|Operation Mountain Thrust
|by Captain Carolyn Trias-DeRyder
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
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
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
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
between a small hill and a larger mountain in a
remote part of Afghanistan, Forward Operating Base
Little Round Top was easily defendable with excellent
fields of fire.
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
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.
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.
helicopter stirs up dry sand and debris, causing
a brownout. Because the base was dependent on rotary
resupply, and because water was scarce, dangerous
brownouts were a common occurrence. Brownouts can
be avoided by wetting down the landing zone.
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.
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.