a proactive fashion.
ALOG

Major Vincent C. Nwafor is the support operations officer for the 391st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. He was previously assigned as the brigade S–4 of the 130th Engineer Brigade in Hanau, Germany. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the Army Logistics Executive Development Course.