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Frontline Support
of the First SBCT at War
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Frontline Support
of the First SBCT at War


The Army continues to implement the transformation processes set in motion by General Erik K. Shinseki in October 1999. One of the fruits of that transformation, the first Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT)—the 3d Brigade, or “Arrowhead Brigade,” 2d Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis, Washington—deployed in November 2003 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Arrowhead BCT’s first major combat operation took place in and around the city of Samarra. Having successfully completed that mission, the brigade has settled into the Mosul area and has the opportunity to report some of the combat service support and combat health support lessons learned by the 296th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB), which supported the brigade during the Samarra operation. The motto of the 296th BSB is “Frontline Support,” and its “Frontline Soldiers” lived up to that motto during this operation.

While the Arrowhead BCT operations focused primarily on Samarra, soldiers from the 296th BSB were dispersed across an area of operations equal in size to the state of Connecticut. During the planning and execution of the support for this operation, called “ Arrowhead Blizzard,” it became clear that, to be successful, we had to think and operate far beyond the parameters established by Army planners in the draft doctrine for BSB operations. For the benefit of Army doctrine writers and other Stryker brigades that are preparing for operational deployments in the future, I would like to relay some of the lessons learned during the support of the Arrowhead Brigade by the 296th BSB and others.

Training

As part of its deployment preparation, the BSB participated in a rigorous training program that began in July 2002 and culminated in its 2003 deployment. During that time, the BSB supported brigade elements twice at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, once at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and numerous times at the Yakima Training Center in Washington and participated in several field training exercises at Fort Lewis. After returning from the JRTC in early June 2003, the Arrowhead Brigade recovered its equipment from several transportation nodes, including equipment that had been used in a joint logistics-over-the-shore exercise.

After returning from leave, the 296th BSB soldiers developed a training plan that would prepare them for deployment. At the same time, the combat repair teams (CRTs) and field feeding teams were attached to supported battalions, which allowed the BSB to retain Uniform Code of Military Justice and rating authority. This relationship permitted the BSB’s soldiers to train and support according to their supported unit’s schedule and minimized confusion or tension between the battalion and the supported unit.

The BSB training plan was based on a stairstep approach that began with individual survival skills, including focused individual and crew-served weapons training. The next step—small-unit collective training—concentrated on LOGPAC (logistics package) battle drills, vehicle recovery, casualty evacuation, actions on contact, and convoy live-fire training. By this time, the BSB was receiving a wealth of lessons learned from units already operating in Iraq. From their experiences, we learned the importance of hardening our soft-skinned vehicles and being able to navigate and fire effectively from them. Continuous improvement of our LOGPAC tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) was our number-one training priority before deployment.

In September 2003, the Arrowhead Brigade conducted a warfighter simulation exercise (SIMEX) in conjunction with a brigade field training exercise (FTX).

The SIMEX focused on our staging, onward movement, and integration operations in western Iraq. This gave the BSB an opportunity to analyze the terrain and time-distance factors for movement and to build a support concept for a brigade operating across a dispersed battlespace. As a result, some of the support procedures that we would use later in theater took shape.

Concurrent with the SIMEX, the BSB established operations at Fort Lewis to simulate support from a built-up area. Not having to relocate to the field allowed our forward maintenance company more time to repair and maintain the brigade’s equipment in preparation for deployment. Because establishing the brigade support area (BSA) in a built-up area was a first for us, we were forced to think differently than we had before about support and force protection. Currently, we are conducting support operations in a built-up area in Mosul.

During the FTX, we established LOGPAC standards that we continue to follow in Iraq: no less than three vehicles in every convoy; at least two crew-served weapons mounted on pedestal or ring mounts; use of the Force XXI Battle Command for Brigade and Below system; an effective communications system; and at least one combat lifesaver.

This FTX gave our supporting corps support battalion its first opportunity to work with the Arrowhead BCT. It takes time for non-Stryker units to understand the unique Stryker brigade support structure. The FTX allowed both the corps support battalion and the BSB to work together and develop a support relationship.
I highly recommend that all future SBCTs establish support relationships with their echelons-above-brigade (EAB) element and include it in all training events. A full understanding of the support enablers required and the limits and capabilities of the BSB will foster a mutually beneficial support relationship between the EAB element and the brigade.

