By Mr R. McKie

The formation of the Royal New Zealand Army Logistic Regiment (RNZALR) in 1996 was never a simple exercise in reorganising military units and trade groups. As the culmination of effort across many disciplines to modernise the logistics of the New Zealand Army, those charged with its future shape acknowledged that it would be a difficult journey and would take some time for all the elements to coalesce fully into the new regiment. However, few could have foreseen that twenty-five years later, that the supply trade as the most widely dispersed and technically misunderstood trade in the RNZALR would still be struggling with many of the same issues it faced when it joined the RNZALR, remaining in a state of perpetual analysis and review as the best solution to meet and deliver the army’s supply needs continues to be sought. This article is not intended to examine in detail the issues facing the supply trade but rather generate some critical discussion on the supply trade by highlighting and providing some historical context on what is possibly the most analysed and reviewed trade in the New Zealand Army.

With a heritage reaching back to 1840, the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (RNZAOC) of 1993 maintained a Supply Battalion in Trentham and a regional Supply Company in Auckland, Waiouru, Linton and Burnham. These units were the stores’ wholesalers to the army, provisioning, purchasing, and providing the wide range of stores required by consumer units, including clothing and accessories, Rations, Fuel, Oils, and lubricants (FOL), consumables, medical stores and ammunition. RNZAOC units also provided additional base and field services such as purchasing, tailoring, reverse logistics, textile repair, bath, and laundry. Additionally, each RNZEME workshop maintained an RNZAOC Store Section responsible for supporting its parent workshops with its technical parts and spares. All RNZOAC suppliers were trained at the RNZAOC school at Trentham, with the RNZAOC structured so that although specialisation in some trade areas was possible, there was ample opportunity for trade progression from the rank of Private to Warrant Officer Class One (WO1), with a select number of WO1s been appointed to the honourable and ancient appointment of Conductor.

While the RNZAOC provided the “Wholesale” stores function for the army, the “Retail’ stores accounting function within units was provided by unit Quartermaster Stores (Q Stores) and the men and women of the Storeman All Arms and Stores Managers trade (Storeman AA). The Storeman AA trade was a diverse trade represented in nearly every Corps and Regiment of the NZ Army. A component of New Zealand’s military establishment from its earliest days, the roles of the Quartermaster Sergeant as a component of the regular military was formalised in 1911 when the first batch of soldiers were selected to be Quartermaster Sergeants and, following formal training, were appointed to units of the Territorial Army. By 1993 entry into the Storeman AA trade would be by either two paths, either direct entry from Regular Force Cadet or Recruit training or transfer from other trades. Regardless of the means of entry into the trade, each Storeman AA would undertake a progressive range of courses at the “Q” wing of the School of Army Administration. Despite having a shared training platform, each Storeman AA would typically remain in the same Corps or Regiment throughout their entire career, at times undertaking many of the Corps/trade-specific courses peculiar to their parent unit, providing storemen with an intimate knowledge and understanding of their dependency and the Q support required. Although often understated, the status of the unit “Q” Staff was such that Company Quartermaster Sergeants (CQMS) had a dedicated parade appointment on parades, and the Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant (RQMS) would in some units be second in seniority to the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM), often acting as the RSMs understudy in the RSMs absence. Cross-pollination between the RNZAOC Supply trade and the Storeman AA trade was rare but not uncommon. However, it would not be until the rank of SNCO or Warrant Officer that RNZAOC Suppliers and Storeman AA would work together in advisory roles such as the Ordnance Liaison Warrant Officer (OLWO) and Advisory Quartermaster positions in regional/formation headquarters.

The early 1990s would be a period of significant change for both Supply trades as they underwent a considerable transformation due to the rebalancing of the logistic and support functions of the NZ Army, which would eventually lead to the formation of the RNZALR. Included in the scope of work of the rebalancing was a review of the two supply trades, which concluded that given the development of the computerised Defence Supply System Detail (DSSD), it would be viable to combine the two trades into one. Initial integration of logistic units occurred in 1993, where units of the Royal New Zealand Corps of Transport (RNZCT), RNZAOC and Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RNZEME) combined into Logistic Regiments. Integration of the logistic training functions occurred in 1994 when the individual Corps schools amalgamated into the Army Logistic Centre (ALC). This would see the Quartermaster Wing of The School of Army Administration integrated into the RNZAOC School.

