Road Warriors in the Balkans

Major James P. Herson, Jr.

The only motor transportation battalion in V Corpshad to motor march almost 1,000 milesto Operation Joint Endeavor's intermediate staging basein Hungary to move Task Force Eagle into Croatia.

Operation Joint Endeavor presented a significant motor transport challenge to the transporters of the 3d Corps Support Command (COSCOM) and the 21st Theater Army Area Command (TAACOM) (Forward). As the only motor transportation battalion in V Corps, the 181st Transportation Battalion ("The Road Warriors") played an important role in deploying Task Force Eagle in the former Yugoslavia. The battalion's challenge came from the circumstances surrounding the abrupt deployment.

Once the Dayton peace agreement was signed, Operation Joint Endeavor developed very quickly. Because of the pace of events, the battalion had to deploy under a scenario for which its role had received little or no planning. At the time, the battalion was in the midst of fielding two new systems, the M1074 and M1075 palletized loading system (PLS) trucks and the M1070/1000 heavy equipment transporters (HET's). When it was notified that it was to take part in Operation Joint Endeavor, the battalion had to rush to complete the fielding and finish driver training on the new equipment. And while it was trying to accomplish those tasks and beginning to self-deploy, the battalion also had to integrate additional equipment-not on its table of organization and equipment [TOE]-that was issued from Combat Equipment Group-Europe (CEG-E) and ship that equipment by rail to the intermediate staging base (ISB) in Hungary.


As the role of the United Nations (UN) forces in the former Yugoslavia grew more tenuous, the United States was prepared to use elements of the 1st Armored Division to extract those forces by land, sea, and air. In support of that mission, the 181st Transportation Battalion would support the extraction of the UN forces by attaching its subordinate companies to various corps support groups. However, the dramatic turn of events that led to deployment of a U.S. peacekeeping force in Bosnia changed the battalion's role. Now, the entire battalion would conduct a full-fledged, conventional land motor deployment along a line of communication (LOC) of almost 1,000 miles to Kaposvar in southwestern Hungary, where the ISB for the operation would be set up. Motor transport would play a key, indeed central, role in meeting a very ambitious timetable for deploying the Implementation Force (IFOR) into Croatia and then Bosnia and performing a simultaneous sustainment mission.

Task Organization and Unit Manning

The impact of post-cold war downsizing has not been lost on anyone in the Army. The 181st Transportation Battalion went from six truck line companies in 1990, all at authorized level of organization (ALO) 1, to three truck companies in 1995, with one of them at ALO 2 for personnel, another at ALO 3, and the third capped at ALO 4. (ALO is the ratio of a unit's authorized manpower spaces and equipment to its full TOE spaces. A unit is authorized to requisition personnel and equipment against its ALO. A unit has 100 percent of its TOE spaces and equipment at ALO 1, 90 percent at ALO 2, 80 percent at ALO 3, and less than 80 percent at ALO 4.) This considerable reduction in personnel, euphemistically termed "rightsizing," had a direct impact on the battalion's ability to execute an ambitious force projection and sustainment mission like Operation Joint Endeavor.

Each truck line company had all its ALO 1 authorization for equipment but lacked enough soldiers to adequately man and maintain its trucks; this occurred because none of the companies was at ALO 1 for manpower. The shortage of personnel was especially pronounced in military occupational specialty (MOS) 88M drivers and 63B and 63S mechanic.

The personnel posture of the 515th Transportation Company (POL [petroleum, oils, and lubricants]) illustrates the battalion-wide problem. This company doubles as a medium truck company; that is because V Corps mandated in 1992 that the company keep 50 M871 30-foot trailers-turned in by another company of the 181st Transportation Battalion that was inactivating-so it could perform general cargo hauling for the corps. But while the company has to perform two heavy-volume missions, it isn't fully manned for either. The company's modification TOE (MTOE) also does not include the personnel needed to maintain the M871 trailers.

