Monday, October 19, 2009

Mission Support helps soldiers deal with war

John Scroggins, a retired colonel, is head of Mission Support Element.

Twenty years ago in December, John Scroggins made a combat parachute jump into Panama with the Rangers.

At 63, he has been out of uniform for seven years. But nowadays Scroggins is helping Fort Bragg revise how it sends soldiers to war, brings them back and gets them ready to go again.

Scroggins, a retired colonel with distinctive white hair and eyebrows, is director of the Mission Support Element and the senior civilian in the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg. His picture is hanging on more than one wall at Fort Bragg from his past assignments.

His office is on the command hall with the generals in the corps headquarters. When the corps staff meets, he's in on the huddle.

"I didn't realize how much I missed it until I came back here and started doing it again," he said. "I found out there really is a niche for a guy like me to come over here."

The Mission Support Element has a staff of 118 people, mostly Army civilian employees and contractors.

It's a new organization, designed to meet the needs of an Army fighting a long, seemingly unending war.

"The way we are today, it's asking too much of the Army to have those war-fighting colonels and commanders try to take care of all the other stuff that takes place on a daily basis and leave a piece of their team back here to take care of while they are gone," Scoggins said. "The MSE is going to fill that gap. We are going to be long term."

Under the new arrangement, the 18th Airborne Corps focuses on the fight and the Mission Support Element picks many duties the corps used to do. It's a triad with the Fort Bragg garrison handling the "city" aspects of the Army post - from roads to ballfields - with military training ranges thrown in.

The Army is constantly looking at what's next. When soldiers are overseas, plans are already being made for their next assignment, what schools they need to attend and getting the barracks ready back at Fort Bragg. When they get home, their equipment needs to be repaired, they need to take time off and reunite with families, get individual training and sometimes move on to their next assignment. When a deployment is coming up, they have to be ready to hand over their barracks, schedule time off and do unit-level training.

Fort Bragg's Mission Support Element, which has counterparts around the Army, went into operation last year when Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin and his 18th Airborne Corps headquarters were running military operations through Iraq on a daily basis.

The idea of the "MSE" is to free up the war fighters to take care of business in the combat zone.

"All the other stuff that takes place on a daily basis, we've got it," Scroggins said.

Like Scroggins, who was a brigade commander in the 82nd Airborne Division and 18th Airborne Corps chief of staff, many of the MSE staff can speak with great authority about the Army.

A couple of years ago, Scroggins' deputy, Scott Harris, was fighting insurgents in Iraq as commander of an infantry battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division. He knows firsthand about issuing and reissuing equipment.

"The battalion commander, the brigade commander, the staff officers, who are coming back after 15 months of combat, they don't want to fool with that," Harris said. "The MSE does it for them."

The corps - apart from special operations units - has about 35,000 soldiers on Fort Bragg, and about half of those are deployed. There is constantly somebody coming or going.

"When they come back and get into the reset mode, they don't have to worry about doing all the things that may have slipped to the wayside when they were gone," Scroggins said. "We've got it. They can take a knee. It will be under control."

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