In July 1994, the RNZAOC School was disestablished, and the Trade Training School (TTS) was established in its place. This change saw the amalgamation of the Supply and Quartermaster functions combined into the Supply/Quartermaster (Sup/Q) Wing as the Supply and Q Sections. The main aim behind the amalgamation was to foster the development of training required to produce an Army with an effective logistical supply system at all levels, with the first combined Sup/Q Courses been conducted during the 1994/95 training year. With Supply and Q training combined, the first personnel postings between RNZAOC and consumer units were progressed with mixed results. Some individuals thrived as the experience allowed them to expand their knowledge and expertise. In contrast, others found the adjustment difficult and outside of the comfort zones that their previous positions have provided. However, on 4 December 1996, all RNZAOC Suppliers and Storeman AA were incorporated into a new base trade known as the Supplier/Quartermaster (Sup/QM) trade.

From 9 December 1996, all Sup/QM Personnel were all remustered into the RNZALR on its formation and wearing the same badge, and there would be no turning back as the Sup/QM trade evolved into trade divided between 1st line Units (unit Q Stores) and 2nd Line units (former RNZAOC units). For the RNZCT and RNZEME, the transition into the RNZALR would be reasonably straightforward with little impact on the trades within those Corps. However, for the Sup/QM trade, the transition into the RNZALR would be more traumatic, as the Sup/QM trade was still in its infancy and, given its dispersed nature, was often overlooked as the focus was on establishing the principle RNZALR units.

When the Army Supply trades were combined in 1993, the army had enjoyed well over twenty years of peace with a very low operational tempo with a few low-level operational deployments in the early 1990s. However, from 1999 the commitment to East Timor and other ongoing operational deployments would see the Sup/QM trade stretched to provide personnel to increasingly complex deployments in geographically and environmentally diverse locations such as East Timor and Afghanistan. These deployments, along with the routine functions of the trade, created issues with the retention of skilled personal at all levels, especially at the Junior Non-Commissioned Officer level, as Sup/QM establishments were shrunk as the dependency and operating tempo increased.

Although the concept of a combined Supply trade was conceived and enacted with the best of intentions, any long-term plans for the development of the trade were soon overtaken by ongoing developments across the wider army. A significant occurrence that would have a long-term flow-on effect on the Sup/QM trade would be the commercialisation of the Army’s Logistics functions. The Trentham based 5 Logistic Regiment, which in past lives had been the Main Ordnance Depot, 1 Base Ordnance Depot, and 1 Base Supply Battalion, had been the unit through which most of the RNZAOC had passed through since 1920, was transferred to civilian contractors with a single Warrant Officer providing contractual oversight of the supply and warehousing aspects of the service agreement. In Waiouru, 4 Supply Company would soon follow suit and transfer its functions to Civilian service providers. Across the supply spectrum, further enhancements to the Supply Systems would see the introduction of the SAP Corporate system, forever changing the accounting space in both 1st and 2nd line units. The traditional responsibility for rations, fuels, clothing, expendables and purchasing that had for so long been the bread and butter of RNZAOC units also became commercialised functions with the military experience in managing these commodities fading.

Profoundly affecting the Sup/QM trade was the temporary abolishment of the Warrant Officer Class Two (WO2) rank in 1999. This initiative saw most WO2s becoming WO1s with any further promotion of Staff Sergeants (SSgt) being direct to WO1. The flow-on effect on the Sup/QM Trade would see all the WO1 and WO2 RQMS positions downgraded to be either SSgt or Sergeant posts. With the Sup/QM trade still adjusting to combining the RNZAOC Supplier and Storeman AA trade a few years earlier, this initiative was a significant blow to the morale and professional development of the Sup/QM trade as it limited any progression past the rank of SSgt and brought to question the value of the Sup/QM trade within the RNZALR and broader army. Although intended to bring the Army Warrant Officer Rank into line with the Navy and Air Force, who had a single Warrant Officer Rank, the change was never embraced by the NZ Army and would be reversed a few years later. However, due to the rank change, irrevocable damage had been imposed upon the core structure and professional reputation of the Sup/QM trade.