When the battalion was alerted to deploy as part of Operation Joint Endeavor, it received an accelerated fielding of 30 M1070 HET's. That brought the battalion's total number of organic HET's to 48. The battalion also received an additional 25 M1074 PLS trucks 3 weeks before its Balkan deployment, which increased its organic PLS systems to 48.

So, as of early December 1995, the battalion had received new equipment and a new mission: self-deploy to Hungary and prepare to move the IFOR into Bosnia immediately. This was a dramatic departure from the battalion's long-approved, long-trained-for mission of rail deployment from NATO's Central Region to a semimature staging area. Despite the changes, the Road Warriors were up for the challenge.

Deployment to Kaposvar

The battalion's self-deployment from Mannheim, Germany, to the ISB in Hungary began when a 10-man advance party of senior noncommissioned officers (NCO's) led by a company executive officer flew into Kaposvar on 9 December. The remainder of the battalion convoyed to the ISB in four separate serials, each serial taking 3 days to reach the ISB. The last serial departed Mannheim on 19 December. The move required 40 additional M967 5,000-gallon POL tankers, 700 PLS flatracks, MILVAN's, reefer vans, and other equipment (both organic items and directed draws from CEG-E); trailers were shipped by rail. The battalion's convoys remained overnight at an Austrian Army kaserne near the Hungarian border; each serial was well received and graciously hosted.

The timeframe for deploying U.S. forces included in the Dayton peace agreement caught NATO planners by surprise. Their initial plans for deploying sustaining units by rail and setting up a robust logistics staging area for the IFOR's reception were set aside. Instead, an accelerated timetable was developed that had sustaining units and IFOR units moving almost concurrently.

With little time to set up convoy support centers along new routes running through Austria to Hungary, the 37th Transportation Command decided to issue American Express credit cards to truck drivers to cover the cost of fuel, road side emergencies, and unscheduled billeting. Such a bold move, born of the haste of the operation, was an innovative solution to the problem of establishing support along an immature LOC. Innovation would prove to be the watchword of the deployment.

Mission Creep and Manpower Management

By 24 December, the battalion had safely closed to the ISB at Kaposvar. The next several days were spent trying to contract for living space, maintenance facilities, and motor parks and getting oriented to the logistics battlefield.

Until fairly recently, the former Eastern Bloc nation of Hungary had a low level of oversized commercial traffic. The oversized nature of much of the IFOR traffic, in particular the 80-foot-long HET's, made traffic routing a considerable challenge. Many of the more direct routes to Tactical Assembly Area (TAA) Harmon in Croatia lacked the required bridge and road classifications to sustain the heavy flow.

Unlike much of Western Europe, the number of paved areas within Hungary is surprisingly small. Fortunately, U.S. Army, Europe (USAREUR) (Forward) contracting personnel were able to assist the battalion headquarters move into a municipal bus terminal that was almost ideally situated for truck operations. However, the dearth of suitable hardstands compounded the parking of the truck line companies.

Ultimately, the POL company and part of the PLS company were shoehorned into a sugar refining factory near the center of Kaposvar, while the HET company was staged and billeted at the nearby Taszar airfield. A trailer transfer point was established at a farm implement warehouse with a large graveled lot that was midway between Kaposvar and Taszar airfield.

Upon its arrival, the 181st Transportation Battalion reunited with the 70th Transportation Company, which was equipped with M915A1 tractors, and the 260th Trailer Transfer Detachment; both were units of the 28th Transportation Battalion (part of the 37th Transportation Command) that had been attached indefinitely to the 181st Transportation Battalion in late November. This attachment gave the battalion a medium truck company for line-haul capability.

Ironically, in September 1995, the battalion had been forced to furl the colors of the 41st Medium Truck Company and deactivate the last remaining medium truck company in V Corps. Operation Joint Endeavor revalidated the need for a medium truck company in direct support of the corps. The 70th Transportation Company's "lash up" played a key role in sustaining and deploying V Corps and adding flexibility to the 181st Transportation Battalion's line-haul capabilities. The company also deployed with two drivers per vehicle and a robust maintenance section, so long-distance operations over extended periods were well within its capabilities.

