As part of Exercise Hamel 2018, 7th Combat Service Support Battalion (7 CSSB) was required to generate a high tempo distribution effect in order to support other dependant units in the field. As the platoon commander of a distribution platoon within a combat service support team (CSST) I observed that in the field environment there is a requirement for members of discrete specialised capability bricks to integrate as one element in order to achieve this effect. I identified a number of lessons that I believe will enable the enhancement of this capability in the future.

Cross-training within the CSST

The first lesson is the need to combine the training of members of transport and ordnance companies prior to deploying into the field. This was evident as soon as we deployed, particularly between the cargo and supply sections. These elements are required to integrate in the field environment in order to most efficiently organise and load the right cargo to go to the right place within what is usually a limited period of time. A general lack of transferable skills between the two sections, such as how to strap-down loads for the supply operators, and optimal load configurations for the drivers, could be easily rectified through a period of dedicated training as a distribution effect as opposed to specific transport or ordnance Corps member responsibilities.

One key observation made during the exercise is that the transport element did the bulk of the loading of cargo before going out on tasks. The result of this is that personnel often did not have sufficient time to receive proper orders, conduct equipment checks and ensure that they were properly prepared for the task. This was not due to a lack of diligence on the part of the personnel involved, but simply because of the high tempo environment.

Fatigue management

As a proud Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps (RAAOC) member, my eyes were opened as to how hard the transport sections are required to work in the field environment. Due to an almost constant stream of tasks, along with limited drivers and platforms, driver hours had to be carefully managed to achieve allocated tasks in a safe manner. Through the cross training of supply personnel in general driver skills such as loading and assisting with vehicle checks, even those members that are not qualified on the vehicles can assist to lessen the burden on those members that are constantly being tasked. This is particularly relevant with the rollout of the Land 121 vehicles and the resultant training burden required in order to qualify personnel on the new vehicles.

A possible solution to driver fatigue would be to train the supply personnel to a high enough standard in vehicle guiding and other skills required for a co-driver in order to halve the amount of transport personnel that are required to go out on task. This would also be beneficial from a corporate governance perspective in order to ensure that proper documentation and materiel handling processes occur, as the supply personnel would be able to supervise these. The current limitation on being able to achieve this is that being largely unqualified and inexperienced as drivers, supply personnel do not have the knowledge or confidence to conduct guiding, particularly at night and when loading and unloading flat racks. As a result, their effectiveness as co-drivers is limited. This will become increasingly more important as processes for flat rack usage become more developed. In addition to their use as co-drivers, the ability to assist in flat rack loading procedures would enable more efficient management of tasks which require multiple loads to be lifted.

Another possible solution for handling distribution tasks between the two elements would be for the supply personnel to do the majority of the loading on to flat racks, which the drivers would then be able to pick up as they roll out of the position. The course of events which I see as ideal is that the platoon commander receives the task and calls in the transport and supply section commanders. They then conduct analysis between them on the load configuration, how long it will take to pick and load the items and whether there is a requirement for loading assistance from the drivers. They would then go and give their respective orders to subordinates. This would enable the drivers and co-drivers time to receive orders, conduct the relevant checks and prepare themselves for the task while the load is being managed concurrently. Ideally, the drivers would then just have to do a quick check that the load is secure, pick up the flat rack and go.

Task distribution

The last lesson is the need to cultivate an overall understanding between the trades as to the capability each provides. This needs to include what their responsibilities are in the field environment and any opportunities for the cross levelling of tasks in order to ensure that the distribution platoon is functioning as a cohesive unit instead of separate sections divided by trade. This could be achieved through the section commanders presenting a capability brief of what they are bringing to the team and what any limitations may be that could be addressed during the pre-deployment training period. Through expectation management and a greater understanding of what other people’s roles within the team are, the perception that one section may not be as busy as another and the resultant friction generated can be minimised.

Working within a CSST requires all personnel to contribute to the task at hand regardless of trade. In order to achieve the desired effect, a degree of flexibility is required and as such having a well-integrated and cross trained distribution element will enable a sustainable workload over longer periods of support. During Exercise Hamel 2018, the transport and supply elements worked to an excellent standard within their trade. This will only be improved through further integration and a focus on team cohesion at the CSST and particularly the distribution platoon level.