The subsequent decade would be considerably stressful for the Sup/QM trade as it faced continual integration issues and many day-to-day operational challenges. The introduction and ongoing supply support requirements of new and modern equipment such as the Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) and modern communication, clothing and equipment systems were frustrating projects. The supply trade was required to introduce the latest equipment as it was slowly introduced in piecemeal tranches and oversee the withdrawal from service of the numerous legacy systems. The introduction, withdrawal and management of equipment were also hampered and made complicated with the ongoing development of the SAP system as the primary inventory management tool and the introduction of corporate electronic commerce tools such as Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) and Business Intelligence (BI). As the NZ Army introduced the LAV Fleet into service from 2003, a raft of associated logistics also had to be introduced to support the new vehicles. Although traditionally a function of the Maintenance Support trades, responsibility for tyre repair became an additional responsibility of the Sup/Q Trade. Operations in East Timor would also impact the Sup/Q trade as the role of managing, storing and backloading the remains of deceased members would also become a Sup/Q responsibility.

Another factor hampering the Sup/QM trade development was the lack of a defined leadership, policy, and procedural framework. Previously the RNZAOC Directorate have provided centralised oversight for the RNZAOC and policy guidance through the DFO(A) Vol 4 and procedural guidance through the NZ P106 and NZ P107. At the same time, the Q Trade was less centralised with the policy provided by the DFO(A) Vol 4 with Unit Q procedures varying between different units based upon what was taught by the Q Wing of the School of Army Admin. However, as the Sup/QM trade came together, it would undergo severe growing pains as individuals within the trade adjusted to the new reality without clear direction as the existing structures had been dismantled without an adequate replacement. In conjunction with the ACGS(Logistics), the TTS would host annual Sup/QM trade seminars for SNCOs, Warrant Officers and Officers to provide unity and guidance. Although providing a valuable forum for informing the trade of policy and procedural updates by 2006, the yearly seminar had devolved into a three-day talkfest which achieved little apart from changing the name of the Trade from Sup/QM to Supply Technician (SupTech) in 2006 and having a top of trade badge adopted in 2009.

Concerned with the lack of robust vision and leadership within the SupTech trade, in 2008, the Chief Logistic Officer (Army) directed the establishment of the SupTech Senior Trade Advisory Board (STAB) to provide a leadership and management framework for the SupTech trade. The STAB (Supply) was to be a board of selected SupTech Officers and Warrant Officers initially tied to senior trade appointments with the mandate from the CLO (A) to provide balanced and robust technical expertise on Sup Tech specific trade, training, and regimental matters both up and down the command chain and is the main conduit to and from the CLO(A) for all SupTech Trade matters. Additional personnel were not excluded, with suitably qualified subject matter experts to be included on an as-required basis.

Following sixteen years where the supply trade had no robust vision or leadership, the STAB (Supply) provided some direction for the SupTech trade, with the same model later being adopted by all the other RNZALR trade groups. However, issues facing the SupTech trade, such as its long-term role, shape, and establishments, were out of the scope and influence of the STAB. These enduring issues would continue to be analysed and reviewed as the supply trade continues in a holding pattern in a state of continual crisis management as outcomes from the ongoing reviews were sought. In 2021 the same situation prevails with the latest SupTech trade review that has been ongoing since 2018 is yet to provide any effective options for the future of the trade.

