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Operation Mountain Thrust

If anyone had told me before I deployed from Fort Drum, New York, for Operation Enduring Freedom VII that, as the commander of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 710th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB), 3d Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), 10th Mountain Division, I would one day be simultaneously commanding a forward support company (FSC) in an infantry battalion for a major offensive operation, I would have laughed and said they were crazy. But it happened.

Phase I: Planning

In the summer of 2006, the 3d IBCT was tasked to conduct Operation Mountain Thrust in the Musa Qalah district of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Operation Mountain Thrust was to be the largest offensive operation conducted in Afghanistan since 2001.

The units tasked to complete this mission, the 2d Battalion of the 87th Infantry Regiment (2–87) and the 710th BSB, immediately sent battle staffs to their war rooms to conduct their military decisionmaking processes. They had one important question: Would the 3d IBCT have forces readily available to execute Operation Mountain Thrust? The 3d IBCT was already spread throughout Regional Command (RC) East, their primary area of operations, and Operation Mountain Thrust would require transferring an array of forces first to Khandahar Airfield (KAF) and then to Musa Qalah in RC South. And although RC South was the 4th IBCT’s area of operations, that brigade was to redeploy to Fort Polk, Louisiana, sooner than expected to prepare for another upcoming deployment to Iraq.

Gathering available forces to conduct Operation Mountain Thrust undoubtedly tested the 2–87 and 710th BSB leaders’ ability to adapt and overcome obstacles. The 2–87’s infantry companies were spread over five forward operating bases (FOBs), while Fox Company, the 2–87’s FSC, was busy providing logistics support and force protection for FOB Orgun-E. Meanwhile, the 710th BSB was conducting split operations between Bagram Airfield and FOB Salerno while executing logistics support and force protection missions. The 710th BSB also had Soldiers operating in Jalalabad for Operation Mountain Lion, which was still underway.

Taking advantage of being the first modularized brigade to operate in Afghanistan, the 2–87 and the 710th BSB drew up an ingenious plan that would lead to the unequivocal success of Operation Mountain Thrust. The 2–87 combined leaders and Soldiers from their companies to form teams and received augmentation
from a newly formed FSC, Hotel Company (also known as Team Hotel). Team Hotel was a conglomeration of approximately 120 leaders and Soldiers from the 710th BSB’s headquarters, distribution, maintenance, and medical companies.

Forming an ad hoc FSC was an unprecedented feat for the 710th BSB and the 3d IBCT. The original mission for the FSC was to conduct combat logistics patrols and aerial drops to deliver critical and sensitive materials and supplies, conduct fuel operations, and maintain the combat power of the 2–87. The goal was to provide responsive support and enable operational flexibility in RC South for the 2–87 during Operation Mountain Thrust.

Team Hotel was responsible for—

  • Establishing a forward logistics element.
  • Transporting supplies.
  • Conducting field maintenance.
  • Conducting recovery operations.
  • Conducting aerial resupply operations.
  • Defending the unit.

Never having worked together as a company, Hotel Company’s personnel quickly had to learn how to be a team. They presented a plan to gain the 2–87’s confidence and provide the best logistics support the 2–87 had ever had so that they could focus on the heavy tactical fight that was to take place in the Baghran Valley and surrounding Musa Qalah areas. This was a logistician’s dream mission.

Preliminary logistics support requirements had already been identified by the 710th BSB leaders and staff at FOB Salerno and the 94th BSB of the 4th IBCT at KAF. But, as expected, requirements were modified, the location of the forward logistics element changed, and the operation orders were written, trashed, and rewritten as the enemy threat in Helmand Province continued to intensify.

