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Building Iraqi Logistics

The 4th Sustainment Brigade Troops Battalion helped Iraqi logistics units with their transition to independence. Their dedication to mentoring Iraqi soldiers led to a successful transfer of authority and well-trained Iraqi Army logisticians.

In September 2005, the 4th Sustainment Brigade Troops Battalion (BTB) deployed to Taji, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 05–07. Although we were told we would be working with the Iraqi Army, we had no idea just how involved we would be with forming the foundation of their logistics capability.

Camp Taji, located 15 miles north of central Baghdad, is the home of the Taji National Depot (TND), the Iraqi Army Service Support Institute, the 6th Motorized Transportation Regiment (MTR), and one of five National Maintenance Contract sites. During Saddam Hussein’s rule, we believe Taji was the center of the Iraqi Army’s logistics universe. As we executed our transfer of authority (TOA) with the 46th Corps Support Group (CSG) and later with the division support command (DISCOM) of the 3d Infantry Division, it was obvious that our role in developing Iraqi Army logistics systems would be significant.

As part of a newly transformed sustainment brigade, we fell in at Taji to execute the CSG mission of providing area support to non-division units and the old DISCOM’s role of providing logistics support to the division troops in our area. Our brigade was assigned to the 3d Corps Support Command (COSCOM), and our primary direct support mission was to support the 4th Infantry Division in Multi-National Division-Baghdad. Because we conducted a TOA with two units that worked for two different headquarters, we inherited both mission sets and initially reported our progress to both the 3d COSCOM and the 4th Infantry Division Iraqi Security Force (ISF) cell, which was located in the division headquarters. At the time of our TOA, the 46th CSG was partnered with the 6th MTR and the 3d Infantry Division DISCOM was partnered with the G–4 cell of the 6th Iraqi Army Division (IAD). Thus, our unit picked up both the MTR mission and the 6th IAD G–4 mission.

Cultural Conceptions

Before deploying to Iraq, our unit received a standard regimen of cultural training. We were taught a smidgen of the Arabic language, a few cultural traditions, and what were considered critical social taboos. As a support unit with many female Soldiers, we were all concerned with the Arab culture’s view of women. We were led to believe that our Iraqi counterparts would exhibit a range of reactions from indifference to disdain toward female Soldiers. The preconceptions we had from our cultural training could not have been further from the reality we experienced in Iraq. Iraqi businessmen, contractors, soldiers, officers, and noncommissioned officers that we dealt with on a daily basis treated our Soldiers as equals—both the men and the women. Our feelings of respect and genuine regard for the Iraqi people were quickly reciprocated by all of the Iraqis with whom we worked. They treated us as friends, comrades, and advisors. Most of the Soldiers and leaders in our unit experienced this same rewarding rapport.

It turned out that the most important lesson was one we learned as children: treat others the way we wish to be treated. The values of respect, courtesy, and consideration that accompany that lesson go a long way toward being a good advisor and an effective diplomat. Our work with our Iraqi counterparts supported our reasons for training Army values and consideration of others and for learning the Soldier’s Creed.

Initial Impressions

At first, each logistics organization we dealt with in the Iraqi Army was like a separate fiefdom with an “I got mine” mentality. There was little coordination, if any, between adjacent units, which placed an additional burden on the Coalition Force units to pick up and distribute equipment.

One of the first steps we took was assembling the logistics players to establish some ground rules and plant the seed of customer support. We conducted our initial meeting at the TND in October 2005. In attendance were two officers from the 6th IAD G–4 shop, the commander and deputy commander of the TND, the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC–I) advisor at the TND, and the operations officer and military transition team (MiTT) chief from the 6th MTR. Although some of these officers had worked together in similar roles in the old Iraqi Army, none of them knew the others worked at Camp Taji until we got them all together.

The difficulty with coordinating a meeting like this was exacerbated by the inconsistent Iraqi communications network. Cell phones were the primary means of communication used by the Iraqi officers, and the lack of organizational diagrams with work phone numbers made coordination nearly impossible. Once we got them all together and exchanged cell phone numbers, we had cleared the first hurdle. This was one minor victory.

We knew our major challenge was to use all of our tools to get the required equipment and supplies into the hands of the maneuver units in the Iraqi Army. We viewed the 6th IAD as the customer, the TND as the supplier, and the MTR as the distributor. Given the fledgling logistics infrastructure and ever-changing priorities for support, how could we help outfit the 6th IAD?

