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Sustaining a BCT in Southern Iraq

In August 2008, the 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 4th Infantry Division, deployed from Fort Carson, Colorado, to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 08–10. The brigade expected to be executing combat operations but instead, because of the operational environment, began stability operations in the Multi-National Division-Central (MND–C) area of operations.

MND–C, which was redesignated as Multi-National Division-South, was an area that spanned Iraq from the southern part of Baghdad to Basra near the borders of Kuwait and Iran. The 2d BCT established operations in numerous locations that ranged from built-up areas like Kalsu, Echo, and Basra to small outposts that were constructed while platoon- and company-sized units were moving into the area. In this environment, the 204th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) conducted sustainment support operations for the 2d BCT.

MND–C’s nonlinear, contiguous operational environment challenged the BSB’s logistics capabilities. Although the modular structure of the BSB (with its forward support companies [FSCs] attached to the BCT’s maneuver battalions) provided the enhanced capability and flexibility required to support the dynamic nature of the BCT’s missions, the BSB’s logisticians had to work through some unique challenges.

Split Operations

In the initial stages of the deployment, the 204th BSB supported the 2d BCT, which had over 4,500 personnel in over 10 locations that were spread across 13,500 square miles in multiple provinces. The asymmetrical nature of the area of operations required split operations, with the BSB at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Kalsu supporting one organic 2d BCT battalion and over 15 area-support organizations. A BSB logistics task force (LTF), consisting of elements of the base companies of the BSB and the medical company, was located at Camp Echo along with the BCT headquarters, two of the BCT’s battalions, and area-support units.

The split operations optimized the capabilities of the BSB to mitigate the comparative weaknesses in the Iraqi sustainment support infrastructure. However, the split operations placed stress on the BSB’s personnel and equipment availability, especially in the beginning stages of the deployment. They required the BSB to operate multiple logistics nodes, including class I (subsistence) warehouses and field feeding; classes II (clothing and individual equipment), IV (construction and barrier materials), and IX (repair parts) operations; ammunition transfer holding point operations; and central receiving and shipping point operations at both Kalsu and Echo.

While at Kalsu, the BSB operated a supply support activity (SSA) with over 6,000 items worth more than $40 million; it was one of the largest SSAs in MND–C. The BSB also operated a level II medical facility at Camp Echo.

Realignments and Relocations

Because a changing environment and an adaptive enemy necessitated changes in lines of operations and realignment of 2d BCT forces, the 204th BSB assisted in the relocation of equipment and personnel. It also continued sustainment replenishment operations during realignments, closures, and transfers of outlying locations to the Iraqis and follow-on forces. The new locations required increased supply stocks to ensure continuing sustainment support when the weather or the threat of enemy attack prevented the dispatch of logistics convoys.

Throughout each relocation, the BSB’s planning and execution of sustainment operations ensured that every BCT unit or area-support unit received the sustainment support needed to accomplish its operational mission. The realignment of the BCT to Basra province required the BSB to relocate initially from FOB Kalsu to Camp Echo and then to Basra. The sustainment of the BCT and the BSB during these relocations was facilitated by the doctrinal use of the LTF, which initially relocated from Camp Echo to Contingency Operating Base (COB) Adder (Tallil) and then to Basra.

In “leap frog” fashion, the BSB relocated to Echo while the LTF, established at Echo, continued to provide sustainment support to all BCT and area-support units. Once the BSB was established at Echo, the LTF relocated south to COB Adder, where it established logistics operations to ensure continuity of sustainment support. Finally, 8 months into the deployment, the BSB and LTF were both established at Basra.

The relocation to Basra presented greater logistics challenges as the BSB took on an even higher headcount, more logistics nodes, and more outlying locations to support. At its peak, during a transition of forces between British units and the 2d BCT, the Basra class I warehouse supported an overall headcount of 8,500 personnel and 17 outlying locations.

The BSB operated one dining facility that supported 7,500 personnel. The BSB also inventoried and signed for an SSA to support all BCT and area-support units. For this endeavor, the BSB relocated the Bucca SSA to Basra. The move required dedicated line-haul assets from the sustainment brigade to relocate the authorized stockage list and the SSA’s structural and digital equipment. Within 2 weeks of relocating the SSA, the BSB established SSA operations with 2,500 line items worth over $18 million.

