To Battle We Go: Shortening the logistical tail

By: Dr. Steve Kellner

Every military service struggles with the length of its “logistical tail,” the percentage of its members in support roles compared to combat roles. Another name for this is the “tooth to tail” ratio, tooth being the fighting portion of a military organization and tail being the supporting portion.

Of the U.S. military services, only the Marine Corps has more than half of its members in combat roles. This is really a function of its small size and specific mission rather than a failing on the part of the other services. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard operate and maintain the bulk of our military’s large and complex machinery like tanks, ships and airplanes, and this requires a lot of support personnel. A carrier-based fighter plane, for example, will have only one pilot but requires dozens of people to keep it in the air, from those who maintain, fuel and arm it to the air traffic and deck personnel who help it take off and land.

This isn’t a new issue for the military. The armies of the American Civil War required huge amounts of food, ammunition, horse fodder and other supplies. The wagon train behind a Civil War army of 100,000 could stretch 20 miles, and less than half of that army would actually be involved in combat. Those armies, like our military today, couldn’t fight long without their support units. But since success in war is often a matter of getting there “firstest with the mostest,” every military service tries to maximize the number of combat troops and minimize the number of support personnel.

Today’s Salvation Army has many more officers and employees in support roles than it did years ago. Some of this increase has been unavoidable. The Army operates in a complex environment and must deploy many people in support roles to ensure it is in compliance with the laws, rules and regulations around HR, Finance, Legal, Equal Opportunity and Safe From Harm, to name just a few areas.  And the Army operates a much wider variety of ministries than it did even 50 years ago, and these all require support personnel.

But the successful accomplishment of the Army’s mission requires all Salvationists to be personally involved in spreading the gospel and meeting human need, and that means getting as many of our troops as possible in direct contact with those we serve. Putting more Salvationists into the front lines on a regular basis will not only help us get there “firstest with the mostest” but will ensure that the Army’s support personnel and senior leadership remain in close contact with the realities of front-line ministry, something that will sharpen planning and decision making.

So, if you’re serving in a support role today, figure out a way to be regularly involved in the Army’s front-line ministries, whether it’s in your corps, social services or some other ministry. Consider the example of the disciples, who, when the “logistical tail” of their fast-growing ministry began to take them away from their primary mission, off-loaded the support functions to others so they could remain on the front lines (Acts 6:1-7). The Lord will bless your efforts, and regularly seeing what happens on the front lines will give extra meaning to your support role.