In January 2016, U.S. Army Africa began plans to incorporate a full-time internal sustainment capability into its already unique force structure. The plan included the 79th Theater Support Command to support with basic life needs, including food, water and fuel, for Soldiers operating on the African continent. However, at that time, the 79th TSC was undergoing a transition of its own and could not provide immediate support.
The call was extended to the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, which would ultimately lay a foundation upon which the 79th TSC could build, once it reached initial operating capability.
The acquisition of this capability is vital because unlike other Army service component commands, USARAF has no assigned units, according to USARAF Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Kenneth Moore Jr.
“We have to leverage the total Army through the active component with regionally aligned, the National Guard’s State Partnership Program, and the regionally aligned units of the Army Reserve,” he said. “We’ve got to use the total Army to get our mission accomplished. That’s how we do business.”
USARAF has worked with National Guard and Reserve units since it was officially re-designated as an ASCC for U.S. Africa Command in January 2012. USARAF also differs from other ASCCs in that it has two deputy commanders, one from the National Guard and one from the Army Reserve. Combined with Maj. Gen. Joseph Harrington, the USARAF commanding general, USARAF leaders and Soldiers represent all of the components.
To meet its upcoming objectives, the 13th ESC established a forward command post in Vicenza, Italy, composed of three teams that will operate on a six-month rotational basis.
During a May 2017 visit to assess the progress of his forward command post, 13th ESC Commander Brig. Gen. Douglas McBride said the teams have taken lead on the planning, management and oversight of all USARAF cooperative security and contingency locations in Africa.
“This location provides a critical logistical capability within the area of responsibility,” McBride said, adding that it was exciting to have the opportunity to explore and develop logistical and sustainment concepts.
McBride said he was proud of the major contributions the teams had made in a relatively short period of time and that the visit was an opportunity to assess the second team, led by Lt. Col. Joseph Evans.
According to Evans, since arriving in January, his team has been executing sustainment tasks that directly enable U.S. Africa Command and USARAF lines of effort in Africa.
“These tasks include performing theater-opening tasks and tasks associated with opening joint operation, cooperative security locations and reception, staging, onward movement,” said Evans.
Evans said the experience and skills within his team give members tremendous flexibility and capacity for executing their daily missions. Additionally, the team has been proactive in engaging key USARAF staff while building relationships with AFRICOM and USARAF planners.
“This has been a great learning experience and provided a launching pad for professional development for officers and NCOs,” Evans said.
In April, Evans’ team welcomed Staff Sgt. Myra Cason, a transportation coordinator manager and the first of approximately 30 active-duty Soldiers from the 79th TSC selected for this assignment.
What makes Cason’s arrival in Vicenza unique is that she is one of the 79th TSC’s first active-duty Soldiers.
The 79th TSC, formerly known as the 79th Sustainment Support Command, was operationally designated in October 2016. It is the second-largest command in the Army Reserve, headquartered in Los Alamitos, Calif., and currently supports more than 220 units in 19 states west of the Mississippi River.
Col. Vincent Buggs, a support operations chief with the 79th TSC, said the change from an SSC to a TSC will be monumental.
“The move requires us to become a deployable unit,” Buggs said. “We now are dealing with rolling stock, weapons and new equipment systems while at the same time increasing our headquarters to about three times the size we were as an SSC.”
“This big change is very necessary,” Buggs said, because as the Army increased its sustainment needs, “it looked to us to fill the gap.”
Creating an additional theater sustainment command is a vital step in ensuring the Army is able to function as an operational force across the globe, Buggs said. Currently, the Army only has two globally deployable units providing sustainment capabilities to theater operating units, both of which are active-duty units.
“The 79th TSC shares the same role as these units, but with a big difference,” Buggs said. “The 79th is breaking the mold as a (multi-component) unit, a unit which integrates active-duty personnel with reserve Soldiers.”
“We are striving to embody the total force concept as the leaders of an operational Reserve,” he added.
Upon arrival, Cason had more than seven years of active-duty service, not including her time serving in the Navy.
Cason said she volunteered for this particular assignment because of its potential for career-broadening opportunities, which was the very reason she chose to join the Army in the first place.
“I wanted to be a more well-rounded person,” she said. “When I researched the Army, I saw it as an opportunity to become proficient in a variety of areas.”
Cason said she hopes to expand her knowledge base of the logistical aspects of sustainment. In the past, she has performed various roles within her military occupational specialty. However, this is the first time she will have to perform the full gamut of her MOS.
Aside from challenges commonly associated with being the first, Cason said she is looking forward to getting started – and to going to Africa.
“I’ve never been to Africa, and I’m anxious to learn the process of establishing a logistical network in an austere environment,” she said.
According to Cason’s sponsor and USARAF logistics planner Maj. Michael Wayne, the 79th TSC’s assignment to USAFRICOM/USARAF is unique in that the Soldiers who will be filling the 30 active-duty positions will, like Cason, arrive through permanent change of station, rather than as a group.
Wayne said the new team will also have an additional five Reserve positions to round out the team’s initial operational capability, which it is scheduled to achieve on or around the second quarter of fiscal year 2018, and full operational capability by 2019.
For the 13th ESC and 79th TSC integrating Soldiers of different components has not been without challenges.
McBride said one challenge the 13th ESC faced was maintaining readiness from multiple locations.
“Everything that we do, short of actual combat, is geared towards building combat readiness at home and abroad,” he said, adding that USARAF was conscious and supportive in building the readiness of the 13th ESC Soldiers assigned here.
A challenge for the 79th TSC will be the mission’s actual location.
“Africa is different from any other area of responsibility the 79th has maintained in the past and its complexity will force us to adapt and grow. Most of our Soldiers haven’t been to Africa and this will be discovery learning at its maximal level,” said Buggs. “Supporting Africa means supporting a vast array of multi-national partners within one area of responsibility.”
Challenges aside, Moore said the support from both sustainment units has allowed USARAF staff to “get out of its own way a bit and get back to ASCC business – looking at the continent from an operational picture and being operationally focused, rather than tactically focused.”
Together, the 13th ESC, 79th TSC, USARAF and USAFRICOM are closer to exemplifying the Army’s total force policy by working together to accomplish the mission.
With almost 80 percent of the Army’s total sustainment warfighting function residing in the National Guard and Reserves, there is no choice but to train and fight as a total force, McBride said.
“I do not see a current or future scenario that wouldn't be a multiple echelon, multi-compo, combined arms fight.”