Deployment

The BSB’s first major task in Kuwait was to receive and move the brigade’s equipment from the port of Ash Shuaybah, Kuwait, to Camp Udairi. To do this, we stationed six soldiers at the port, including representatives from the support operations transportation office, the brigade mobility cell, and the brigade S–4. At Camp Udairi, we established a movement control team, led by the support operations transportation officer, to track inbound convoys from the port and report updates to the brigade tactical operations center as combat power was built. We also deployed our support operations maintenance officer, our materiel management officer, an ammunition technician, and a food service technician with the brigade advance party to establish and open accounts and conduct liaison with theater support agencies.

Key tasks for the BSB at Camp Udairi included receiving, accounting for, and reconfiguring equipment; making several force protection modifications to the Stryker, including installing slat armor; and conducting live-fire training. This training consisted of hands-on drills on all weapons, intensive close-quarters marksmanship training, IED [improvised explosive device] awareness, and, finally, a 3-day convoy live-fire event in which soldiers fired from both sides of the vehicle while moving. Without a doubt, this was the most important event we conducted at Camp Udairi. Within hours of the start of the event, I could see soldiers’ confidence grow enormously in their ability to handle their weapons safely and engage targets effectively.

The training forced our leaders to conduct troop-leading procedures within a constrained timeline. This was a huge confidence builder for young leaders and soldiers. It was inspiring to watch our soldiers aggressively, but with discipline, engage targets on the move, form a “box” formation for security, and recover simulated casualties and equipment while pulling security. The confidence that this drill alone instilled in our soldiers cannot be overstated. This type of training is an absolute must for all BSBs preparing to deploy. I also would encourage more time be dedicated to IED detection and battle drills.

Most of the preparation and planning for the Arrowhead BCT’s first combat operation was completed at Camp Udairi. Moving the brigade from Kuwait into position near Samarra in Iraq required coordination with the 3d Corps Support Command, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), 64th Corps Support Group, Coalition Forces Land Component Command, and Combined Joint Task Force 7 elements. A combined arms rehearsal and a combat service support/combat health support rock drill that focused on moving and operating within the brigade area of operations took place on 12 November, and the brigade began to move on 2 December. Each main body move took 2 days, with the final element closing into Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pacesetter on 9 December.

Combat Operations
After the Arrowhead BCT’s move, its mission was to “eliminate all noncompliant forces in its area of operations, facilitate the establishment of interim local governments, and support economic development in order to provide a secure and stable environment for the smooth transitioning to a new Iraqi Government.” The end state would be reached when the “SBCT had created a safe and secure environment in the Diyala Province and transitioned the area of operations into an environment where former regime loyalists are suppressed, an interim government is established, and civil
Through innovative thinking and plain old anticipatory logistics, the BSB can support the brigade across a dispersed battlefield and can split its resources to meet brigade requirements.

infrastructure restoration and economic development are progressing.”
Certain tasks were critical to attaining this end state. We had to establish logistics communications connectivity across the brigade and emplace liaisons to coordinate support with the 7th Corps Support Group and the Stryker Forward Repair Activity. We also had to make sure the BSB was at or near 100-percent operational readiness, ensure that all unit basic loads were issued, and carry 4 days of supplies forward. The BSB was task-organized in a way that would guarantee us an immediate support base at FOB Pacesetter; provide a logistics support team for the 2d Battalion, 3d Infantry Regiment (2–3 Infantry Battalion), which was attached to the 3d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division; ensure that EAB support was established before we arrived at FOB Pacesetter; and provide force protection throughout all operations.

Task organizing the BSB for this operation, although somewhat contrary to the doctrinal design of the BSB, was essential to supporting the brigade across a dispersed battlefield. The task organization consisted of the battalion pure, minus the support team with the 2–3 Infantry Battalion; an Army Materiel Command logistics support element team led by a chief warrant officer (W–4); a group of 11 interim contractor logistics support Stryker mechanics to augment the forward maintenance company effort; and an EAB forward logistics element comprising a postal detachment and a shower, laundry, and clothing repair team. The 2d Platoon of the 334th Signal Company provided habitual support to the BSB tactical operations center. We placed an automated logistics noncommissioned officer (NCO) at the theater distribution center in Arifjan, Kuwait, and a captain and an ammunition NCO at the corps distribution center in Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, to serve as liaison officers and parts expediters. The Anaconda team also conducted liaison with the 64th Corps Support Group; expedited Arrowhead BCT supplies, with emphasis on class IX (repair and spare parts); coordinated class V (ammunition) received from the ammunition supply point at Anaconda and its distribution to the brigade; and assisted the logistics support team supporting 2–3 Infantry Battalion.