Phase II: Movement

To prepare for the move to Musa Qalah, Team Hotel ensured that preventive maintenance checks and services were conducted and that each vehicle carried no less than a Duke (an improvised explosive device [IED] anti-detonation device), an M2 .50-caliber machinegun, an M249G squad automatic weapon, an MK19 40-millimeter machinegun, and an M240B machinegun. Our heavy expanded mobility tactical truck (HEMTT) fuelers and HEMTT wrecker were strategically dispersed in convoys between heavily armed combat vehicles. The convoys were separated into two main serials, each consisting of at least 80 vehicles, including U.S. trucks and host nation “jingle” trucks.

This was the first time many of the infantry elements had ever convoyed with such a huge number of vehicles. Typically, when infantry units conduct operations, they only have high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs), which enable them to maneuver quickly through an area. For our combat logistics patrol, the 37th Engineer Battalion provided a route clearing package, which consisted of an RG–31 Nyala mine-protected vehicle and a Buffalo armored vehicle for IED and mine detection capabilities. We were also equipped with a long-range advanced scout surveillance system from the reconnaissance and surveillance element, enabling us to monitor possible enemy activity from afar. Team Hotel brought a majority of the vehicles, including HMMWVs, HEMTT fuelers, medium tactical vehicles, and a HEMTT wrecker.

Phase III: FOB Establishment

When we arrived at Musa Qalah on 11 June 2006, we were amazed at the barrenness of the land. We were really in the middle of nowhere. With just a 1,200-foot hill for cover and concealment, we began construction of FOB Little Round Top, which would be our home for the next 30 days.

Field hygiene was addressed immediately. We could not afford to lose Soldiers to poor field hygiene. We dug trenches and used them for the first 24 hours, and burnout latrines were constructed within 72 hours of arrival. Using a 20,000-gallon water bag that was connected to a tactical water purification system, we also constructed a shower point by the second week of occupation.

While Team Hotel was tasked with FOB establishment, our combat arms elements created an outer security ring within which we could securely build the perimeter. Berms were built first so that the bucket loader could easily push and dump dirt into the HESCO Concertainer units, which were manually set up by the Soldiers. The initial plan for perimeter setup failed because the bulldozer and bucket loader broke down every couple of hours and severely hampered meeting our timeline. The locally hired operators were not equipped with the proper tools to repair the equipment, so our maintenance platoon became proficient at jury rigging the local materials-handling equipment throughout the operation.

Instead of being able to complete the perimeter within the first 48 hours, the perimeter became a week-long project. When the bucket loader became not mission capable, approximately 100 meters of 7-foot HESCOs had to be filled by hand.

As the perimeter was constructed, military vans, containers, and tents that would become living and working areas were strategically placed around the FOB. Four guard towers, prefabricated in Khandahar, were placed on top of military vans on all four corners of the FOB to provide us with visibility on all sectors of fire in the area. Within 2 weeks of occupying the FOB, the entry control point, the battalion tactical operations center, the company command post, the maintenance bay and work areas, the dining facility area, the shower point, a fuel point, the ammunition supply point, the landing zone and drop zone (LZ/DZ), and living areas were all established. Perimeter enhancements and security procedures were improved daily.

Team Hotel set up its security force to run the tower guards, the listening and observation point, and the FOB’s quick reaction force. The quick reaction force consistently had to go out of the perimeter to patrol the area, provide security for the LZ/DZ and containerized delivery system (CDS) recovery teams, and handle several encounters with the locals from nearby villages that were known to accommodate the Taliban. Guards controlled incoming and outgoing traffic at the entry control point and ensured that only our 58 jingle truck drivers, who were staged directly outside of our perimeter, were entering and exiting the FOB. The quick reaction force established a FOB defense plan and conducted rehearsals to prepare for enemy attack.

Maintenance

Considering the scope of counterinsurgency operations that were to be conducted in Musa Qalah and the Baghran Valley, Team Hotel was equipped with more maintenance assets than a normal FSC.

The forward repair system (FRS) significantly increased Team Hotel’s ability to assess and repair onsite in such a remote area. The FRS was like a mobile, heavily enhanced Jiffy Lube. At 24,600 pounds, the FRS was equipped with a crane with a 10,000-pound lifting capability, a 35-kilowatt/60Hertz generator, an air compressor, air jacks capable of lifting 40,000 pounds up to 15 inches off the ground, welding and cutting equipment, and 690 different tools.

