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Combat Service Support in Baghdad

A forward support company supporting an armor battalion task force in Iraq had to innovate to execute its mission in a challenging urban environment.

Providing combat service support (CSS) for a battalion-sized task force operating as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom requires adaptations and innovations to help ensure mission success. Task Force 2–8 Cavalry (TF 2–8 CAV)—the 2d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division—learned this truth during 12 months of op-erations in eastern Baghdad.

TF 2–8 CAV consisted of one tank company with tanks and two tank companies mounted on high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs). Approximately 10 months before its deployment to Iraq, the task force transitioned to the Force XXI redesign with the addition of a forward support company (FSC)—B Company, 115th Forward Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. Confronted with the unique and multifaceted missions and the challenging environment of Iraqi Freedom, the task force and FSC leaders recognized that many plans for CSS operations would have to be revised. Accordingly, the FSC developed a mix of garrison and field techniques to effectively manage maintenance and other logistics functions. What follows are the highlights of the FSC’s support of TF 2–8 CAV in Baghdad.

Maintenance Operations

Because the task force’s location was static, with all of its companies operating out of a combined motor pool, the maintenance assets of the task force were retained under the control of the FSC and the maintenance control officer. This allowed for cross-leveling of workloads and gave a single company or section additional flexibility to surge in order to meet their mission timelines. In a normal environment, the combat repair teams in the FSC’s maintenance platoon would be attached to the task force’s companies. However, the conditions in Baghdad called for different techniques.

The combat repair team for each company remained intact, and its team chief was responsible for all of the vehicles within that company. Those responsibilities included services, unscheduled maintenance, and quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) of the team’s vehicles for dispatch. The maintenance and service section was responsible for maintenance of FSC and headquarters and headquarters company (HHC) vehicles, with the exception of light tracked vehicles. The recovery section was given the mission of maintaining all light tracks and performing all required fabrication. Because of the reduced number of tanks (compared to the task force’s normal complement) and the limited number of recovery missions, the recovery section had the manpower and the time to take on the light tracked vehicle maintenance mission.

To support its mission requirements, the task force made the decision to dispatch vehicles for 7-day periods. Before dispatching the vehicles, the maintenance team conducted a detailed QA/QC of the vehicles and identified and corrected any faults. The most common deficiencies found were suspension and drive train faults. The heat and the poor quality of roads in Iraq, combined with the weight of added armor, put additional stress on M998-series HMMWVs and required that they be monitored closely.

Operators were still required to do daily preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS) on their vehicles to identify emerging problems during the week between dispatches. Vehicles also were washed weekly at the washrack available at the forward operating base (FOB). (Units deployed to Iraq should procure portable steam cleaners when a washrack is not available.) As a result of the poor sanitary conditions in Baghdad, thorough cleaning of vehicles was needed to protect soldiers from illnesses caused by exposure to raw sewage.

In addition to daily and weekly maintenance, TF 2–8 CAV implemented an aggressive and rigid service program. Beginning with its first week in Baghdad, the task force conducted services that equaled or exceeded the services performed in a garrison environment. To accomplish this, the service calendar was included in the weekly planning conducted by the task force S–3. Just like combat patrols, services were placed on the daily mission list and were executed at the platoon level. For that period of time, the platoon’s sole focus was on services.

When tank services could not be conducted at the platoon level during periods of increased operating tempo, those services were shifted to the section level. This allowed combat forces to remain available for employment by the task force commander while permitting the FSC to maintain the service schedule.

The services performed included all aspects of platoon or section operations. Problems with vehicles, weapons, night-vision devices, and communications equipment, as well as personnel matters, could be resolved during the performance of services. Because of the Force XXI concept reorganization, both organizational and direct support personnel were available at all times to focus on services. Services for a HMMWV-mounted platoon were scheduled for 4 days, while a tank platoon was allocated 7 days.

In addition to normal service items, fluids were changed more frequently than under normal conditions and suspension components were checked and replaced more frequently. These two aspects of preventive maintenance seemed especially effective in avoiding more serious maintenance and repair problems and equipment downtime.

Resupply Operations

The missions assigned to TF 2–8 CAV varied significantly and required the FSC to be prepared to support the complete spectrum of operations. FSC missions ranged from preparing and forwarding the traditional logistics packages (LOGPACs) to distributing humanitarian aid to running a weapons buyback program.

Through planning and experience, the FSC developed a number of tactics, techniques, and procedures to increase flexibility and timeliness in responding to the changing operational environment. In the period of an hour, the task force often shifted from full-scale combat to consequence management and distribution of humanitarian assistance to Iraqis. Perhaps the most effective tool in supporting those shifts was the effective use of load-handling systems (LHSs) and flatracks.

