Future fight prep serious business for Quartermaster General

Brig. Gen. Douglas M. McBride Jr., 55th Quartermaster General (left), and QM Corps Command Sgt. Maj. Eric J. Vidal I (right), talk with military leaders at an Army Readiness Training Center to get their feedback on logistical requirements and the troops who provide that sustainment support.

FORT LEE, Va. – Brig. Gen. Douglas McBride Jr. fully comprehended the looming challenges he would face on the day he became the 55th Quartermaster General and QM School commandant 13 months ago.

For starters, he would have to shepherd efforts to adapt the corps to a new National Military Strategy transitioning away from a counterinsurgency posture and toward capability to support largescale combat operations.

He would have to start with revamping schoolhouse training programs, which along with waning operations in Southwest Asia and widely used sustainment outsourcing programs there, had impacted the readiness levels of quartermaster Soldiers. McBride experienced this firsthand in his previous assignment as the leader of the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Fort Hood, Texas, where he was charged with supporting III Corps, the largest such organization in the Army.

“What we saw was a lot of skill atrophy associated with our logistics (military occupational specialties),” he said of his two-year tenure that concluded in 2018. “They didn’t have the reps downrange, and so at home station, we had to really get back to the basics of our core competencies as logisticians.”

Fast-forwarding to the present, McBride is directly responsible for the training of more than 20,000 fledgling sustainers yearly, and his leadership affects the readiness of more than 110,000 quartermaster Soldiers in the total force. McBride also drives the doctrine and policies that govern quartermaster operations in the field. Thus, getting back to the “core competencies” is now his fulltime job, and he is dead-set in his responsibility to resolve capability issues he saw as a field commander.

“When I came into the seat, I obviously wanted to build on the legacy of the 54 Quartermaster Generals who preceded me,” said the 54-year-old. “Quartermaster history is Army history, and it is a proud legacy. Each Quartermaster General had a different challenge; a different fight. My fight is the transition from counterinsurgency to the new global threat environment in which we have peer competitors.”

Concerning the latter, McBride – steered by his own experiences and the expectations from higher headquarters to provide Soldiers with tough, realistic training in preparation for large-scale ground combat – first went about overhauling what advanced individual training students experience during their time at Fort Lee.  

“We had to reassess what we were doing in the classroom in terms of our programs of instruction and put increased emphasis – beyond being technically trained in an MOS – on the ability to tackle technical crafts in a tactical environment against peer threats in an environment that is dissimilar to Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said. “It really required a transformation of the Quartermaster School, and that’s what we’ve undergone in the past year.”

The goal, McBride doggedly said, is to ensure “every Soldier graduating from the Quartermaster School is ready to contribute to the mission the day they show up at their home station units.”

Meaning each AIT Soldier, upon graduation, would have the capability to perform his or her craft in an austere field environment to an acceptable degree. McBride even gave his vision a name, “Ready on Day One.”

“Our ultimate goal is to provide combat-ready Soldiers with the requisite qualities to join the force ready on day one to contribute to the fight,” he said, defining “Ready on Day One” as a “Soldier who is physically fit, resilient, steeped in Army values, proficient at Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, and technically and tactically certified in their field craft.”

“Ready on Day One,” was catchy, and the ambition looked good on paper, but there was a major hurdle.

 AIT, for the most part, is centered on technical training, and although POIs allowed time for field exercises, only quick-run-through familiarizations were possible due to time constraints. Many of the QM School trainers and administrators mused where they would find the time to meet the general’s field training requirements, since the POIs are traditionally tight and extending course lengths is out of the question.

McBride said it took a change of perspective to move the dial in the right direction.

“When the vision was first unveiled,” he recalled, “a lot of what I heard was ‘Where are we going to find the time?’ My response to the team was ‘There is a more constructive way to look at the problem.’ It’s not taking away from our technical MOS instruction to increase field time; its relooking the entire programs of instruction and lesson plans, and optimizing the time we have to include tactical field training.”

That meant, where possible, utilizing a blended-learning model including traditional classroom instruction, virtual training and live reps in a field training environment in addition to restructuring how time was used under the POI.

“So, instead of having all the MOS training taking place inside of a classroom, we restructured some courses so classes take place in a field environment,” McBride said. “It wasn’t an ‘either/or,’ but rather inclusive of. For example, why would the majority of laundry and shower training (MOS 92S) take place in a classroom when most of the work in the real world occurs in a field environment?”

McBride cited the Petroleum and Water Department’s blended-learning environment as a model for the schoolhouse. One critical component – an improved virtual training program made possible through $4.6 million in Army Virtual Training Environment funding – has markedly advanced student progress while saving time and resources. McBride holds such an achievement in high regard.

