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Preparing for Convoy Operations
in a Combat Zone

Because even the most aggressive aerial resupply cannot deliver all of the classes of supply needed to sustain a force in continuous operations, tactical convoys will always be required. Knowing this, Army leaders should know the requirements and demands placed on their drivers and assets and increase convoy force protection accordingly. The way to improve force protection is to prepare for tactical convoys as if they were combat patrols.

Convoy soldiers should be assigned specific responsibilities, such as breech team, security team, security or advance guard, convoy commander, air guard, main body, and rear security. All convoy personnel must be vigilant. While moving, they should keep their body armor closed, their Kevlar helmets on, their crew-served weapons locked and loaded, and their individual weapons chambered and pointed out the window. All vehicles should have communications, and the crews should check them frequently. Drivers cannot become complacent; they always should be scanning for suspicious personnel, mines, and items that appear to be out of place, such as wires or piles of rocks.

Training 

Drivers must train as riflemen. Convoy drivers and relief drivers must know how to protect themselves while the convoy is moving. That is what is meant by “train as we fight.” Weapons training requires more than basic rifle marksmanship. A soldier must be comfortable and confident with his weapon. He needs to know its limitations.
Drivers need to know how it feels to fire a weapon from a vehicle. It is awkward for a person who fires right-handed to fire out of the passenger window. Vehicle movement, bumps on the road, and spent cartridges bouncing from the weapon inside the vehicle all increase the difficulty of firing from a moving vehicle. Knowing how to use a vehicle as a defensive tool is as important asknowing how to employ it offensively. Soldiers need to know when and when not to use their vehicles as cover

Training on crew-served weapons is equally important. A gunner on a .50-caliber machinegun or MK19 grenade launcher should know that the weapon could take down a brick wall. Gunners also should be taught the requirements for firing an AT4 antitank weapon and given the opportunity to do so. Convoy soldiers also should train on the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) to learn how to engage a target while it is shooting back.

Drivers should drill on dismount procedures and actions after dismount until they are second nature. Use of proper dismount procedures can save lives. Too many times, I have seen a driver or his relief killed while dismounting a vehicle on the side near an ambush.

Soldiers also must know their vehicles’ capabilities. For example, a 5-ton truck has the power to push most obstacles out of its way, but an M998 high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle may not. Controlled training events give soldiers an opportunity to learn and experience what their vehicles can do. Backing up to a water buffalo or dock is not combat driving. Combat driving is traversing rough terrain—crossing barriers such as ditches and logs—and pushing cars and similar obstacles out of the way. The driver of a 5-ton truck needs to know that if a smaller vehicle were to fire on his truck at close range he could ram that vehicle to disable or destroy it.

It is imperative that units conduct this type of training before deploying to any potentially hazardous place.

SOP

A combat service support unit must develop a comprehensive convoy standing operating procedure (SOP) that clearly states what is to be done, when, and by whom. The SOP should be developed as if the unit will never receive security support from outside sources. The SOP should take priority over all doctrine. However, it should be kept as close to doctrine as possible, without hindering soldiers’ safety or mission performance. Leaders should know the SOP, train it, and enforce it. Corners should not be cut; allowing the standard to slide will create a new, and lower, standard.

Unit leaders must stay current with emerging doctrine and be prepared to update the SOP as needed. Flexibility is the watchword. An SOP must be flexible enough to work for other units and to allow the unit to adjust to changes in the way the Army is doing business.

The SOP should be understandable to all soldiers, regardless of their rank or skill level, and it should be available to all soldiers. All members of the unit should be expected to know what the SOP says.

Plan


Leaders at all levels must plan for convoy operations. S–3/4 shops must maximize the use of convoys and security elements by combining multiple convoys going to the same or nearby destinations. Too often, convoys of three or four vehicles go out several times a day. This is an invitation for attacks of opportunity. In low-intensity conflict, large aggressive convoys are hit less often because an enemy is less likely to attack when he knows he will suffer retaliation.

Time for preparation and rehearsal must be incorporated into the convoy planning timeline. Convoy planners must make security a priority and include it in rehearsals. If commodity managers manage assets the way they are supposed to, it will be easier to avoid having to mount last-minute convoys to deliver supplies. This will make life a little harder on the planners, but it makes it easier for the drivers. It also protects assets and personnel from attrition, allowing the unit to stay fully mission capable.

Planners should give leaders and soldiers sufficient notice so they can rehearse and get equipment ready. Last-minute convoys make rehearsals and precombat checks or inspections impossible. Giving plenty of notice also allows attached units to become aware of the unit’s SOP.

Supported units should be informed of support requirements, such as the amount of time required to organize and coordinate convoys. Many units do not know how long it takes to fill a water tanker or load a 40-foot trailer with 105-millimeter rounds.

Rehearsals

Rehearsals should be conducted using sand tables, maps, and rock drills—never just talked through. Rehearsals should be performance oriented and, when possible, include vehicles. They should have as many variables as possible and never be a repeat of the last rehearsal, but the planned outcome should always be the same.

Leaders must ensure that precombat checks and inspections are conducted on personnel and equipment, including vehicles. Checking fuel levels and ammunition is not enough. Drivers also should check equipment inspection and maintenance worksheets, inspect weapons, look over their loads, and check communication systems.

Convoys are the soldiers’ lifelines. They must be recognized as combat operations, and drivers must be trained as “mounted riflemen.” Success on the battlefield rides on the back of convoy trucks. By training, planning, and setting operational standards, convoy operations will help make combat troops successful. ALOG

Staff Sergeant Edward M. Stepp is an instructor at the Army Transportation Center Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Academy at Fort Eustis, Virginia. He is a graduate of the Traffic Management Coordinator Basic NCO Course and the Support Operations Course.