To maintain flexibility, the FSC built preconfigured flatracks to support the most frequently performed missions. The FSC maintained the following flatracks at all times to be able to respond quickly to rapidly changing situations—

• Six flatracks of class IV materials, each with 120 rolls of concertina wire, 20 pickets, 2 Jersey barriers, and 2 rolls of barbed wire.
• Two flatracks of packaged class III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants) and class V (ammunition) for small arms.
• Two flatracks of water and meals, ready to eat (MREs).
• One flatrack of portajohns and trash containers.
• One flatrack of humanitarian daily rations.
• One flatrack with a military-owned demountable container (MILVAN) of water.

Based on the mission requirement, the FSC was able to pick up the appropriate flatracks and deliver the required support rather than configure the needed loads after the mission was received.

Resupply operations for the task force varied from providing LOGPACs to operating modified supply point distribution. Because of the smaller number of tanks in the task force and the smaller battlespace (as small as 4 square kilometers for the battalion), in many situations a single refuel point was established for the entire task force. In those cases, the fuelers usually set up on a major road that was blocked off for fueling operations. This allowed for easy defense and accessibility to the fuelers. Class V and packaged class III supplies were pushed forward at the same time to meet requests presented during the daily logistics net call. Depending on the enemy situation, refueling also could be set up at a nearby FOB to allow for 24-hour fuel availability. In such cases, MREs, water, class V, and packaged class III were made available for issue at the FOB.

For extended operations, class I (subsistence) was pushed forward to the companies so they could be fed out of their patrol bases. Typically, the meals were dropped off and the supply sergeants returned immediately to the FOB under the escort of the Supply and Transport Platoon leader; the mermite food containers then were picked up when the next meal was dropped off. This reduced the time pressure on the companies to feed their soldiers as well as the time that the supply trucks, which lacked armor, were exposed to a hostile environment.

Convoy Operations

All units operating in Iraq faced the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs). To counter those threats, convoys of soft-skin vehicles must rely on two basic principles to facilitate safer movement on the roads. First, speed counters the threat of static IEDs. While safety and traffic conditions must be considered, convoys that can maintain speed are significantly more difficult for insurgents to target. Speed also reduces the likelihood that insurgents will be able to engage convoys with small arms or rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Second, traveling away from the edge of the road reduces the effectiveness of IEDs.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom II, multinational-force convoys were increasingly targeted by VBIEDs. Most combat arms convoys had the advantage of using fully armored vehicles, but CSS vehicles typically had only locally fabricated armor. For this reason, keeping potential threats away from convoys was all the more important.

To counter VBIED threats, vehicles had to be positioned appropriately to block access to convoys. To prevent vehicles from approaching a convoy from behind, the two trail vehicles (usually M998 HMMWVs with add-on armor and a crew-served weapon in the back) traveled abreast of each other. The gunners were oriented to the rear and sides. When vehicles approached the rear of the convoy, the gunners stood up and motioned for the vehicles to stop. As soon as the vehicles backed away, the gunners dropped back inside their vehicle in order to protect themselves from static IEDs. If the vehicles continued to approach, the gunners took appropriate measures in accordance with the rules of engagement.

The convoy’s lead vehicles served to clear the route and prevent vehicles from entering from side streets, ramps, and other approaches. As they approached intersecting streets or local vehicles waiting to enter the road, the lead vehicles moved over to block access to the main road. Once the lead vehicles passed the access point and no threats had been identified, they quickly returned to the center of the road. These techniques helped to protect convoys from attack from the rear and sides.

With these techniques in use, the biggest remaining threat was from vehicles that the convoy passed. The personnel in the lead vehicle had to remain vigilant and look for indicators of a potential VBIED. If a threat was identified, convoy personnel had to act aggressively to prevent an attack. Once a vehicle made a threatening move or refused to comply with signals from the gunners, that vehicle had to be stopped using methods that followed the rules of engagement.

An additional measure that had to be considered to counter the IED threat was route selection. While the narrowness of most streets in Baghdad served to channel most military convoys (especially those with large vehicles) into certain wider streets, careful consideration still had to be given to the routes selected for convoys. In many cases, units across the division used the same routes, thereby inadvertently establishing convoy patterns that the units may not have recognized but the insurgents would perceive. Close monitoring of division-level contact reports helped to prevent attacks by avoiding routes that habitually were targeted by insurgents.

Signs of potential VBIEDs included overloaded vehicles, covered items inside the passenger compartment, inappropriately dressed drivers (for instance, a driver wearing a winter coat in the summer in Baghdad), and erratic driving. This last sign was perhaps the most difficult to spot during operations in Baghdad. Since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, enforcement of traffic laws in Iraq had become nearly nonexistent. Some of the behaviors that indicated threatening driving were excessive speed, adjusting speed to match the convoy speed, and attempting to bypass blocking vehicles.

Combat Recovery in Urban Baghdad

During uprisings by the Muqtada Militia, the task force was required to conduct numerous recovery operations deep inside the city in the midst of heavy fighting. The enemy shifted away from direct-fire engagements to the use of IEDs to fight the battalion’s tanks. This tactic allowed the insurgents to attack tanks without the risk of exposing themselves.

