|Equipment from the 101st Airborne
Division is staged at the logistics release
point at tactical assembly area Carla before moving
into attack positions on D-day.
Field Manual (FM) 3–0, Operations, published in June 2001, documented the
Army’s shift in its fundamental warfighting doctrine to encompass an evolving
operational environment that reflects contemporary threats. The traditional battlefield
framework was expanded to recognize the nonlinear, noncontiguous operations that
have characterized conflict since Operation Desert Storm. Conducting combat operations
in this environment would test the mettle of any armed force, and supporting
operations in the same environment would stress the limits of even the finest
logistics system in the world.
From the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, coalition logisticians surged sustainment
across Iraq, straining to meet mounting requirements as combat forces
|The FSB headquarters in Mosul stands
on the grounds of the former Iraqi V Corps headquarters.
pushed forward at an unprecedented
pace. Armored columns from the 3d Infantry Division (Mechanized)
and the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) advanced on Baghdad
with little resistance, while light infantry forces from
the 82d Airborne Division secured key routes for follow-on
forces. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), led by
its 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT)—the “Strike
Brigade”—leapfrogged across 1,200 kilometers
of Iraqi desert while fighting a succession of urban battles
that cleared the major cities for future stability and support
The 526th Forward Support Battalion (FSB), whose slogan is “Best by Performance,” was
tasked with supporting the Strike Brigade during this operation. Support missions
came early in the deployment—before most of the battalion’s equipment
arrived—and continued at a rate unparalleled in the history of combat logistics.
Preparing for War
As the 101st Airborne Division began preparing to deploy in January 2003, 526th
FSB began its own effort to prepare for a war that most certainly would assume
an urban flavor. The FSB support operations officer (SPO) presented a professional
development class on supporting urban operations, drawing on the lessons of Russian
forces in Afghanistan and Chechnya and focusing on the unique requirements of
light infantry forces engaged in sustained urban combat.
Planners from the Support Operations Office and maintenance company designed
special repair parts packages to support the anticipated increase in the use
of small arms, crew-served weapons, and missile systems associated with urban
operations. Forecasted increases in class IX (repair parts) customer wait times
drove the decision to configure battle-damage assessment and repair kits as well.
Ultimately, these efforts would sustain the readiness of critical combat platforms
as the Strike Brigade proceeded across more than 1,200 kilometers of battered
|FSB soldiers display weapons and
ammunition captured during the battle at Karbala.
After completing its deployment to Kuwait in early March, the BCT consolidated
operations at Camp New York and began final planning and preparation for combat.
On 18 March, the FSB forward logistics element (FLE) moved forward as part of
Task Force (TF) Sinclair to tactical assembly area (TAA) Carla on the western
Iraqi border. There, the FLE established a logistics release point to support
the division as it moved into enemy territory. The FLE provided critical sustainment
to forces that were staging in attack positions before crossing through breach
lanes along the border.
Within 48 hours, over 2,700 vehicles had processed through the logistics release
point en route to their attack positions. During that time, the FLE issued more
than 27,000 gallons of fuel, nearly 5,000 cases of meals, ready to eat, and 5,700
cases of bottled water to replenish unit basic loads, repaired 127 vehicles,
and provided level-I medical treatment for forces passing through the TAA. More
importantly, the efforts of the FLE were essential to ensuring that the division
maximized the combat power it projected on D-day.
On 20 March, the first day of coalition combat operations, the FLE reintegrated
with the FSB and prepared to move into Iraq. Within a week, the BCT began moving
from Camp New York to TAA Strike near An Najef, Iraq.
On arrival in An Najef, the Strike Brigade assumed the division main effort—a
role the BCT would maintain even after President Bush announced the cessation
of offensive operations on 1 May. On 29 March, the 2d BCT initiated Operation
Eagle Strike II in the An Najef area with a bridge seizure north of the city
and then proceeded to sweep south to clear the city ofenemy forces. While
supporting operations from the brigade support area (BSA) at TAA Strike, which
was 20 kilometers west of the city, the FSB positioned a medical-heavy FLE
on the northern edge of An Najef. This FLE augmented the capabilities of the
brigade main effort battalion aid station (BAS) and reduced ground evacuation
time for casualties.
At the BSA, a lack of external transportation support forced the FSB to download
all the available light medium tactical vehicles in the battalion to meet the
mounting truck requirements of the brigade. Because the FSB was faced with a
rapidly evolving operational situation along already extended lines of communication, “outside-the-box” solutions
soon became the norm.
On 5 April, the BCT moved 90 kilometers north of An Najef and executed Operation
Free Karbala—a ground and air assault to clear the remnants of the Republican
Medina Division from the vital city of Karbala. For the first 48 hours, the 526th
FSB supported urban operations with two separate FLEs. The first, a heavy ground
FLE led by the SPO, established a forward logistics base 5 kilometers south of
the city, which would evolve into the BSA in the coming days. The second element,
a medical-heavy FLE positioned on Landing Zone Robin in Karbala, provided combat
health support similar to that provided in An Najef.
After 5 days of intense city fighting, the brigade prepared to move through the
Karbala gap en route to Objective Grady, a military airfield near the city of
Al Iskandariyah. On 10 April, the FSB SPO led a heavy FLE with integrated aerial
medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) capability 70 kilometers through the gap to Al Iskandariyah
to establish a logistics support base
|Iraqi citizens greet a resupply
convoy as it moves though Al Mamudiyah.
forward in the combat zone. On arrival at Objective
Grady, however, the brigade received additional instructions
to prepare to move toward Baghdad at first light. Throughout
the night, the FLE provided critical resupply to brigade elements
making final preparations for another jump forward.
