Welcome to the Petroleum Supply Battalion!

by Captain John W. Ellis, USAR

Lacking a background in petroleum supply, the author had to learn on the job when assigned to an Army Reserve petroleum battalion. He describes some of the things he did to better prepare his unit for its mission.

"So, you're a live, breathing, qualified military police captain with combat operations experience, enrolled in the CGSOC (Command and General Staff Officers Course) through the U.S. Army Reserve School, and the MP unit has no vacancy?" recited the lieutenant colonel as he reviewed my record.

"That's right," I replied.

"Well, MP's handle traffic, don't they, just like transportation officers? Have I got a deal for you!"

As Dirty Harry might have put it, "Welcome to the Reserves."

So began my introduction to petroleum supply. I was an MP officer with an enlisted artillery background assigned to a transportation job in an Army Reserve quartermaster unit. Several classes, subcourses, field manuals, and training exercises later, I want to share with the readers of Army Logistician some of the things I have done while working in what has been for me a new area--petroleum supply.

My solutions to the challenges I faced were those of an outsider. My lack of branch qualification in either the Transportation or Quartermaster Corps was both a handicap and a benefit. Not always knowing the standard solution, I had to seek it out or create my own. Many of my ideas came from the CGSOC curriculum, which frequently seemed to give me just what I needed in my unit. This, then, is an outsider's approach to operations analysis and tasking in the petroleum supply battalion.

The operations analysis and tasking process I developed for my unit involves these steps: Examine the organization's mission and typical taskings; standardize mission responsibilities; determine the operation's phases and the critical path for accomplishing the mission; develop an operational concept; develop a task organization to implement that concept; and communicate the operational concept to subordinate units.

The first step is to examine the organization's missions. The petroleum supply battalion, currently organized under table of organization and equipment 10-226H, will soon convert to the 10-426L series. In its current format, the battalion's mission is command and control of two to five petroleum supply companies or transportation medium truck companies equipped with petroleum, oils, and lubricants (POL) semitrailers. The battalion provides general support of class III bulk products and is normally assigned to a corps support command (COSCOM) or theater army area command (TAACOM).

Typical taskings assigned to the battalion by higher headquarters include general support to an area; direct support to a division; direct support to a POMCUS (pre-positioning of materiel configured to unit sets) site, staging area, refitting area, or pipeline tap operation; mobile refuel point operations on main supply routes; and quality surveillance of petroleum products.

The variety of taskings, combined with the command level at which it operates, can create operational problems for the battalion. The battalion headquarters must provide support to forces ranging from the division level down to the using unit. Each customer varies in its demand for petroleum products and its capability to accommodate petroleum resupply. In addition, the force to be supported at the TAACOM or COSCOM level is quite likely to include joint, Allied, or host nation forces.

The variety of customers can present some obstacles to smooth operations and requires varied responses by the petroleum supply battalion. The battalion must consider such factors as the command and control capability of customer units; accountability of the petroleum stock; POL quality; the locations of units and class III facilities; the capabilities of the class III facilities and the transportation net in the area of operations; area transportation resources; the effects of weather on the transportation net and on petroleum products; safety; communications requirements; and the tactical situation.

The diversity of factors that must be considered in planning is, at first glance, a little imposing for a battalion-level operation. Some of these factors are primarily the responsibility of the materiel management center (MMC) or the movement control center (MCC) of the support command to which the petroleum supply battalion is assigned. However, the battalion must still wrestle with many of these considerations during its operations. Applying the standard definitions of general support and direct support to the battalion's missions produces some problems because of the different POL capabilities of units to be supported. A division has an MMC to regulate its POL deliveries and a variety of support forces to handle POL products. A using unit, however, may have no POL capability at all, which will hinder delivery schedules, quality surveillance, and accountability.

It seems obvious to me that the petroleum supply battalion needs to more carefully define its missions. I believe that the solution is to standardize the battalion's missions in the manner normally used for artillery and engineer missions. Provisions for command and control, liaison, communications, stock control, and accountability should vary according to mission taskings. The chart shows one way to standardize POL missions.

A standardized POL mission chart.

MissionCommand RelationsTasked byPriority set byPositioned byPOL AccountingPOL TransportationCommunications and Liaison
Direct Support, CloseAttached to Unit SupportedSupported UnitSupported UnitSupported UnitSupported UnitSupported Unit
Direct SupportOPCON to Unit SupportedSupported UnitSupported UnitSupported Unit through BN HQSupported UnitBattalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBN HQ and Supported Unit
General SupportAssigned to Battalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBN HQ coord w/Supported Unit
General Support, ReinforcingOPCON to Reinforced UnitBN HQ, then Reinforced UnitReinforced Unit through BN HQBN HQ then Reinforced UnitBN HQ then Reinforced UnitBN HQ then Reinforced UnitBN HQ, then Reinforced Unit
General Support, DedicatedAssigned to Battalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBattalion HeadquartersBN HQ coord w/Supported Unit

Definitions of the missions are as follows--