Perspective

LMI Helps Tell the Army Sustainment Story

December 8, 2020

LMI Staff

Arpi (right) with retired Lt. Gen. Claude V. "Chris" Christianson, former deputy chief of staff, G4, in 2017.

LMI consultants Arpi Dilanian and Matthew Howard have been integral to Army Sustainment magazine since 2016. Supporting the Department of the Army’s G4 Logistics Initiatives Group, they helped reinvent the publication, interviewing more than 50 defense leaders for their perspectives on readiness challenges and approaches. The most recent edition, October-December 2020 (PDF), will be their last as they move to other projects. Here, they discussed their experiences working on the publication. 

The interviews weren’t part of your G4 support originally. How did it come about?

Matt: It’s incredible to look at where the magazine is today. General [Gustave F.] Perna really wanted to drive more targeted messaging to the sustainment community and the Army at large. Arpi and I took that to heart and developed the content strategy, conveying the key messages and contributions that senior leaders wanted to get across.

You interviewed Army leaders who were outside the sustainment community. Why?

Arpi: We didn’t want to create an echo chamber by talking to the same generals over and over. We thought if we opened the aperture, we could get interesting perspectives and put forth a genuine dialogue between the sustainment community and the components they serve.  

Matt: Right. We aimed to get a sense of how the sustainment community was touching other areas of the Army, and vice versa. Lieutenant General Charles Luckey (former Chief of the United States Army Reserve), for example, saw the utility of using those interviews to portray the relationship between the Army Reserve and sustainment communities in a mutually beneficial way.

Matthew Howard

— Arpi Dilanian

What were those interviews like?

Arpi: Matt and I would go into an interview, and every leader, even when sustainment wasn’t their forte, demonstrated incredible understanding of the importance and relevance of sustainment throughout the enterprise.

Matt: One experience that comes to mind was interviewing General Robert Abrams, who was commanding general of Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) when we interviewed him. He was an encyclopedia of sustainment knowledge. He spent over an hour with us, and his understanding of sustainment and the implications for FORSCOM and the entire Army was remarkable.

Illustrating leadership buy-in across the Army provided so much value. We showed the junior ranks that leaders like General Abrams and Lieutenant General Luckey know and appreciate the sustainment enterprise. I think we built momentum toward getting personnel at all levels of the Army to think about their role in sustainment. 

How has the sustainment community’s focus evolved?

Arpi: As personnel and equipment return from theaters overseas, I think leaders are evaluating their resources. What do we need? What needs to be replaced? What do we not need anymore? There’s a concerted effort to identify the resources needed for future conflicts, evidenced by the establishment of the Army Futures Command.

Matt: There’s a shift toward multi-domain operations, which is a fundamentally different battlefield environment than we’ve experienced before. I think leaders have embraced that change in mindset and are looking at how sustainment practices will have to adapt, too. In a way, COVID-19 accelerated some of this change. It forced us to reassess things like how our national stockpile is supplied and managed, our dependence on overseas suppliers, and our resilience to major systemic disruptions.

— Matthew Howard

Understandably, combating COVID-19 is a focus of the latest issue. What were your takeaways from those interviews?

Matt: It was incredible to sit down with leaders who were at the forefront of the response. We could sense their exhaustion; you knew that they had been going nonstop for months. But they were so passionate about contributing to the response and making a difference for the American people.

Arpi: Despite their hectic schedules and the stress they must have felt, none of the leaders we interviewed expressed any hesitation to participate. They were very quick to say, “Absolutely, I’m doing this,” whether in person or virtually. They all wanted to speak about it, which was fantastic.

Matt: Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, even wanted to show us the alternate care facilities that they had built downtown [at the Washington D.C. convention center]. All of the leaders we interviewed were energized about what they were doing to help.

Could you summarize their top priorities or concerns in this environment?

Arpi: Something we heard a lot is, this is a time when an adversary looks for an opportunity to do something. As the world is suffering, you’re at risk, and you must remain vigilant. Readiness cannot be compromised regardless of what else is happening at home or abroad.

Matt: I think they’re focused on how we maintain our readiness for normal business, meaning traditional large-scale combat, while ensuring we’re able to surge to meet pandemic response needs. Balancing these goals is a huge challenge, but the leaders we spoke to see it as an opportunity to make the Army stronger. The adjustments that DoD has made—such as virtual training for the guard and reserves, the Defense Assisted Acquisition Cell, and strengthening dispersed operations—support both objectives. 

— Arpi Dilanian

Looking back over four years of interviews, what stands out the most?

Matt: We always asked a leadership question at the end of each interview. I was fascinated by their perspectives on what effective leadership looks like. In this most recent issue, several leaders told us they had to delegate their authority to the lowest possible level to respond quickly and effectively to COVID-19. There was so much going on that had to be done immediately. The only way to do that successfully was to empower subordinates and utilize the Army’s full potential.  

Arpi: Sitting down and hearing firsthand from senior leaders—what they’re doing in terms of readiness and operations and where they’re trying to take the Army in the future—was fascinating. It’s been quite an experience.

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