In conclusion, it could be argued that the SupTech trade is one of the oldest continuous trades in the New Zealand Army, with an unbroken lineage reaching back to 1840. With representation in nearly every army unit, it is one of the most diverse and dispersed trades whose contribution is taken for granted and misunderstood. The decision to combine the RNZAOC supplier and Storeman AA trade is often debated as the root cause of the current trade problems, and there is some merit to that argument. However, that decision can be balanced against the simple fact the there was a high amount of commonality between the two trades, which made the duplication of the two trades unnecessary. What was unexpected was that the Sup/QM trade model was based on thinking driven by the peacetime army of the 1970s/80s and early 1990s and was unprepared for the intense and complex operational tempo of the 21st Century. Under some form of analysis and review since 1993, the SupTech trade is probably the most reviewed trade in the army. With no substantial change to the SupTech trade affected due to the previous studies and another review initiated in 2018 currently underway, there is an underlying cynicism within the SupTech trade on what another review will deliver or if it will deliver at all. Although much has been promised over the last twenty-five years, apart from some cosmetic initiatives, few dynamic and transformational changes that add any value to the SupTech trade have been delivered. For many of the Sup Techs on the coal face, there is a feeling of resignation that the current review has stalled with the struggle with minimal personnel and resources will continue as the accepted business as usual. Maybe is it time to review the review process?

Footnotes

1 Major J.S Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (Trentham: RNZAOC, 1992).

2 Appointment of Quartermaster Sergeants, New Zealand Military Forces, General Order 112/10 (Wellington1911).

3 HQ New Zealand Defence Force Army General Staff, “Army 1910/2/Cgs Directive 07/96: Formation of the New Zealand Army Logistic Regiment,” ed. Chief of General Staff (Wellington1996).

4 “Army 10000/1/1dev Establishment of the Army Combat Centre and the Army Logistic Centre,” (Wellington1993).

5 “Army 4500/1/Ops Cgs Directive 14-96 the Implementation of the Army Individual Training Review: Regular Force (Aitr:Rf) Proposals,” 6 June 1996.

6 “Army 5145/1/9/Hmr  Directive 42/98 Army Warrant Officer Review Project,” (Wellington1998).

7 With the widespread introduction of pneumatic tyres into military usage during the First World War, responsibility for the repair of tyres was vested in the Armourers trade “Instruction Courses – Syllabus of Training – Ordnance Corps,” Archives New Zealand Item No R22431884  (1921).

8 “1180/1 Minutes of the Meeting of Supply/Quartermaster Trade Seminar Held at the Trade Training School on 14-16 November 2006,”  in ( 2006).;”1180/1 Minutes of the Meeting of Supply/Quartermaster Trade Seminar Held at the Trade Training School on 13-15 November 2007,”  (2007).

9 Chief Logistic Officer (Army), “1180/1 Technical Directive 08-004 Supply Technician Senior Trade Advisory Board (Suptech Stab) “, 19 November 2008.

Bibliography

“1180/1 Minutes of the Meeting of Supply/Quartermaster Trade Seminar Held at the Trade Training School on 13-15 November 2007.” 2007.

“1180/1 Minutes of the Meeting of Supply/Quartermaster Trade Seminar Held at the Trade Training School on 14-16 November 2006.” In  2006.

(Army), Chief Logistic Officer. “1180/1 Technical Directive 08-004 Supply Technician Senior Trade Advisory Board (Suptech Stab) “, 19 November 2008.

Appointment of Quartermaster Sergeants. New Zealand Military Forces, General Order 112/10. Wellington1911.

Army General Staff, HQ New Zealand Defence Force. “Army 1910/2/Cgs Directive 07/96: Formation of the New Zealand Army Logistic Regiment.” edited by Chief of General Staff. Wellington, 1996.

———. “Army 4500/1/Ops Cgs Directive 14-96 the Implementation of the Army Individual Training Review: Regular Force (Aitr: Rf) Proposals.” 6 June 1996.

———. “Army 5145/1/9/Hmr  Directive 42/98 Army Warrant Officer Review Project.” Wellington, 1998.

———. “Army 10000/1/1dev Establishment of the Army Combat Centre and the Army Logistic Centre.” Wellington, 1993.

Bolton, Major J.S. A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps. Trentham: RNZAOC, 1992.

“Instruction Courses – Syllabus of Training – Ordnance Corps.” Archives New Zealand Item No R22431884  (1921).