Innovations in the 6th IAD

We were fortunate to have two superb Iraqi officers working with us from the 6th IAD G–4 cell. Their division headquarters was in Baghdad, but they were in a much better position to influence logistics support for their division from the center of Iraqi Army logistics, Taji. Convincing the 6th IAD deputy commander that Taji was the place for them to work was a tough sell, but, in the end, the deputy commander was extremely pleased with his decision.

Initially, the 6th IAD G–4 officers were going to work out of our battalion headquarters, but we felt they could be more influential if they were positioned at the depot. The pros far outweighed the cons. They could see what was on the ground and in the warehouses at the TND and provide real-time asset visibility to their leaders. By placing representatives in the TND, reporting became significantly more accurate. The depot commander was skeptical about the placement of the 6th IAD G–4 officers at the depot. He felt we were placing spies in his midst—which we were—to report directly to an Iraqi general about the goings on at the depot. Eventually, the depot commander warmed up to the idea and offered an onsite trailer so the G–4 representatives could have an office at the TND compound.

As it turned out, having two division G–4 representatives at the depot was the smartest thing we did. The benefits of this move were felt by the 6th IAD almost immediately, and the two officers were the heroes of the division staff. Our battalion S–4 section was given the extra duty of working closely with the 6th IAD G–4 section and with the 4th Infantry Division ISF cell. The S–4 section’s task was to act as the go-between for the ISF cell and the 6th IAD MiTT to enforce the priorities set by the division and expedite shipments from the TND to the brigades in the 6th IAD. Our Soldiers worked closely with the 6th IAD MiTT, the brigade MiTTs, the ISF cell, and the Iraqi officers from the 6th IAD G–4.

We were pleased that supplies and equipment began moving to the end users in the 6th IAD soon after the G–4 representatives were placed at the TND and a single coordination meeting was conducted. The 6th IAD G–4 representatives were expediters for their division. Once a materiel release order was cut at the depot, the Iraqi officers coordinated the transportation with the 6th MTR and took inventory of the supplies and equipment at the TND before and after they were loaded. They completed the coordination at the receiving end for receipt and inventory of the equipment, and they rode in the convoys to deliver the supplies to the units in their division. We immediately cut down on equipment that was lost in transit or incorrectly shipped. Customer satisfaction at the brigade level began to rise, and the officers and commanders in the 6th IAD began to trust the system.

Working with the MTR

In October 2005, the Iraqi Army was in the process of standing up 10 MTRs—1 for every division in the Army. It was later decided to create only nine MTRs since the 9th Mechanized Division was going to stand up logistics battalions with organic truck companies. The 6th MTR on Camp Taji had a 10-man U.S. Army MiTT serving as advisors to the regiment. The 3d COSCOM task-organized the 6th MTR and the MiTT to our brigade and subsequently attached them to our BTB.

When we received the 6th MTR, they were running missions tasked down by Multi-National Security and Transition Command-Iraq through the 3d COSCOM. We knew the 6th MTR would eventually be task-organized to the 6th IAD and realized the need to develop a habitual support relationship between the 6th IAD and the MTR. The regiment was operating at roughly 80-percent strength, had not yet received M1151 high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs) for its security company, and had no communication capability. Our goal for the regiment was to prepare them for the eventual TOA from our unit to the 6th IAD.

Just as our battalion S–4 section was the workhorse for the 6th IAD G–4, our S–3 section was given the MTR mission. The procedure we developed was to have our S–3 write an operation order after receiving the mission from the 3d COSCOM, have the translator translate it into Arabic, and then issue it in English and Arabic to the MiTT team and the regimental operations officer. For the first 5 months of our deployment, we provided gun truck support for all MTR missions and had the MTR conform to our standing operating procedures. It was only after the MTR received M1151 HMMWVs that we were able to reduce our influence in the MTR missions. We provided much-needed new equipment training on the HMMWV, and, by the time we left Iraq, the regiment had not had a single vehicle rollover. In February 2006, the regiment received enough high-frequency (HF) radios to outfit each of its gun trucks and its S–3 shop. Our signal company assisted the MTR with installing, operating, and maintaining the new radios.

Finally, in March 2006, the 6th MTR put it all together. They planned, rehearsed, and executed their first independent mission, which included delivering class IX (repair parts) to the 6th IAD headquarters and picking up supplies at Camp Taji for the Ministry of Defense. This milestone was a huge morale boost for the MTR, the MiTT, and our unit. Between March and August 2006, the 6th MTR executed more than 30 independent missions, moving supplies and equipment to the 6th IAD in Baghdad. They displayed courage and discipline as they moved over some of the most dangerous roads in Iraq. They achieved a 100-percent mission accomplishment rate with no casualties and only minor vehicle damage from small-arms fire. Although we were out of the gun truck business with the MTR, we remained actively involved with the MiTT in mission planning, mission tracking, and supervision of unit administrative functions, such as pay, leave, maintenance, supply, and equipment accountability.