SPO Organization

The support operations (SPO) officer was placed in charge of the LTF, which established itself initially at Echo with the BCT headquarters while the majority of the BSB remained at Kalsu. The LTF operations cell was composed primarily of a few SPO personnel and some noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and Soldiers from the base companies that formed the LTF. Essentially, the LTF operations center became the BSB’s forward operations center. However, the BSB’s automation architecture and modification table of organization and equipment did not facilitate two operations centers.

Reorganization and cross-training of personnel in the SPO section were necessary to facilitate the dual operations at Kalsu and Echo. Unfortunately, because split operations were not considered for the SPO section while at home station (in part, because the battalion did not know the final force array for Iraq until the BCT arrived in theater), the SPO section had only received minimal cross-training.

The lack of cross-training was exacerbated by the fact that many of the personnel in the SPO section were new to their positions. So the focus was on getting the personnel trained for their assigned positions. On-the-job training and maximizing the talents of the personnel, even if the tasks were outside their military occupational specialties (MOSs), were critical to accomplishing the mission.

Transportation and Logistics Convoys

In general, the 204th BSB and its FSCs executed logistics as outlined in current doctrine. The FSCs were able to support the outlying locations with minimal support from the BSB according to the BCT concept of support. However, some additional organic transportation equipment was needed so the BCT could move class VII (major end items) around the area of operations.

The BSB and FSCs did not have all of the transportation equipment needed for operations in Iraq. Heavy equipment transport (HET) vehicles and trailers were essential in facilitating the BCT’s many relocations. Theater logistics units (the sustainment brigade) and local contractors provided many of the heavy-haul trucks, but they had trouble filling the BCT’s numerous transportation requirements. So the BSB obtained HETs through theater-provided equipment (TPE) so that it could provide responsive transportation support for the BCT’s relocations. HETs should be an organic BSB asset in every heavy BCT.

Although the BSB and FSCs were able to receive some TPE, some items, such as palletized load system flatracks, were difficult to obtain. The BCT attempted to bring all of its flatracks from home station, but only a portion of the flatracks were approved for deployment to Iraq. The rationale was that flatracks were available in theater, but it took months to acquire enough flatracks to meet the BCT’s requirement. This delay hindered logistics operations, especially because units could not do flatrack exchanges of 20-foot MILVANs [military-owned, demountable containers]. Unfortunately, MILVANs cannot be placed on containerized roll-in/roll-out platforms, which were readily available in theater.

Not having enough flatracks for flatrack exchanges meant that the BCT had a greater requirement for materials-handling equipment (MHE), especially rough-terrain container handlers (RTCHs) and cranes, to move MILVANs on and off the flatracks. The requirement for MHE was especially critical in outlying locations. Part of the solution was to contract for MHE with local vendors. The BSB SPO section served as the contracting officer’s representative for the MHE contract in Basra. In locations where no RTCHs or cranes were available, units maximized the use of the container handling unit and sometimes the M88 medium recovery vehicle to move containers.

Early in the battalion’s reset before deployment, the BSB commander decided to create a convoy security detachment (CSD) that eventually became a 45-person platoon with 3 squads. Each squad consisted of four gun trucks that operated as a team to provide security for the battalion’s logistics convoys.

The initial training for the CSD occurred in December 2008 at home station, with a team from Fort Knox facilitating the gun truck training. This training enabled the CSD to learn the essential skills of maneuvering, communicating, and shooting. Because all BSB convoys were secured by the CSD, the formation of the CSD and its training was critical. In fact, the BSB convoys were more often limited by the availability of the CSD to provide security than by the availability of transportation assets to haul supplies.

Digital Systems and Enablers

The Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3) is intended to provide and manage the logistics common operational picture (LCOP) in the BCT. One of BCS3’s functions is to capture the logistics status of subordinate units and provide situational awareness of the state of logistics supplies within battalions.