An Immature ISB

As the 181st Transportation Battalion was attempting to unload its own trucks and consolidate its operations in the ISB, it found that requests for transportation support grew hourly. The increased requests were generated by the numerous changes in deployment plans and the accelerated timetable for reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSOI) of the IFOR. Within 6 hours of the first battalion convoy closing at the ISB, movement control teams were already attempting to task vehicles for local haul missions and cargo movements from the railhead at Taszar airfield.

The immediate needs of the ISB put a considerable demand on all battalion transportation assets, with the initial exception of the HET's. The PLS trucks were used to move containers from the railhead and to move the 21st TAACOM's individual storage units (ISU's) to the fledgling headquarters on the South Kaposvar post; these rapidly became 24-hour operations that would taper off only gradually by D+22. Standard transportation movement requests for moving containerized class I (subsistence) supplies to logistics civil augmentation program (LOGCAP) dining facilities continued indefinitely. The 515th Transportation Company (POL), which had swollen to 81 tankers-almost twice its MTOE authorization of 41 (40 tankers were drawn from CEG-E in Belgium)-began to conduct both retail and bulk POL issue for sustainers and deployers alike.

The battalion faced a formidable maintenance challenge created by a shortage of organizational mechanics and the addition of CEG-E rolling stock. The theater's lack of trained direct support (DS) and general support (GS) maintenance teams for the HET's and PLS trucks and of spare class IX repair parts for those vital systems added to the maintenance problem.

The PLS and the HET were newly issued equipment for the 181st Transportation Battalion, but their class IX push packages were inadequate. The demand-supported prescribed load lists for both items were in the early stages of development, so our normal supply support activity did not have stockage on hand. The maintenance support team of the 596th Maintenance Company deployed directly to Slavonski Brod, Croatia, to provide direct support to Task Force Eagle; they were the only school-trained DS mechanics in the theater who were not organic to either division in the task force. The 51st Maintenance Battalion (based in Mannheim) had never supported units with the PLS or HET, nor did it have repair parts for those systems. The backup GS maintenance for both units was based in Mannheim, but, because they were contracted German civilian workers, the Hungarian Government would not allow them to enter Hungary. So using GS-trained PLS and HET mechanics to fill in for absent DS mechanics was not an option. The 181st Transportation Battalion's maintenance officer and S4 worked miracles in sustaining the fleets and providing necessary life support for troops and materiel for force protection.

The greatest challenge, however, lay in the operations arena. The S3 shop, which was very competently led by a senior major, was thinly manned because every available 88M driver or NCO was reassigned to the truck line companies to perform the growing number of missions. The S3 was in the first convoy from Mannheim; after he arrived in Kaposvar, he immediately began to organize the available transportation assets to offload arriving trains around the clock and move the growing mountains of containers in the ISB.

A lack of communications-specifically, telephones-hamstrung operational coordination and reduced the S3's ability to shift the battalion's main effort in a timely and efficient manner. The distance between Taszar and Kaposvar made reliable FM radio communications difficult; this problem was compounded by the fact that the battalion had the old -12 series radios, while most other units had the single-channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS). Many of the staff agencies with which the battalion had to coordinate used only telephones. Once convoys departed Kaposvar, FM radio contact was lost after about 25 minutes. With cellular phones, reliable communications could be maintained with convoys almost all the way to the Croatian border. The vital updates on weather and traffic conditions that these phones provided helped to manage the convoy flow and increased safety. However, the battalion had to turn in its only cellular phone to its parent headquarters just before the deployment and thus had to beg for phones in the ISB.

The S2 conducted a detailed threat and terrorist intelligence preparation of the battlefield and developed a comprehensive guards training program that was eventually adopted by the 21st TAACOM (Forward) as the standard for units in the ISB. Although no Department of State travelers advisory had been issued for Hungary, a robust force protection posture was adopted by units in the ISB as a mandatory precautionary measure.