At a TOA ceremony in August 2006, the 6th IAD officially gained control of the 6th MTR. We were extremely proud of what all our Soldiers had done to contribute to this historic day. The MiTT showed great professionalism and selfless service as the Iraqis took the lead and received accolades. Without the MiTT embedded in the MTR, the regiment would not have been ready to be placed under Iraqi control. The officers and noncommissioned officers of the 6th MTR MiTT were an exceptional team who demonstrated Army values daily.

Establishing Procedures

The Iraqi soldiers and officers in the 6th MTR responded very well to our recommendations on the standing operating procedures. We hosted the 6th MTR leadership on several occasions so they could visit our motor pools, direct maintenance shops, machine shops, welding shops, supply rooms, and arms rooms. We discussed similarities between our units and exchanged ideas on how to make things work more efficiently and effectively. We sent our mechanics to teach Iraqi mechanics how to perform operator and organizational maintenance on their HMMWVs. They sent welders to work in our sister units’ welding and machine shops. Our signal Soldiers worked with their operations section to install HF antennas, enabling the MTR to monitor their convoys. We had such great success with the HF communication in the 6th MTR that we exported a team from our signal company to help the 8th MTR in southern Baghdad install their communications equipment.

With the approval of the 6th MTR commander, we began a series of staff assistance visits to his company supply and arms rooms. Our purpose was twofold. First, we needed to ensure the equipment the unit had been issued was still on hand. Second, we wanted to see if there were accountability and serviceability procedures in place. We were able to make a few recommendations that the unit leaders embraced and implemented almost immediately. While many units in the Iraqi Army were experiencing theft, neglect, and loss, we felt very comfortable that the 6th MTR leaders were actively involved in their command supply discipline program. With permission from the regimental commander, we prepared certificates of achievement (printed in Arabic) for the unit’s supply personnel and armorers to acknowledge their hard work, expertise, and attention to detail. We ensured the certificates were presented by the Iraqi leaders and not the U.S. Soldiers. Unit pride and morale were at an alltime high.

After the 6th MTR TOA ceremony in August 2006, the 6th IAD commander commended the regimental commander for his expertise in supply accountability and equipment serviceability and his well-maintained unit area. The division commander commented that the best unit in the division was the MTR. This was quite a compliment coming from an Iraqi maneuver commander and immediately validated the hard work of our BTB and the MiTT.

What We Learned

Before every ISF planning meeting conducted at the 4th Infantry Division headquarters, the quote above by T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) was displayed. Reading this quote before we deployed did not mean as much as it does now. It is important to know the differences between the U.S. Army Warrior Ethos and the work ethic of the Iraqi soldier. Most Soldiers in our Army will do whatever it takes to get things done. The difficulty when working with the ISF was holding our Soldiers back to let the Iraqi soldiers execute.

Army training does not teach tolerance and patience, but tolerance and patience are very useful when dealing with Iraqi soldiers. Because our Army is so mission-focused and result-oriented, it is difficult for our leaders to accept anything other than immediate and precise execution of an assigned task. But, when dealing with other armies, we must learn to settle for tasks not completed to standard, tasks not completed on time, and, in some cases, tasks not completed at all.

During our time in Iraq, we were extremely successful in the execution of our ISF missions. We are proud of what our unit accomplished and what we helped the ISF accomplish in over 1 year in Iraq. Our Soldiers were true professionals and demonstrated daily why we are part of the greatest Army in the world.

Lieutenant Colonel William Schiek has commanded the 4th Sustainment Brigade Troops Battalion since December 2004.  He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from James Madison University and a master’s degree in strategic intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College at the Defense Intelligence Agency. 

Captain Phoebe Price is the Commander of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 4th Sustainment Brigade Troops Battalion.  While deployed in Iraq, she was assigned as the 4th Sustainment Brigade Troops Battalion S–4 and worked as an advisor and liaison for the 6th Iraqi Army Division G–4, the Taji National Depot, and the National Maintenance Contract site at Camp Taji.  She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the United States Military Academy, an M.S. degree in human resources development from Indiana State University, and an M.S. degree in criminology and criminal justice from Florida State University.