However, BCS3 was not used in MND–C by the 2d BCT, the sustainment brigade, or the expeditionary sustainment command. The LCOP for the BCT sustainment cell and SPO section was managed through ordinary computers with Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET) and Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNET) connectivity and processed and transmitted as logistics status reports through Microsoft Office programs.

Before deploying, the BCT command had emphasized the use of BCS3 as the Army logistics management system. However, two factors prevented the BCT from maximizing the use of BCS3 in Iraq. First, BCS3 is not user-friendly or very intuitive. Second, higher-level units did not emphasize the use of BCS3. Because subordinate units were not required to use BCS3, they reverted to using reports that were more user-friendly.

One of the BCT’s automation capability gaps was the shortage of both SIPRNET and NIPRNET laptops. Since all logistics reporting was conducted through computers, computers and connectivity were essential for logistics operations.

Both SIPRNET and NIPRNET Internet connectivity for the LTF was facilitated by the local directorate of information management at Camp Echo. If that connectivity had not been present, the LTF would have had to rely on linking with the battalion or BCT headquarters located at Echo for Joint Network Node or Command Post Node (CPN) capability since the BSB only had one CPN. This would have severely limited the capability of the LTF since most actions were conducted over the Internet and the tactical network had limited ports.

Sustainment Support for the BCT

Doctrine provides a framework for action that helps mitigate uncertainty without eliminating it, but it cannot anticipate the dynamic results of the interaction of forces within an area of operations. Doctrine cannot be prescriptive; it will not accurately reflect an evolving, chaotic, nonlinear environment. Nevertheless, doctrinal processes help formulate concepts of support and plans that match the context and circumstances within a unit’s area of operations.

Changes to the BCT’s organization and the move toward distribution-based logistics with pulsed operations for replenishment have modified the BCT’s logistics infrastructure. However, FOB operations and how forces are arrayed within a nonlinear environment preclude the sole use of distribution-based logistics at the BCT level. Supply-point distribution was used in the FOB environment quite frequently.

One of the 204th BSB’s primary tasks was to develop a concept of support that sustained the combat outposts (COPs) and joint security stations (JSSs) in the area of operations. While some of these locations were resupplied by the FSCs, others were resupplied by the BSB. Acquiring services and equipment for improving the quality of life at COPs and JSSs became the responsibility of both the brigade S–4 and SPO sections.

In the initial stages, as the S–4 section responded to the large contractual requirements of supporting the outlying locations (as well as the main FOB locations), the BSB provided many of its own organic electricity generators to the maneuver units to bridge power generation gaps. The BSB also procured water and fuel bags to help build up storage capacities at the COPs and JSSs to reduce the frequency of logistics convoys to those sites.

Contracting to fill capability gaps was critical and required either the SPO or brigade S–4 section to have personnel with training in contracting. While the brigade S–4 procured the reefers [refrigerated vans] for the BCT, the BSB ensured that the reefers were equitably distributed and fully supported the field feeding plan.

The base life sustainment of the COPs and JSSs was an organized effort by the BCT’s force protection cell (brigade engineers), S–4, and BSB (primarily for transportation support). Because COPs and JSSs may be located in cities, building up sustainment stocks at these locations to reduce the frequency of resupply was the best method to lower the visibility of the coalition presence in the cities. The BSB planned on a 5-to-7-day contingency stockage of most supplies at the locations. This ensured continuity of supplies in the event of contingencies and emergencies, such as when resupply operations were hindered by weather or operations.

However, stockage at some of the locations was limited by space and equipment. For rations, reefer capacity was the biggest limiting factor. In some locations, 20-foot reefers were too large. In those situations, units purchased smaller freezers and refrigerators locally to maximize the available space.

The BSB originally used a synchronization meeting to coordinate supplies and logistics convoy schedules based on operations and intelligence updates. When split operations were conducted at Kalsu and Echo, the amount of information that had to be discussed and synchronized was manageable within the time allotted for the synchronization meeting. However, when the BSB consolidated at Basra and all units were supported out of one location, the convoy synchronization meeting became immersed in determining sustainment requirements and less focused on operations and intelligence.