Drivers had to be diverted to act as guards at the four dispersed battalion sites from Kaposvar to Taszar, which further reduced their availability for manning transportation systems. The S2 also made route reconnaissance trips through Hungary to Croatia and later Serbia to provide commanders with detailed route analyses.

The battalion's staff was severely stressed in its efforts to take care of the battalion-in such areas as billeting, staging, and making local purchases-by the uncertain and still developing infrastructure availability in Hungary. The command sergeant major's Herculean efforts in establishing troop billets in substandard facilities and then ruthlessly enforcing field sanitation and preventive medicine measures enabled the battalion to focus on its mission and not on the congested and spartan billeting and life support situation.

Early Convoy Operations

In early January, a fragmentary order was cut detaching the 51st Transportation Company (PLS), less one platoon, to the 16th Corps Support Group. The group was temporarily based at Zupanja, Croatia, just north of the Sava River, which forms the natural border between Croatia and Bosnia. Because of the difficulty of bridging the Sava, a tactical assembly area (TAA Harmon) was temporarily authorized in the vicinity of Zupanja, for support of both the hard-working engineers and the growing IFOR presence. Once the bridge was in place, TAA Harmon was gradually phased out and returned to Croatian control.

Two PLS platoons of the 51st Transportation Company, along with the company headquarters, maintenance section, and a small support slice, drove to Zupanja and set up operations in an abandoned sugar beet factory approximately 3 kilometers from where the pontoon bridge over the Sava was under construction. Fortunately, the Zupanja area had not been heavily mined. Without mines to hinder its operations, the company was able to rapidly download its internal ISU's and almost immediately begin moving containerized cargo to the growing IFOR engineer presence along the Sava. Pallets of class IV (construction and barrier materials), class I, water, and a host of other supplies were ferried to the engineers along the flood-swollen river. Of the 51st Transportation Company's 32 PLS trucks in TAA Harmon, the unit could crew only 27 of them because of a chronic shortage of 88M drivers.

As the Sava River bridge was being constructed, the 29th Area Support Group built a large life support area next to the runways of Taszar airfield. Meanwhile, IFOR units were undergoing the RSOI process, and their tracked vehicles and equipment were loaded and staged for movement to TAA Harmon.

Equipment for the engineers who were building the Sava River bridge was delivered by M915 tractors and M872 trailers of the 70th Transportation Company and HET's of the 377th Heavy Truck Company (augmented by an attached HET platoon of B Company, 123th Main Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division). Serials of up to 25 trucks left hourly from the staging area at Taszar to make the tortuous 12-hour convoy ride to Zupanja, where they were unloaded and refueled, weapons were cleaned, and post preventive maintenance checks and services were executed. The crews then rested for the return convoy to the ISB to pick up the next IFOR load. Engineer personnel were shuttled in buses behind the convoys carrying their equipment so they could download rapidly and move to their own TAA's.

This cycle was repeated indefinitely, so that it became known as "Ground Hog Day" because the situation reminded everyone of the movie of that name. The same T rations, missions, routes, and gray winter weather contributed to the repetitive routine. The convoy routes to Zupanja were eventually shortened to a more manageable convoy drive of 7 to 9 hours, thanks to the hard work of the Hungarian liaison officers and staffers of USAREUR (Forward) and the 21st TAACOM's Assistant Chief of Staff for Transportation.

Task Force HET: Stood Up and Stillborn

To meet the ambitious timetable for IFOR deployment into Bosnia, a relatively heavy density of tanks and other tracked vehicles had to be delivered rapidly by HET's. The 3d COSCOM chief of staff and support operations officer proposed a very bold method for doing this: establish a provisional HET battalion to move the IFOR exclusively. The battalion would be composed of three existing units. The 377th HET Company, with 48 organic M1070 HET's, would stay as it was. A provisional M1070 HET company would be formed using the 24 systems of B Company, 123th Main Support Battalion (MSB) (from the 1st Armored Division), and the 21 systems and the company chain of command of B Company, 703d MSB (from the 3d Infantry Division [Mechanized]); combined, the total M1070 fleet available for moving the IFOR would be 93 modern systems.