“We are now leveraging both internal and external sources to ensure all quartermaster students can benefit, where possible, from the blended learning environment,” he said. “Students are interacting with virtual reps before going to the field and performing hands-on tasks. As a result, we’ve seen a 30-percent increase in test scores and first-time ‘go’s,’ while actually reducing the POI man-hours. That’s a win for everyone.”

In addition to modifying traditional classroom learning, the schoolhouse’s culmination exercise has undergone dramatic change. It was limited to two days during daylight hours prior to McBride’s tenure. Through painstaking reassessment, review and planning, however, it is longer, more rigorous and proficiency-centered.

“One of my top-priority initiatives in the first 12 months was to get to a three-night, four-day field training exercise so Soldiers could receive an adequate amount of experience and training under tactical conditions both day and night,’ McBride said. “As logisticians, we’re never going to have the convenience of only operating during daylight hours. We have to be as good or ever better during the night. We say we own night; now we need to demonstrate that we do.”

Furthermore, McBride and his leadership team was not content with merely extending the exercise. He, for one, wanted an event producing tangible results, free of any traces of frivolity.

“The two-day FTX only focused on Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills,” McBride recalled. “The new exercise incorporates training in all the tasks and battle drills, plus students are required to be certified (go and no-go). We’ve gotten away from mere familiarization.”

In addition to demonstrating those abilities vital to battlefield survival, culmination exercise students must show they can perform technical skills under graded criteria, McBride further explained.

“Students are charged with performing collective tasks while being individually assessed,” he said, noting the critical step was made possible through the addition of new training spaces (via collaboration with the garrison) needed for operating a brigade support area and brigade clusters for certain MOSs.

McBride seemed quite impassioned when talking about the enhancements in field training occurring over the past year but said his team is always looking for further improvement.

“We’re never satisfied and never complacent at the QM School,” he asserted.

The brigadier general is just as discriminating when it comes to his role as a doctrinal authority.

“As we have transitioned our national military and defense strategies, it required us to adjust our doctrine,” he said. “We have collectively within CASCOM rewritten our sustainment doctrine in the form of Field Manual 4.0, that is nested with FM 3.0, the outline for how the Army fights in an operational environment.

“The down-trace manuals feeding FM 4.0 are owned by the branches. We had to relook all of the doctrinal manuals within the quartermaster portfolio, making sure they spoke to a largescale ground combat-type of environment and the ability of our formations to thrive in those situations. That required a total rewrite of all of our doctrinal publications. We’re well on our way to getting them revised and revalidated.”

McBride said he anticipates FM 4.0 will be released in the coming weeks.

The corps’ modernization efforts are another looming priority.  McBride said reviews are ongoing to determine from a personnel and materiel perspective how future systems will function.

“How we will look in the future is equally as important as the current fight because preparation is essential,” he said. “We’ve got to be ready. From a proponency perspective, I am obligated to assess all quartermaster systems and figure out what the next generation of capability needs to look like.”

Over the course of the last 13 months, McBride said he knew the corps’ staff would be the most critical component in facilitating the new direction. What he did not know, is how well they would respond to the mountains of change before them.

“Nothing has surprised me,” he observed, “but I’ve been most impressed that the collective team has many unbelievable professionals with phenomenal work ethic. Once you give them a clear vision and intent, they will exercise discipline and initiative to meet that intent. They have exceeded all of my expectations in terms of their commitment, dedication and drive.”    

Moreover, McBride said staff members have been engaging throughout the process. They have challenged him and held him to account. More importantly, he has received input from across the spectrum, which he thinks is appropriate considering the goals and the changing environment.

“I fight against group-think in the Quartermaster School,” he said. “I need to hear everyone’s perspective. I want to make sure everyone has a voice and everyone is being heard.”

McBride said as much change as there has been during his tenure, he has not seen much pushback.

“Any time you’re a leader who has to drive change in an organization, you normally see a lot of resistance,” he said. “I haven’t seen that. Everyone has embraced my vision for the organization. They have a lot of skin in the game. That’s been refreshing. It hasn’t always been that way in my military career.”

Although he has seen much positive change, McBride is not ready to declare mission-accomplished. He said the past year will be reviewed, scrutinized and examined on the premise of the original goals.

“I think we’ve done extremely well to meet the TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command), the CAC (Combined Arms Command) and CASCOM commander’s intent, and I believe we’re nested very well with their priorities and major lines of effort,” he said. “Without a doubt, we have embraced the Army Chief of Staff’s No. 1 priority, which is readiness. … I’m proud of what we’ve done, but there’s so much more work to do in the coming year.”

The QM School trains Soldiers in nine enlisted military occupational specialties, five warrant officer MOSs and one area of concentration for officers. It also develops QM doctrine, training, leader development, organization, and materiel requirements for the current and future Army and supports the Army’s accessions mission.

The QM Corps is the second largest in the Army.