MIT Experience

Brig. Gen. Stephanie Q. Howard Visits MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL)

Since the advent of warfare, logistics has played a crucial role in the success or defeat of armies on the battlefield. 
Written by Brian Young

Since the advent of warfare, logistics has played a crucial role in the success or defeat of armies on the battlefield. Put most succinctly by Alexander the Great: “My logisticians are a humorless lot. They know they are the first ones I will slay if my campaign fails.” The famous Chinese strategist and general Sun Tzu warned “the line between order and disorder lies in logistics.” Corporate perceptions of logistics shifted in the 1950s from a field relegated to military campaigns towards recognizing the value in a cadre of professionals devoted to supply chain management including external suppliers, shippers, warehousing, and final delivery to the customers. As one of the most powerful militaries in the world, the United States Army has few peers. What sets it apart from most are the robust logistics capabilities – from power projection at air and sea ports, to the ability to rapidly deploy in a moments notice to support ongoing operations around the globe*. A critical component of this ability is resident in the U.S. Army Reserve component. Roughly 70% of current logistics capability in the Army resides in the Army Reserve, from fuel and cargo trucks to medical and supply capabilities.

Last month, the three-part Military Speaker’s Series at CTL kicked off with a visit from Brig. Gen. Stephanie Howard, Commanding General of Army Reserve Sustainment Command. These sessions highlight overlap in the public and private sectors and share lessons learned on leadership, supply chain, and organizational challenges. Joining us at MIT from her headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama, Brig. Gen. Howard spoke to SCM master’s students about the challenges of sustaining an army in the field, and the U.S. Army organizational structure that sustains, innovates, procures, and fields the equipment needed to fight, win, and compete in the world today.

The Army Reserve Sustainment Command is part of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command and directly supports the Army Sustainment Command and Army Materiel Command — two entities that integrate materiel requirements from the Army and Combatant Commanders through procurement and life-cycle maintenance of this equipment. ARSC provides support through augmentation of these commands and specialized officers and non-commissioned officers trained in contracting, procurement, and program management. 

A graduate of West Point with 30 years of experience as an Army leader, Brig. Gen. Howard spoke to the class about operational planning, yu change management within large organizations, and fielded questions from students about the government’s role in support of civilian authorities, as well as how civilian oversight of the military works in the United States. The group also discussed how contingency operations are generally not constrained by cost in the initial stages, but as the operational environment and mission turns into long-term sustainment missions, there are key challenges in transitioning systems and processes into cost-effective solutions.

*Read more about how the US military’s approach to supply chain management has evolved.

Post author LTC Brian Young (US Army Reserve) is one of three 2021-22 CTL Military Fellows in the Supply Chain Management program.