The third company of the dedicated IFOR transport battalion (or Task Force [TF] HET, as it became known) was to be comprised of Brown and Root civilian contract drivers. They would drive up to 56 M911 HET's with M747 trailers. Civilian drivers were needed to compensate for the dire shortage of military HET drivers in the 21st TAACOM (Forward); without the civilians, the timeline for deploying IFOR could not be met. A company commander from the 181st Transportation Battalion would command and control the civilian company and act as the contracting liaison officer with Brown and Root.

The provisional battalion commander would be the 181st Transportation Battalion's executive officer, and he would be augmented with an ad hoc support staff slice from the battalion and other COSCOM units. The provisional battalion would operate out of nearby Dombovar, the site of a former Soviet air defense artillery brigade, which lay only 22 kilometers from the staging site for all IFOR convoys at the Taszar airfield.

Ultimately, this novel approach proved untenable for several reasons. The M911 HET's and M747 trailers were in poor condition; it would take weeks of maintenance to get them fully mission capable. Considerable contracting and host-nation support negotiations would have been needed to ready the Dombovar base. Brown and Root would need several weeks to get drivers to Hungary and would not be able to meet the IFOR timeline. Difficulties in finding sufficient hardstand parking for HET systems and adequate maintenance facilities in Dombovar finally doomed the idea. TF HET proved too difficult a concept to implement, but it did demonstrate active logistics wargaming by the COSCOM staff and a willingness to seek new solutions to the timeless challenge facing maneuver support logisticians.


Transportation assets dictate the speed of force insertion. V Corps' only transportation battalion was limited to ALO 2, 3, and 4 in personnel, and the resulting shortfall in drivers often determined the number of IFOR assets that could be introduced into Croatia. For rapid force insertion, transportation units must be at ALO 1 in personnel before deployment in order to maximize system availability and hasten entry.

A corps transportation battalion must have an organic medium truck company to support the corps. Without theater augmentation of a medium truck company to V Corps, the IFOR deployment timetable could not have been met.

HET "surging," using the HET's of B Company, 123th MSB, and B Company, 703d MSB, to supplement the 377th HET Company, worked well to move the IFOR's tracked vehicles. TF HET, while an innovative idea, proved unworkable.

Although contractors were to provide technical support and class IX repair parts for their warranty obligations on the PLS trucks and HET's, their attempts did not meet the unforecasted needs created by unanticipated Operation Joint Endeavor requirements. Oshkosh trucks were more than up to the challenge of moving and sustaining the IFOR, but taking 41 days to deliver the first shipment of class IX warranty parts to the supply support activity courted near-disaster.

The first 30 days of Operation Joint Endeavor posed a hearty challenge for the "Road Warriors," but one that was well met. Tasked with a sudden self-deployment; swollen by equipment on top of its current authorization almost equal to another MTOE, without a commensurate increase in drivers or mechanics; seeking operational real estate and contracting for support requirements in a former Eastern Bloc country; successfully confronting a host of other issues and unanticipated challenges-all made for an interesting and exciting, albeit nontraditional, holiday season for the 181st Transportation Battalion. The bottom line in the unit's success however, was not the new PLS nor the modern M1070 HET. Rather, it was what has always been the source of strength and victory for the United States Army: talented junior leaders and our magnificent soldiers. ALOG

Major James P. Herson, Jr., is currently assigned as the executive officer of the 181st Transportation Battalion, based in the former Yugoslavia. He served as an Infantry officer for 14 years before becoming a Transportation officer. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the Army War College's Defense Strategy Course. He was commissioned from New Mexico Military Institute, has earned a master's degree in history from Florida State University, and will soon complete his doctorate. He also has taught as an assistant professor of history at the United States Military Academy.