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Recovery Operations at LSA Anaconda

T??he call comes in to the battalion from the “Sheriff’s Net” [the emergency radio frequency]. Another improvised explosive device (IED) has detonated, leaving two vehicles damaged and inoperable. Knowing that time is critical, the members of the battalion tactical operations center (TOC) quickly take action. Their first call goes out to the battalion recovery team. This team is composed of personnel from the security escort team (SET) and several Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) recovery vehicle operators. The recovery team arrives at the TOC just as the battle noncommissioned officer (NCO) finishes collecting all the information essential to the success of the mission. The team leaves the TOC and arrives at the recovery site, where their first order of business is setting up security around the disabled vehicles. Once security has been established, the KBR team moves in and loads up the damaged vehicles. With equipment in tow, the SET and KBR personnel drive back to base. The recovery team has accomplished its missions—to recover disabled vehicles and keep the roads open.

This scenario was repeated many times during the yearlong deployment of Logistics Task Force 548. The headquarters element that provided all the vital information was the 548th Corps Support Battalion, a 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) unit from Fort Drum, New York. The battalion was task-organized in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 05–07 as Logistics Task Force (LTF) 548. It was the command and control element for eight companies. One of those companies was B Battery, 5th Battalion, 113th Field Artillery Regiment, a National Guard unit from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, that began performing recovery and SET missions in December 2005.

Gathering Information

LTF 548 became accustomed to sending out SETs, but how did they know which recovery assets were needed and where to dispatch them? B Battery obtained this information either when it was contacted by the 40th Corps Support Group or by monitoring the Sheriff’s Net. The TOC used both avenues of information to ensure that the SET got all vital information in a timely manner. This information, which was so vital to the mission, came from the 101st Airborne Division’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet). The LTF S–3 section monitored the 101st SIPRNet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for any significant activities in order to ensure that the teams received the latest intelligence. This intelligence consisted of a strip map and the latest IED and enemy activity information. This information was not only important for accomplishing the mission but also for ensuring the safety of the recovery team members. The recovery teams had a 100-percent success rate, even when the disabled vehicle belonged to the recovery team.

Team Protection

In Iraq, a recovery mission is not just about leaving the secured area, recovering a disabled vehicle, and returning to base. It has become more of a combat mission than a support mission. On several occasions, the SETs have taken direct fire (small arms) and indirect fire (mortar). “We drive out to a site, set up, and pull security while KBR hooks up the (disabled) vehicle. More time, than not, we can roll back without further incident, but sometimes things happen,” said Master Sergeant Joey Ireland, B Battery platoon sergeant, who has seen the power of an IED first hand. The composition of the SETs and the equipment in the convoy protection platforms (CPPs) are imperative to recovery mission success.

The recovery team was composed of four CPPs: three M1117 armored security vehicles and one M1114 up-armored high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) that was used primarily as the command and control vehicle. The vehicles were equipped with all of the equipment needed to survive while driving the IED-laden roads around LSA Anaconda. This equipment included extra lights mounted on the vehicles and horns; some of the vehicles even had sirens. The most significant vehicle upgrades were found inside with the tools that help save lives on the recovery missions—Blue Force Tracker (BFT) and the Movement Tracking System (MTS).

Air support could be a valuable ally for the SETs. However, it was seldom available. Although it was an effective deterrent to both direct and indirect fire, it was seldom possible to obtain. Only about 4 percent of the recovery missions were covered by air support.

LTF 548 used MTS and BFT to monitor recovery missions. MTS and BFT use state-of-the-art technology and satellite linkup to provide up-to-date information to the battalion and battery operations centers (BOCs). According to Sergeant First Class Thomas Camus, B Battery platoon sergeant and communications sergeant, the systems are similar. “Both use satellite to relay signals from base to vehicle, which allows the SETs to communicate digitally and receive the most up-to-date-data. However, the MTS and the BFT cannot communicate with each other.” Camus added, “I wouldn’t leave the wire without either one.”

Area of Operations

LSA Anaconda is the primary logistics support base in Iraq. Located near the town of Balad, just north of Baghdad, it is spread over 15 square miles. The base is home to approximately 25,000 Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and civilians. The base has two runways and is the busiest airport in Iraq. LSA Anaconda directly supports all surrounding forward operating bases with personnel, equipment, and logistics support. B Battery was responsible for the recovery of any inoperable vehicle within a large radius of LSA Anaconda. To ensure that all inoperable vehicles that fell within that radius got assistance as quickly as possible, LTF 548 ran operations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Response time was usually 25 to 30 minutes.

LTF 548 was not the only unit monitoring the recovery mission. B Battery also monitored the recovery mission. Two huge maps hung on the wall of B Battery’s operations center—one of the areas in which the battery was responsible for recovery, the other of the entire country. The map of LSA Anaconda had markings of checkpoints and the latest IED information obtained from LTF 548. The operations center used this information to notify the SETs if they were entering a trouble area. The operations center used MTS, BTF, and the Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINGARS) to track each mission.

To decrease the time from getting the call to leaving the gate, the SETs stayed in the battalion housing area, which was made up of several containerized housing units, when they were the primary recovery team. Having the SETs housed in the battalion housing area lowered the team’s response time.

Many civilians had important roles at LSA Anaconda. KBR drivers drove the vehicles used in towing all disabled vehicles within LTF 548’s area of operations. The KBR recovery team had two vehicles—a wrecker and a heavy equipment transporter (HET). The KBR recovery team drivers stayed in the containerized housing units with the other members of the recovery team. This reduced the recovery response time by as much as 30 minutes. According to Sergeant First Class Jerry Jones, B Battery platoon sergeant, “They are the ones who are at the most risk when we get to the site. They are concentrating on recovering the vehicle, not about how exposed they truly are. They are the ones that get dirty and greasy during a recovery. We supply protection in order for them [KBR] to do it as quickly and safely as possible.”

An important logistics operation that the recovery teams depended on was provided by the maintenance support section. This section provided the service and maintenance for the CPPs. An important aspect of maintenance was ordering and maintaining a parts supply, which presented a challenge because the vehicles being maintained were different from those the unit used at home station. Despite this, the maintenance section maintained a greater than 98-percent operational readiness rate while in theater.

The success of LTF 548 and B Battery, 5th Battalion, 113th Field Artillery Regiment, cannot be summed up in simple words. The truth, as they say, is in the pudding: LTF 548 executed 180 successful recovery missions in which they returned with 100 percent of the vehicles they were sent to recover. All missions were executed with minimal damage to the recovery vehicles and no fatalities to the recovery personnel. In the end, that is what really matters.

First Lieutenant Robert E. Klinger, NCARNG, was the 3d Platoon Leader and 3d Security Escort Team Convoy Commander for B Battery, 5th Battalion, 113th Field Artillery Regiment, during his rotation to Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has a bachelor’s degree from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and is a graduate of the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course.