The brigade operational set for this mission had the 2–3 Infantry Battalion task-organized to the 3d (Stryker) Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. The 2–3 Infantry “Patriots” were operating out of FOB Eagle just outside of LSA Anaconda. The 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment (1–14 Cavalry Battalion), was charged with establishing area security in order to isolate Objective Lewis (eastern Samarra), which would facilitate clearance by the Infantry battalions. Once the cordons and traffic control points were set, the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment (5–20 Infantry Battalion), would move through the northern sector of the city to clear Samarra of noncompliant forces in order to deny the enemy sanctuary. The 1st Battalion, 23d Infantry Regiment (1–23 Infantry Battalion), moving into the southern end of the city, would have the same mission, task, and purpose. The 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment (1–37 Field Artillery Battalion) was tasked to provide area and route security in the Lakewood and Tacoma areas of operations in order to allow the brigade freedom of maneuver and prevent disruption of Arrowhead BCT operations. The artillery battalion also ran the BCT’s forward detainee transfer point site to hold noncompliant forces.

Since the 2–3 Infantry Battalion was detached from the Arrowhead Brigade, the 296th BSB felt it essential that the 2–3 Infantry Battalion have a robust support package to ensure their requirements were met while retaining the ability to surge support to the 2–3’s companies as required. We augmented the CRT with 7,600 gallons of fuel delivered on two M978 heavy, expanded-mobility, tactical truck (HEMTT) fuel tankers, each carrying 2,300 gallons of fuel and pulling a load-handling system (LHS) trailer that carried three 500-gallon fuel blivets, which gave us flexibility to position fuel assets in several locations; four HEMTT–LHSs carrying six 500-gallon water blivets each; 3 days’ supply of meals, ready to eat; bottled water; and additional packaged class III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants), class IV (construction and barrier materials), and class V.

We also augmented the CRT with an electronic maintenance and generator repair capability. This augmentation consisted of 6 soldiers in addition to the 18 that usually support the battalion. The augmented CRT, combined with the fuel, water, and transportation assets, replicated the support platoon concept found in legacy maneuver battalions and simultaneously conducted distribution-based logistics from LSA Anaconda for all classes of supply except IX. We pushed

repair parts from FOB Pacesetter and LSA Anaconda. The Stryker Forward Repair Activity at LSA Anaconda also provided repair parts for the Strykers when required.

To support operations in the northern sector of the brigade’s area of operations, we collocated a forward logistics element (FLE) with the 1–37 detainee transfer site. The FLE had rations, six 500-gallon blivets of water, six 500-gallon blivets of fuel, ammunition, and two medical evacuation squads. This element provided support to the 1–14 Cavalry, 5–20 Infantry, and 1–37 Field Artillery Battalions, while a similar package was collocated in the 1–23 Infantry Battalion’s combat trains command post area to provide forward support at the infantry battalion level. The remainder of the BSB supported the Arrowhead BCT from FOB Pacesetter by pushing LOGPACs every other day along Main Supply Route Dover (the southern route to the 1–23 Infantry Battalion) and Alternate Supply Route Grape (the northern route to the 5–20 Infantry, 1–14 Cavalry, and 1–37 Field Artillery Battalions). Company C, 52d Infantry Battalion, maintained route security. Following the baseline established by the Arrowhead BCT, each convoy consisted of at least four vehicles, and we usually had at least six crew-served weapons at the ready when we departed FOB Pacesetter. Our TTP also provided for an advance element (two high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicles with crew-served weapons and communications capability) to screen the route and a trail party (with the same configuration) to provide rear security and conduct actions on contact. This may seem costly in terms of vehicles and soldiers, but it is cheap when compared to the payoff in force protection andthe value of a show of strength.

Therefore, as the Arrowhead BCT began operations, the BSB positioned tailored support teams in three different locations throughout the area of operations. The remain-der of the BSB provided support from FOB Pacesetter. Although distances from the FOB to any point were relatively short (not longer than 30 miles), our resources were spread thin with minimal to no redundancy in place. Concepts developed and refined during our 18-month train-up for this operation
were proven to work in combat operations. Our every-other-day LOGPAC to companies provided “as ordered” sustainment down to the company level and minimized the exposure time of our drivers and equipment. Forward positioning of medical, fuel, and water assets also allowed us to minimize our time on the road and to have mobile, responsive support forward on the battlefield where it was needed. From lessons learned at the training centers, we modified our distribution TTP so that, instead of dropping flatracks at logistics release points, we simply dropped the required sustainment (usually packed on wooden pallets) on site and drove away with our flatracks. This “combat offload” allowed us to retain control of our flatracks.