As a result, the BSB created the commodities meeting. This ensured that the convoy synchronization meeting (held immediately after the commodities meeting) remained focused on operations. The commodities meeting was dedicated to determining units’ supply and service requirements out to 7 days. Like a training meeting, the intent was to identify requirements and apply resources and capabilities to those requirements. In this case, the meeting focused on supplies and transportation assets.

Class I Operations

One of the 204th BSB’s major challenges with field feeding operations in Basra was the sheer size of the task. At its peak, the number of mouths to feed was 8,500—double the size of what the BSB’s class I section normally supported. Many of the personnel were new to the field feeding section right before deployment and had not been trained in class I operations. Most of the MOS 92As (automated logistical specialists) had previously worked only in class IX operations, so class I operations were new for many of them.

Because of the enormous requirement, the class I section was augmented with Soldiers from other sections. If field feeding operations had revolved around modular boxes of meals ready-to-eat and unitized group rations, the class I mission would have been much easier, despite the headcount. However, the field feeding section had to fill requirements for a variety of supplements and menu options that rivaled those at on-post dining facilities. MOS 92A Soldiers should receive more in-depth field feeding training at advanced individual training and other Army Training and Doctrine Command schools and should cross-train with MOS 92G (food service specialist) Soldiers.

Other primary obstacles to the class I mission were a shortage of reefers and insufficient reefer maintenance. Although the procurement of reefers was initiated before the brigade entered Iraq, it took several months to receive them at Camp Echo and FOB Kalsu. Many of the reefers were locally made and substandard and required constant maintenance. Because the reefers were locally produced, the Army mechanics initially had a difficult time maintaining them because of a lack of manuals and proper tools.

Each BCT should have a fleet of reefers and organic Army mechanics trained in reefer maintenance robust enough to fill requirements. This fleet of reefers would provide the initial capability to hold frozen foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and ice.


The 2d BCT, like all brigades with mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) in Iraq, had problems with the MRAP’s fire suppression system (FSS) bottles, sensors, and power backups. While some of those problems had to be addressed at the Army level, the 204th BSB ensured the operational readiness of the 2d BCT’s MRAPs. Specifically, the BSB worked to develop an organic capability within the unit to refill MRAP FSS bottles instead of relying solely on the Army Materiel Command’s refill stations. The 204th BSB was the first unit to have such a capability in MND–C.

Having the organic refill capability allowed the BSB to help the BCT to maintain combat-ready platforms. The BSB shared this knowledge with other BCTs to ensure the operational readiness of all MRAPs in MND–C. Nevertheless, supply parts for the MRAPs, especially sensors, FSS bottles, and power backups, continued to be a problem since MRAP parts supply was still contracted and those items were not available through the Army supply system.

The BSB worked with representatives from the Defense Logistics Agency to get 100 refill kits shipped directly to the BSB. Once the refill kits were received, the BSB was able to make the MRAPs fully mission capable. Before attempting any type of fire suppression recharging, personnel must receive proper training by experienced technicians, and the local fire department should approve FSS recharging stations before refill operations commence.

During its deployment, the 204th BSB completed nearly 1,000 sustainment missions that covered approximately 39,000 miles. The BSB and its FSCs conducted sustainment replenishment operations to deliver more than 1.1 million gallons of water, 200,000 pounds of ice, 300,000 gallons of fuel, 40 tons of ammunition, and 482 pallets of class IX.

The 2d BCT dealt with multiple relocations and support requirements that greatly exceeded those typical for a heavy BCT’s BSB. But the 204th BSB integrated nondoctrinal and doctrinal solutions to overcome obstacles to sustainment support operations for the BCT. The constraints of the area of operations required the ingenuity and flexibility of the BSB’s leaders and Soldiers. The teamwork exhibited by all of the logistics players in the BCT ensured that sustainment support operations continued unabated through all operations.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael B. Siegl is the deputy G–4 of the 2d Infantry Division at Camp Red Cloud, Republic of Korea. He was the executive officer and support operations officer of the 204th Brigade Support Battalion, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during Operation Iraqi Freedom 08–10. He has a B.A. degree from Stanford University and an M.A. degree from Georgetown University. He is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and Army Command and General Staff College.

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