As the task force moved through the city, the enemy often detonated IEDs near tanks in an effort to disable them. Once a tank was disabled, the insurgents in the area could rally around the immobile vehicle and attack with RPGs and small arms. Although this fire was largely ineffective against tank armor, it did provide a challenge to U.S. personnel attempting to evacuate the crew and recover the damaged vehicle.

On a traditional battlefield, a catastrophic kill likely would be left in place and retrieved following the battle, but this was not an option for TF 2–8 CAV. Because of the possible repercussions from television coverage of insurgents dancing on a U.S. tank, the task force commander put a high priority on recovering damaged vehicles as soon as possible.

To facilitate the recovery of the damaged vehicles as soon as possible, an M88 recovery vehicle was located with the task force reserve (typically two M7 Bradley fire support team vehicles). In most cases, the task force reserve and the M88 were collocated with the battalion’s tactical command post (TAC). When a vehicle was damaged, recovery became the decisive operation for the task force, with all of its efforts focused on recovering the crew and its vehicle.

As with any casualty evacuation or recovery operation, the security of the site was the first priority. Typically, a tank platoon was committed to security. In addition to suppressing any insurgents in the area, the tanks were positioned to prevent the insurgents from having a direct line of fire at the M88 crew as they connected the tank to the recovery vehicle. Once the site was secured, the M88 was brought forward under the escort of the task force reserve. In the event of significant casualties, an M113 ambulance also could be brought forward to evacuate the wounded.

Once the recovery assets arrived at the site, the M7s became additional security assets and also were available to evacuate casualties and crew members of the downed tank. In most instances, the recovery crew used the V chains from the M88 to connect to the damaged vehicle rather than the normal heavy tow bar used in training. Although this was not the preferred method for towing, the speed gained in hooking up to the damaged vehicle was well worth any cosmetic damage done to the vehicle in the initial recovery.

Once the connection was complete, the tank was pulled out of the engagement area to a safer location. At that point, the FSC delivered another M88 (previously staged out of contact at a forward location). The second M88 and the task force reserve moved back to the TAC in order to prepare for the next mission. At the maintenance exchange point, the crew of the first M88 connected the recovery vehicle to the tank with a tow bar and conducted any battle damage assessment and repair (BDAR) required to permit recovery back to the FOB. The most common issue faced was suspension arms dragging on the ground as a result of tracks and wheels being blown off by IEDs.

By selecting a safe maintenance exchange point, the M88 and tank crews were able to do BDAR that allowed for ease of recovery. If a proper BDAR was not performed, the risk of doing additional damage to the suspension increased, as did the risk of catching the vehicle on fire because of the heat generated by friction with paved roads. Once the BDAR was complete, the tank and M88 were recovered to the FOB under escort of the FSC. Once it was at the FOB, the tank was turned over to the maintenance team. The M88 with escorts then returned to their forward staging location.

Recovery of wheeled vehicles in an urban fight also provided a challenge. Maneuvering a heavy, expanded-mobility tactical truck (HEMTT) wrecker into position often was a challenge in the crowded streets of an urban environment. Because of the difficulty of getting to a damaged vehicle and evacuating the area, the site of the fight had to be made more secure. In the case of catastrophic kills, an LHS with an empty flatrack was the only viable option for evacuating destroyed vehicles.

In order to place a vehicle on a flatrack, either an M88 had to be on site or locally fabricated ramps had to be used to allow the damaged vehicle to be winched onto the flatrack. On two occasions, the site of a burning vehicle had to be secured overnight to allow the fire to die down so that the recovery could be completed in the morning.

With each recovery mission, security and mission planning were critical. A common operating picture across both maneuver and CSS assets allowed for rapid recovery of damaged vehicles, thereby preventing the further loss of equipment and denying the insurgents the opportunity to celebrate the damage of coalition equipment.

When deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, TF 2–8 CAV was still adjusting to the CSS changes associated with Force XXI redesign. This may have facilitated the operational adaptations and innovations of the task force’s Iraq deployment, since the previous paradigms for CSS had already been set aside and leaders at all levels had recently focused on the fundamental relationships between CSS and mission success. Because of the constantly changing environment and tactical situation in Baghdad, logistics functions had to be flexible and responsive. Through full-spectrum operations, the task force’s logistics personnel had to meet the logistics needs of the maneuver commander to ensure his freedom of maneuver and maintain pressure on the insurgents.

The experiences of TF 2–8 CAV in eastern Baghdad may not be directly transferable to other situations. However, those experiences illustrate the types of operational adjustments and innovations that can enhance mission success.

Captain Kevin M. Baird is Commander of B Forward Support Company, 115th Forward Support Battalion (which is attached to the 2–8 Cavalry Battalion), 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. He is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic Course and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course. He was commissioned following graduation from Vanderbilt University and has a master’s degree from the University of Missouri at Rolla.