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Critical Logistics Thinking Skills

Lieutenant Colonel Gary Dehrer, USAR (Ret.)

The different levels of logistics thinking are the bridges between theory and practice.

As the Army Logistics System moves closer to the 21st century, it is increasingly important to apply critical logistics thinking skills to solving supply problems. Thinking clearly is not always easy. If it were a simple task, logisticians always would make the right decisions and the entire supply system would operate flawlessly. The reality is that people are fallible, and advanced technology does not compensate for the poor choices people make. Critical thinking skills are vital to making the best possible choices and using resources and technology to their greatest advantage.

There are seven levels of logistics thinking that help apply individual skills and knowledge to solving supply problems. The different levels are bridges between theory and practice that enable a logistician to progress from basic information to comprehensive application, thereby achieving successful logistics.

Logistics Intelligence (Knowing)

The first step to solving any problem is to define the problem accurately. You must gather sufficient information to answer: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Separating the important from the unimportant is crucial to organizing and focusing logistics data to develop proposed supply solutions. This skill results from professional experience, training, intelligence, talent, attitude, and commitment. Suggested guidelines-

Write down the problem, and state exactly what needs to be done.

Determine when a response is needed, and develop a working timeline that will meet the deadline.

Perform a mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time available (METT-T) assessment of the situation.

Compile pertinent information, names of points of contact, and other resources.

Develop a list of relevant questions, and seek definitive answers.

Coordinate and collaborate with others.

Don't give up! Persistence is essential to problem solving.

Supply Connections (Comprehending)

"What does it mean?" is an ongoing question that guides the formulation of a logistics solution or plan. A careful review of your question-and-answer list will give direction to your problem-solving efforts. Creating an overall logistics picture is important and involves putting together myriad "mosaics," or bits of logistics data, to produce an overall image. This situational profile is vital to later, more detailed analysis and evaluation. For example-

Develop answers to key questions such as: What do others think? How do they see the situation?

Complete a favorable supply profile (list everything that is in your favor).

Complete an unfavorable supply profile (list those factors that are against you).

Revise your assessment as you receive additional information.

Supply Judgments (Applying)

Asking the question, "What would happen if?" tests assumptions and considers various ramifications. Consider the interrelationships between supply variables and attempt to project their consequences. A balance between effectiveness and efficiency is essential to successful logistics operations. For this you should-

Match up supply resources with needs.

Anticipate supply requirements for the duration of the operation. Will needs change?

Consider how logistics and tactical operations will be integrated.

Consider logistics capabilities. What is the best use of available resources?

Consider ratio of combat, combat support (CS), and combat service support (CSS) troops.

Determine logistics priorities.

Supply Consequences (Analyzing)

"What exactly will follow?" This question addresses the operational levels as well as the different scenarios that could be used to accomplish the mission. Consider and evaluate every possible supply solution before making a decision. Strategic and operational logistics (supply support to foreign policy and military campaigns) and tactical logistics (direct logistics support to operations and battles) are intertwined and impact directly on supply scenarios. Some questions you should answer-

What is the stated mission?

What is the theater logistics situation?

How will the logistics reception, onward movement, and sustainment be organized?

How will troops and their equipment be manned, armed, fueled, fixed, moved, and sustained?

Could various scenarios be used? If so, what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Which scenario should be selected, and why?

Supply Strategies (Synthesizing)

"How will it be done?" is a key question that reflects the final concept. All previous thinking comes together in a well-written logistics operation plan. However, communication and coordination of any plan are critical to its success. Great plans can easily falter and even fail without direction, determination, and follow-through. Some considerations-

What logistics preparations have been made in the theater?

What is the available force composition (combat, CS, and CSS)?

Are logistics priorities established and logical?

Will there be any joint logistics operations among services?

Will there be any combined logistics operations with other countries?

What kind of host nation support will be possible?

Does the logistics operation plan (OPLAN) describe the situation (enemy forces, friendly forces, logistics requirements, and assumptions); mission (combat support and combat service support tasks); logistics overlay (direct support and general support supply data); materiel and services (classes of supply, main supply routes, and services data); medical requirements (evacuation and hospitalization); and personnel (unit strength, prisoners, and morale).

Logistics Resiliency (Reasoning)

"How will the unexpected be handled?" is a question that must not be overlooked. No matter how comprehensive and detailed your planning has been, unexpected events always play a role. Successful logistics operations must be adaptable to changing situations. American logisticians always have shown a genius for improvisation when unforeseen enemy actions or complications upset the best of plans. Some guidelines to remember-

Practice mental agility and creativity.

Anticipate as much as you can, but be ready with some contingency plans. Contemplate worst-case scenarios and how they could be handled.

Always be ready for Murphy's Law. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong and at the worst possible moment.

Master logistics practices and techniques so you can apply them with confidence.

Constantly monitor situations so you will know what is actually happening. Never assume anything.

Power Projection Logistics (Evaluating)

Asking "What lessons were learned?" puts a supply operation into perspective. Logisticians never stop learning how to move and sustain armies. In each military campaign and operation, lessons in logistics abound. The seven levels of logistics thinking underscore the complexity of logistics and the difficulty of determining lessons learned. Power-projection logistics cannot be practiced successfully until everyone involved has an understanding of how a system solves problems and how they can learn from the flaws in that system. Consider these questions-

Were the combat units adequately armed and fueled?

Was the total force effectively manned, moved, fixed, and sustained?

Were the military objectives achieved?

Did the logistics plan work? What were the plan's accomplishments? Shortcomings? Greatest surprises? Most important lessons learned?

If the operation could be redone, what would be changed and why?

Twenty-first century logistics responses to urgent military requirements around the world will demand critical logistics thinking skills. The Army Logistics System must be driven by logisticians who can think clearly and critically. A winning logistics team must be able to move from just knowing and comprehending to applying and analyzing and then to the higher levels of synthesizing, reasoning, and evaluating. Such critical thinking will enable 21st-century Army logisticians to achieve "a seamless logistics system capable of providing world-class logistics support for America's Army in any scenario." ALOG

Lieutenant Colonel Gary Dehrer, USAR (Ret.), was formerly an individual mobilization designee to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Department of the Army. He is now a vice principal with the San Bernardino City (California) Unified School District. He graduated from San Jose State University and received a master's degree from California State University at San Bernardino. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the Air War College.