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Combat Escort Team Validation

A worn placard posted in the Command Information Center (CIC) of the 4th Sustainment Brigade headquarters in Iraq read, “What have you done to improve our CLPs today?” The message drove home the brigade commander’s one unrelenting purpose for his staff while deployed: Everyone should give their utmost effort to figure out how to mitigate tactical risk and implement the safest, most effective combat logistics patrols (CLPs) possible. More than a year, millions of miles driven, and thousands of CLPs later, that placard and its message remains the central focus of the brigade back at Fort Hood, Texas.

Combat Escort Team Exercise Concept

What have the Soldiers and leaders of the 4th Sustainment Brigade done to improve their CLPs today? The brigade answered that question during a recent visit from Major General Mitchell Stevenson, the Commanding General of the Army Combined Arms Support Command, as they presented their new 5-day combat escort team (CET) validation exercise. CETs are the fighting elements of every CLP, tasked with protecting the logistics vehicles while en route from one forward operating base (FOB) to another.

Older, traditional convoy-protection doctrine focused on ambushes, dismounting vehicles, and engaging the enemy with as much firepower as possible. However, that approach is not relevant on the current battlefields in Iraq. In Iraq, armor protects Soldiers from small-arms attacks, which means that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and vehicle-born IEDs (VBIEDs) are the larger dangers.

Although the typical live-fire exercises provided in combat service support (CSS) Soldier training give troops “trigger time,” they do nothing to train Soldiers on how to serve on a CET effectively. The purpose of the new CET exercise is to allow leaders recently returned from Iraq to validate CSS units’ CET tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP).

The 5-day exercise spans multiple phases to ensure that the participating units go through a crawl-walk-run structure in practicing their drills. The current CET validation facilities can accommodate three five-vehicle CETs at a time.

Day 1

CETs begin their Fort Hood validation by meeting at the Phantomdome, a rehearsal site constructed and manned by the brigade’s 180th Transportation Battalion. The Phantomdome also serves as the meeting hub for the CETs throughout the week. The site includes projectors for intelligence briefings, IED identification displays, room to display a convoy protection platform (a high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle [HMMWV]) and a 20-foot by 40-foot sand table depicting the routes and terrain of the gunnery tables of the live-fire portion of the exercise. Here the Soldiers familiarize themselves with their roles and the layout of the exercise area.

Activities on the first day focus on teaching the units how to rehearse properly. The units are given the opportunity to conduct proper weapons checks, precombat checks, and precombat inspections. And each CET receives its training set of five HMMWVs equipped with the most current training enablers—all assembled and maintained by the brigade’s 553d Combat Service Support Battalion.

From gunner shields to redundant communications, sirens, spotlights, stretchers, towbars, and even simulated counter remote control improvised explosive device electronic warfare (CREW) devices, each HMMWV has all the equipment needed to allow units to conduct correct and current escalation-of-force, IED reporting, and casualty-evacuation procedures.

Day 2

The second day involves simulated scenarios at either the Fort Hood Warrior Skills Trainer or the Virtual Combat Convoy Trainer. These facilities allow Soldiers from the brigade troops battalion to put the CETs through the paces of an actual mission and observe them as they go through their rehearsed TTP with the added pressures of a simulated battlefield.

The scenarios revolve around engaging targets while on the move. However, more than just target practice is taking place. The simulations serve as the CETs “walk” portion of the validation, where the rehearsed TTP can be implemented and then tweaked during the brigade-led after-action reviews. The unit can identify and address any vulnerability before it enters the range portion of the CET validation.

Days 3 and 4

Days three and four begin the “run” portion of the exercise, where CETs make use of everything they have practiced up to this point.

CETs first arrive at the Phantomdome, where they receive their mission. The CETs conduct troop-leading procedures and use the rehearsal site to prepare for their gunnery tables. After the participating personnel complete their rehearsals, precombat checks, and precombat inspections, they move out to the gunnery range.

The brigade’s 2d Chemical Battalion uses multiple ranges on Fort Hood to provide CETs the opportunity to fire in five gunnery tables spread over these 2 days, followed by a sixth capstone table on day 5. These tables expose the CETs to firing at both stationary and moving targets while stationary or moving themselves, along with a night mission.

Although the ranges were designed for use with M2/3 Bradley fighting vehicles, the 2d Chemical Battalion was able to adapt target arrays and add elements to the range to closely simulate battlefield conditions that a CET may face in Iraq. Enough targets are built into the ranges so that, although the CETs might travel down the same routes during their multiple gunnery tables, they will never see the same target twice.

The units also practice executing basic CET drills, such as entering and exiting a FOB, reacting to unexploded ordnance and IEDs, and evacuating casualties. Elements such as IEDs, battlefield debris, friendly forces, and civilians on the battlefield are present to enhance realism and instill positive threat identification and proper rules of engagement. Although the first table uses blanks, the remaining gunnery tables incorporate live rounds.

Day 5

The final day and night of the CET validation involves a capstone gunnery table, where the CET escorts additional logistics vehicles to those used on days 3 and 4. The CET commander must successfully navigate his convoy through a 15-kilometer road march, with the added uncertainty of escorting the additional vehicles.

Upon completion of the final table, the CET then moves back to the Phantomdome, where brigade Soldiers lead an after-action review of the CET’s performance. If the CET successfully performed its proposed TTP, the team is validated. If not, areas for retraining are identified and further validations can be scheduled.

The focus of the CET validation exercise is to allow units to form their TTP according to their unique missions and assets and then to validate those TTP using the knowledge of experienced combat veterans.

This exercise shows that pushing logistics is more than just delivering supplies. It shows that CSS troops must be Soldiers first—able to correctly respond to battlefield conditions through correct execution of unit TTP—and logisticians second.

Focusing skills and training time to equip logisticians with the decisionmaking abilities and equipment to effectively serve on a CET is exactly how the 4th Sustainment Brigade hopes to improve its CLPs. What have you done for your CLPs today?

Staff Sergeant Joshua Salmons is a journalism instructor at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Cedarville University and is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration from Baker Business College.

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