Lessons Learned

Perhaps the biggest overall lesson we learned is that the BSB must be prepared to task-organize and flex in order to support the SBCTs. During the development of the BSB doctrine, we were constantly reminded of the need to reduce the logistics footprint and to plan and forecast requirements accurately and on time in order for the limited BSB assets to be able to support the SBCTs successfully. Our experiences thus far in supporting the Arrowhead BCT have shown that, through innovative thinking and plain old anticipatory logistics, the BSB can support the brigade across a dispersed battlefield and can split its resources to meet brigade requirements. We have proven that the structure can readily support various maneuver battalion concepts of operation simultaneously. Because of this agility, we have routinely task-organized several different support elements depending on the brigade or battalion operational set.

Other examples of how we have flexed our organization include the following—

• We positioned our medical company assets across the battlefield and forward-positioned evacuation ambulances with each battalion main aid station. This is routine in most medical companies in forward support battalions across the Army. However, we have taken our medical coverage one step further and split our treatment assets to give us split level II medical care capability. (Level II care includes physician-directed resuscitation and stabilization and may include advanced trauma management, emergency medical procedures, and forward resuscitative surgery.)
• During the Samarra battle, we positioned a treatment team and a doctor forward with two frontline ambulances at each of the two FLE locations to provide enhanced medical care forward on the battlefield.
• We forward-positioned fuel and water blivets in order to store and issue retail fuel and water at the maneuver battalion level and thus reduce the frequency and the density of LOGPACs to each battalion location. Augmentation of each CRT with additional electronics, armament, and generator repair capability minimized the volume of equipment required to evacuate to the BSA.
• As the maneuver task organization changed, we reorganized our maintenance support to reflect the changes and added or deleted units to the major unit’s Unit-Level Logistics System-Ground terminal. We “pulse” maintenance capability forward when needed to augment the CRTs that provide support for more than the normal maneuver battalion organization.

As important as it is for BSB’s to be flexible, it is equally necessary for EAB support organizations to understand the SBCT support concept and the BSB organization. Multiple logistics reporting chains, with numerous agencies asking for the status of our brigade, become burdensome and tedious. Although the BSB is not designed to do so, we often have been required to send assets rearward to pick up supplies and evacuate equipment. Just as we must be flexible and change our task organization and our troop-to-task list to support the fight, EAB organizations also must be flexible. Mobility for the brigade and battalion is lessened unless the supporting logistics architecture is flexible and able to conduct distribution-based logistics.
Although plenty of assets may be positioned in theater, units often have no way to get them without resorting to supply point distribution. Implementation of
strategic-configured loads will assist theater assets and the BSB greatly in providing distribution. (To date, BSB soldiers have done most of the load configuration.)

Admittedly, much of what we do is no different from what forward support battalions do every day when deployed. However, we have capabilities that they do not, such as materiel management center capabilities in the support operations section, embedded civilians, organic preventive medicine, and laboratory and x ray facilities. At the end of the day, it’s all about providing first-rate assistance to the supported unit.

Now that we are in Mosul, our concept of operations and support has changed in keeping with our brigade’s mission and the existing support infrastructure. What hasn’t changed is the BSB’s ability to provide tailored and “before they need it” support across the area of operations and rapidly transition its support structure from one mission set to the next.

I am privileged to serve with an innovative and enthusiastic group of young leaders who work assiduously to ensure we are providing support in the best possible manner. The “Frontline Soldiers” of the 296th BSB are the unsung heroes in what we do. Every day, I am in awe of the professional and disciplined manner in which our soldiers carry out their mission and the great attitude they maintain. All of the soldiers in the battalion truly support like champions. I also must give credit to the external organizations that have assisted us. The Arrowhead BCT Logistics Support Element; the Program Manager-Stryker; the interim contract logistics support Stryker mechanics; the Stryker Brigade Coordination Cell at Fort Lewis; the Arrowhead BCT Central Technical Support Facility; and the Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia, are but a few of the organizations that have played critical roles in our ability to provide support. So far, the operation truly has been an “Army Team” success story.

The lessons learned that I have presented have been compiled from information provided by many frontline support leaders. We hope that these lessons will be of value to follow-on BSBs and show that the BSB and the fundamental support concept for the Stryker Brigades provide a viable framework on which each unit must build its own support approach. ALOG

Lieutenant Colonel Dennis M. Thompson is the Commander of the 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3d Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2d Infantry Division. Previously, he was the Chief of the Logistics Branch of the Stryker Brigade Coordination Cell at Fort Lewis, Washington. He has a master’s degree in geography from Pennsylvania State University.

 

Frontline Support
of the First SBCT at War
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