On 11 April, the FLE jumped forward with the brigade tactical operations center
to Baghdad and set up operations at a forward logistics base located at a food
processing plant on the southern edge of the city. Over the next 48 hours, while
the main body of the FSB moved operations to the military airfield in Al Iskandariyah,
the FLE provided full-spectrum logistics support to brigade forces operating
in Baghdad. When division leaders elected to concentrate the logistics power
of the division support command in the immediate vicinity of Objective Grady,
the FLE established a permanent presence in Baghdad to support brigade operations.
For 2 weeks, the FLE provided support for all classes of supply, full direct
support maintenance capability, and medical treatment and evacuation. (The FLE
maintained two MEDEVAC helicopters on station at all times.)
In Baghdad, the unique capabilities of the FSB were fully realized. Enemy attacks
in Al Mamudiyah, 20 kilometers south of Baghdad, threatened to sever the lines
of communication along Highway 8. The FLE commandeered and repaired a small fleet
of Iraqi Government vehicles to move brigade forces, captured ammunition and
weapons, supplies, and equipment. Refrigeration trucks provided chilled water
with sustainment packages; small forklifts moved equipment and supplies; and
a variety of cargo trucks supported specific brigade movement requirements. Although
they seem inconsequential, these actions allowed the FSB to limit the number
of vehicles transiting Highway 8, effectively mitigating risk while focusing
the logistics effort on the fight in the city.
Although an FLE is de-signed to provide support for limited periods of time (typically
48 to 72 hours), a more permanent presence enabled the division to benefit from
consolidated logistics power while the brigade enjoyed reduced lines of communication
and increased logistics responsiveness. When elements of the brigade began to
move toward Mosul on
20 April, the FLE collapsed back onto the BSA, which had already marshaled for
the movement north.
As with previous ground convoy operations, the FSB FLE led the BSA forward through
Baghdad and north to Mosul to link up with the battalion quartering party. There,
the BSA established operations at the Iraqi V Corps headquarters compound, which
had been abandoned months earlier in the wake of coalition efforts to unseat
the regime. Once again, the BCT cleared the city first and then began local security
and stability operations to restore basic civil order to Mosul.
In Mosul, the Strike Brigade quickly grew from a standard air assault infantry
brigade into a hybrid combat team optimized to begin restoring basic order, reestablishing
civil services, and returning the city to the people of Mosul. Supporting the
main effort BCT became a mounting challenge for the 526th FSB. Instead of supporting
a typical 3,500-man infantry brigade combat team, the FSB found itself sustaining
four infantry battalions, an armor battalion, two field artillery battalions,
a military police battalion, and nearly 6,500 troops who were executing the first
decisive stability operation in Iraq. Included among those forces were a civil-military
operations center, an Albanian infantry company, and the first vestiges of what
would become a rebuilt Iraqi army. While the stability effort represented a significant
operational challenge for the Strike Brigade, sustaining such a large and diverse
coalition force tasked the FSB to its limits. After 41 days of combat operations,
post-combat recovery began in earnest.
In the months that followed, the 101st Airborne Division established its headquarters
in Mosul and its other two combat brigades operated west and south of the city.
The Strike Brigade enjoyed unrivaled success in the city. It eventually brought
an end to the threat of the sons of Saddam Hussein and served as the driving
force behind the reconstruction of the city and the establishment of a viable
civilian government there. The “Mosul model” soon became the national
paradigm for stability operations and civil-military cooperation.
As the supported population of the 526th FSB swelled to more than 7,000 troops,
the battalion expanded support operations to better accommodate the transition
from dynamic combat operations to static stability operations.
The FSB’s maintenance company established the first local national repair
program in theater to provide general support-level repair of reparable components
and major assemblies. In the first 4 months of operation, the output of the program
was more than double the number of major assemblies received from wholesale sources
and was directly responsible for two-thirds of the combat platforms repaired
in the company.
The BSA settled into the fixed facilities of the former Iraqi V Corps and became
Camp Performance, a model in its own right, not only for quality logistics support
but also for a peerless morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) center.
|The 526th FSB central receiving
and distribution area is relatively empty shortly
after the unit’s arrival in Mosul.
MWR complex offered soldiers a variety of options: a
full-service restaurant, pizzeria, coffee shop, 50-station
Internet café, souvenir shop and laundry, mini post
exchange, satellite phone center, barber shop, specialty shop
and tailor, game room, computer-based education center, consolidated
chapel, classroom, conference center, and the first U.S. Forces
library in Iraq, which was supported solely by private donation.
Affectionately referred to as “China Beach” by
visitors, the MWR complex was visited by as many as 3,000 troops
For the duration of its stay in liberated Iraq, the 526th FSB continued to set
the standard for forward logistics support. With the largest supported unit population
in the 101st Airborne Division and a maintenance workload equivalent to two companies
in the division support command, the performance of the 526th FSB is a testament
to the versatility and resourcefulness of the soldiers and leaders supporting
our forces at the tip of the sword. During the year-long deployment, the challenges
and missions faced by the 526th FSB tested the mettle of the battalion, but the
time in Iraq will forever be remembered as a “Best by Performance” year.
Major Steven M. Leonard is the Executive Officer of the 526th Forward Support
Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
He is a graduate of the University of Idaho and holds master’s degrees
in systems management from Murray State University and in theater operations
from the Army Command and General Staff College. He is a graduate of the Ordnance
Officer Advanced Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the
Air Assault School.