JOHN HANSON AND MAJ. THOMAS CAMPBELL
1st Theater Sustainment Command
In Afghanistan, coalition forces continue to focus on the train, advise and assist mission of their Afghan counterparts. For the 1st Theater Sustainment Command and its subordinate units, the effort continues to be on sustaining U.S. forces to ensure they can perform their mission. As the Afghans continue to take the lead for security in their country, the 1st TSC is conducting the historic retrograde mission to posture U.S. forces for the Resolute Support Mission while bringing needed military capability back to our forces at home to prepare them for future operations.
In the last 16 months, the 1st TSC and its more than 20,000 Soldiers, civilians and contractors, in conjunction with its strategic partners, has reduced more than 20,000 U.S. military vehicles, 25,000 containers and 8,000 containers worth of equipment. Everything — from pens and paper to night vision goggles and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles — is being retrograded.
Safety is the crux of this operation, and for that reason, the 1st TSC has accomplished all of this with no loss of life or serious injury. This is quite the feat considering that the 1st TSC and its subordinate units have conducted thousands of convoys to move an incalculable number of vehicles, containers and equipment for thousands of miles; used forklifts and rough terrain container handlers to move, sift through and sort countless pieces of equipment; and demilitarized a myriad of HMMWVs, MRAPs and other military vehicles. Additionally, these operations were conducted in the extremes of both cold and heat, on treacherous road networks, in conditions of limited visibility and under the unceasing threat of enemy attacks.
Challenges of the 1st TSC
The 1st TSC faces three unique challenges that impact its safety program. First, the 1st TSC is not a battle space owner in Afghanistan; consequently, all accident investigations and reports for its subordinate units are the responsibility of the regional commanders. Second, all 1st TSC subordinate units in Afghanistan are either under the operational, tactical or administrative control of the 1st TSC and are not organic to the two-star headquarters. This introduces another challenge to the safety program, as units do not fall under the 1st TSC until they are in a deployed environment. Finally, force manning caps in Afghanistan have led to the 1st TSC safety team managing the program from its forward command post in Kuwait and the main command post at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Overcoming Challenges – Leadership, Training, Empowerment
Leader involvement, training and empowering subordinates are essential to the success of the 1st TSC safety program. Leaders at all levels must be engaged in order to make the mission successful. With the challenges of the 1st TSC, the emphasis has to start at the top with Maj. Gen. Kurt Stein, 1st TSC commanding general.
First, Stein ensures his commanders recognize it is their program. He wants them to understand that a well-managed safety program, with command emphasis and a fully integrated risk management process across the range of military operations, is truly a combat multiplier. For those times he is unable to be physically co-located with his commanders, video teleconferencing allows him to always be connected to the quarterly executive safety council meetings. Staying connected tells his subordinate commanders that no matter where he is in the world, the safety program is always a top priority for him. Additionally, it keeps the lines of communication open, which is absolutely essential to the 1st TSC’s ability to overcome the challenges it faces.
While the 1st TSC subordinate units do not fall under the control of the 1st TSC until they have boots on the ground in the area of responsibility, they do go through a series of training events prior to deployment. The 1st TSC has a staff presence at all of these training events. Early engagement during pre-mobilization training is one of Stein’s priorities for all staff sections. It is essential to mission success, as it is one of the first opportunities for the 1st TSC safety team to engage with the unit leadership and safety personnel. During these training events, the safety team is able to brief the command and staff on the CG’s safety priorities, concerns, goals and objectives.
The safety team must be empowered to manage the safety program. Aside from the 1st TSC’s “Strategic Safety Goals and Objectives,” the 1st TSC safety team conducts safety officer huddles through online forums. This allows subordinate units to discuss safety challenges and concerns within their respective unit, review trends and statistics, and share best business practices by each unit. These meetings enable the 1st TSC safety team to engage each unit, provide guidance to address their concerns, develop and distribute safety alerts and document best business practices to share across the command and with units that will eventually rotate into theater as a part of the 1st TSC.
1st TSC Commanding General’s Top Five Safety Priorities
1. Safety is a commander's program. Commanders must take ownership of and promote safety as a command priority; it is not a check-the-block program.
2. Strategic safety planning must involve the entire staff. Priorities and goals must be set, routine azimuth checks need to be accomplished and evaluation of achievement toward goals must be discussed.
3. Conduct quarterly safety meetings. Commanders must brief their program and share lessons learned. Councils must be an open discussion and forum for cultural safety change.
4. Accident investigations must take priority over collateral investigations. An investigation must be conducted for every accident; reporting itself is not enough. Information gained from accident investigations must be shared throughout the command to prevent future accidents.
5. Appoint and empower the right safety team. They must be educated in all aspects of safety and occupational health. They must be engaged, motivated, physically capable and medically qualified to deploy with the force to serve as the commander's eyes and ears in accident prevention efforts.