Critical class IX (repair parts) requests were sent to our supply support activity clerks positioned at KAF. The very small aperture terminal (VSAT) gave us the connectivity needed to operate our Standard Army Management System-Enhanced computers. We also used a satellite phone and a secure phone once the command post node (CPN) was set up. Our assistant support operations officer, also located at KAF, ensured that maintenance reports and air mission requests had high visibility. He kept a close
relationship with Task Force Knighthawk (an aviation brigade in RC South) because we relied heavily on air assets to deliver repair parts. The number of damaged HMMWVs and weapons that would come back after a firefight kept our maintenance platoon busy day and night, and they became very creative at fixing civilian equipment. The maintenance platoon also aided our Afghanistan National Army augmentation by repairing a not-mission-capable Ford Ranger that they used for transportation.

In 2 months, the maintenance platoon had completed more than 800 jobs, consisting of 182 automotive repairs, 107 ground support equipment repairs, 149 armament repairs, 122 communications and electronics repairs, and 248 jobs related to stabilization and reconstruction. Our combat arms leaders were very impressed and satisfied with the service they received.

Lessons Learned

Any unit that is preparing for a mission in an area as remote as Musa Qalah can benefit from the lessons that Team Hotel learned, especially about CDS drops and recoveries, VSAT and CPN, and accountability and logistics status reports.

CDS drops and recoveries. Make sure you have both a noncommissioned officer and a Soldier pathfinder-qualified before deploying, or at least have a team that is very competent and familiar with running an LZ/DZ. Practice LZ/DZ procedures and have a standing operating procedure for operations in remote areas and under extreme conditions, such as dust storms and hot temperatures. I cannot praise the efforts of Staff Sergeant Robert Masher and Staff Sergeant Jose Richter enough. Through sheer pride in being noncommissioned officers, they took control of the CDS and rotary resupply recovery missions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They had many sleepless nights but never complained about what they did.

VSAT and CPN. Two things you definitely must have in a remote area are VSAT and CPN. The VSAT gave us all we needed for connectivity, enabling us to requisition supplies and parts and follow up on their status. The CPN gave us phone and Internet capability, which was a morale booster at the FOB. Although phone time was strictly limited and monitored, it gave many of the infantry Soldiers who were not able to call home often an opportunity to tell their families that they were okay.

Accountability and logistics status reports.
If consumption and forecasting are not monitored properly, you can be fully stocked on an important commodity (such as water) one day and then be understocked the next. The S–4 should be proficient at planning and forecasting using the logistics status reports submitted by the FSC. Our consumption of bottled water was rather high at 3 cases (12 one-liter bottles per case) per person per day because we had to use bottled water for laundry and for heating unitized group ration-As. With temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the 2–87 had to stock their vehicles with 3 days of supply of water every time they came back from conducting offensive operations. The distribution platoon was required to check water status twice—and sometimes three times—per day. When rotary or CDS drops were canceled because of weather, safety stand downs, or some other reason, we severely minimized laundry and Soldiers were allowed to shower once every 2 to 3 days.

Not many Soldiers are ever given the opportunity to be a part of such a large mission as Operation Mountain Thrust. When we were initially presented with the task, the mission seemed impossible to support with too many obstacles to overcome. However, Team Hotel and the 710th BSB became a part of history that summer. As the future leaders of the Army, their stories and experiences will serve the Soldiers under their leadership well. In my mind, the mark of Team Hotel’s success in Operation Mountain Thrust was for us to return to FOB Salerno alive and safe. That mission was accomplished.
ALOG

Captain Carolyn Trias-DeRyder was the Com-mander of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 710th Brigade Support Battalion. She graduated with a B.A. degree in English from Old Dominion University and a B.A. degree in communications from De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines. She is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.