Above: 6th Infantry Regiment Distinguished Unit Insignia
Leadership Effectiveness in Mechanized Battalion Maintenance Operations—Recalling the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry (Mechanized)
Article by A170 Tom Rozman
It goes without saying that we live in times of perpetual change. Armies and their organizations reflect such change in their unique context of military force structure. Some of that change is driven by ongoing assessments of technology recently fielded or in development or the understood requirements for approaching deployments. Other change is caused by assessments of known possible competitor operations and understood tactics, techniques and procedures or expectations of developing capabilities.
Other change may develop from perceived operational efficiencies that may be possible from new systems and information capabilities; in this case the echelon placement of certain functions like equipment maintenance may be affected. This vignette examines from a leadership perspective one such development in a then-mechanized infantry battalion.
While all military maneuver formations must achieve proficiency in maintaining equipment sufficient that equipment remains operational and mission capable, this function is particularly critical in formations that rely on large numbers of armored vehicle systems such as a motorized, mechanized, tank (armored) or integrated composite armored formations.
The author has experienced the maintenance function organized down to the company level with authorized levels of more comprehensive maintenance at direct and depot support levels to consolidated organizational maintenance at battalion level. (In some armies the function may be consolidated even as high as brigade level.)
The key in wherever the function is placed is that when deployed, the maintenance function is able to keep the maximum number of vehicles systems operational at the mission level of companies and battalions. Critical in this capability is the ability of leadership to operate to best effect. Mission effective tactical vehicle maintenance requires a unique brand of leadership. An Army must take care that the maintenance function is not located organizationally in such way that even the most capable leader attempting to assure timely and effective support is rendered ineffective in doing so.
The vignette which follows examines the leadership effectiveness of a maintenance function that had been reorganized from company level to a consolidated operation at battalion level. The battalion featured in the vignette achieved an effective leadership capability in the maintenance function. However, there were trade-offs.
The battalion’s precursor organization had for the preceding 12 months been extensively involved in training and unit sustainment operations to maintain readiness to perform its NATO General Defense Position (GDP) mission on the West German eastern frontier. This involved numerous force on force field training exercises at Hohenfels Maneuver Training Area, Tactical Exercises Without Troops on the GDP and battalion gunneries at Grafenwoehr and Wildflecken Training Areas as well as frequent interfaces with Bundeswehr partnership battalions that were assigned to the German/American corps boundary at the GDP. The US battalion had the flank GDP mission along the boundary for the flanking US corps.
To add to this exceptionally active schedule, the battalion had been engaged in an ongoing reorganization over the 12 months that was continuing. It was reorganizing from an M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier equipped mechanized infantry battalion to an M-2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle equipped mechanized battalion. The M-2 would significantly enhance the fighting capabilities of the battalion in a peer on peer armored force competition.
Significantly over the previous 12 months the battalion had substantially reorganized. It had reequipped some sections even before taking on its new M-2s.
Reorganization-wise a fourth mechanized infantry company had been added. The combat support company had been deactivated and an anti-tank fifth lettered company had been formed, Company E. All battalion anti-tank sections had been consolidated in this company. The three mechanized infantry company 81mm mortar sections in the deactivated weapons platoons had been deactivated as well and the mortars and M-123 Mortar Carriers turned in.
The deactivated combat support company’s scout platoon and heavy mortar platoon had been re-assigned to the headquarters company. Two additional 107mm mortars and their carriers were added to the heavy mortar platoon.
There were other elements of the reorganization to that point several very significantly in the battalion’s support area. The tracked, wheeled and engineer equipment elements of the six company’s maintenance sections were consolidated at battalion in the headquarters company and placed under the direction of the battalion motor officer, an infantry captain, assisted by the battalion’s motor warrant officer, effectively an ordnance company of almost 90 personnel.
This aspect of the reorganization created a consolidated battalion maintenance organization as noted of some 90 officers and soldiers. The new maintenance organization also received new equipment in form of additional trucks and most significantly the M-88 Heavy Recovery vehicle to replace its light armored recovery vehicles, a significant enhancement of capability.
The new consolidated maintenance organization when the battalion deployed would provide each company with a maintenance team tailored to need, the teams developing a relationship with the companies they supported. The consolidated organization would also allow the battalion maintenance leadership to reinforce teams with additional assets and resources to weight and emphasize need relative to mission.
This was a radical change to many officers and non-commissioned officers at company level who had over their careers developed an operational and leadership system maintenance wise around a company based organization. The reorganization was more than a simple relocation. It was a culture change.
Fortunately, the battalion commander and battalion executive officer (XO) had experienced previous reorganizations and consolidations. Some of these were the formation of combat support companies from headquarters companies and the formation of infantry company weapons platoons when missile armed anti-tank sections were introduced.
Also experienced was the consolidation of company mess sections (food service) into battalion consolidated mess operations as well as the consolidation of company personnel clerks into a battalion consolidated personnel section. Both understood that such reorganization could be made to work but care had to be applied in negotiating the culture change that would result.
One thing both commander and XO understood was the need to engage the companies’ leadership and the new forming maintenance elements leadership in the process. Leadership buy-in would be important and discussions on the process of the reorganization and development of effective internal battalion tactics, techniques and procedures would be critical to success. The body of workable and accepted standing operating procedures that retained flexibility for the maintenance area would be vital for optimized operations.
To move the maintenance reorganization project forward, a reorganization leadership core team formed around the primary members of the XO, Battalion motor officer and the battalion maintenance warrant officer. The extended leadership team included the company commanders, company XOs, and maintenance section and teams non-commissioned leaders.
The team used as a road map Army provided guidance for the reorganization personalized to the battalion’s situation. The team approach optimized extended team leadership engagement and valued two-way communication and feedback. The team maintained an “open door” approach to where the best ideas and practices emerged and avoided “pride of authorship” that might get in the way of progress.
This open leadership approach led to a remarkably rapid and successful maintenance reorganization. The leadership at every level was engaged and fully effective. The battalion’s maintenance operations given the heavy deployment schedules being supported simultaneously never lagged. This effectiveness of maintenance operations through a daunting operational and reorganization challenge was a direct result of this engaged and involved leadership approach at every level.
In a very real sense, the battalion’s maintenance leadership team embodied the 6th Infantry Regiment’s motto, “Unity is Strength.”