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Tankers Without Tanks

Tankers love to fight from tanks. Most tankers joined the Armor Corps because they envisioned themselves moving across jagged terrain, spewing fire from the gun tube, and destroying enemy targets many kilometers away. However, that dream was deferred for the deploying Soldiers from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. During the early spring of 2006, the tankers were ordered to transform into a security forces company to train and deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were task-organized with the 541st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB) of the 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

Transformation

Bravo Company, called the “Bounty Hunters,” cleaned and serviced their M1A1 Abrams Integrated Management tanks for turn-in and reorganized from a 63-man tank company into a 170-man security forces company. The company’s MTOE (modification table of organization and equipment), with 3 platoons of 16 Soldiers, was reorganized into an EMTOE (exception to modification table of organization and equipment) with 3 platoons of 45 Soldiers each, a headquarters section, and a maintenance section. The additional Soldiers allowed the integration of various combat-multiplying military occupational specialties (MOSs), such as mechanics, medics, cooks, infantrymen, fuel handlers, transporters, administrative clerks, and artillerymen.

A standard 16-man tank platoon typically consists of 4 tanks, each crewed by a tank commander, a gunner, a loader, and a driver. Transforming the company to have 9 squads, each with 15 Soldiers, allowed Bravo Company to keep a low leader-to-led ratio, which is a hallmark of tank platoons. Each squad was led by a lieutenant or sergeant first class with training and experience as a former tank platoon leader or tank platoon sergeant. These leaders took on the responsibility of being convoy commanders and were supported by seasoned staff sergeants serving as the assistant convoy commanders. Each squad organized into five three-man gun truck crews, each consisting of a vehicle commander, a gunner, and a driver.

After the reorganization ceremony in May 2006, the company began a rigorous 90-day predeployment training cycle. Initial training focused on individual Soldier marksmanship and basic Soldier skills. Bravo Company completed crew-served weapons qualification on the M240B machinegun, the M249 squad automatic weapon, the M2 .50-caliber machinegun, and the MK19 40-millimeter grenade launcher. After this, each platoon practiced motorized crew gunnery, with daytime and nighttime engagements, followed by two squad live-fire exercises with all five motorized crews engaging targets simultaneously. The culminating events were two motorized gun truck situational training exercises that required convoy commanders to integrate logistics vehicles into the fight. The commanders were required to show proficiency in standard battle drills when reacting to enemy- and event-driven scenarios. Bravo Company then deployed to Kuwait and conducted another round of live-fire and situational training exercises before moving into Iraq.

Integration

Once they were in Iraq and attached to the 541st CSSB, Bravo Company integrated themselves into the logistics realm. Although the CSSB was also from Fort Riley, Bravo Company had never established a habitual relationship with them. The tankers were challenged with learning the different types of logistics sections and unit capabilities. The first question that many tankers asked was, “Who is this SPO [support operations officer] guy everyone is talking about?” Having the support operations section as the hub of logistics information and planning is foreign to combat arms Soldiers. The S–3, or operations officer, is typically responsible for all plans, operations, and training, but the SPO executes many of these functions in the logistics world.

Bravo Company Soldiers quickly familiarized themselves with logistics operations. The only prior experience Bravo Company had with palletized load systems, 5,000-gallon fuel tankers, and heavy equipment transport trucks was when someone else coordinated for these supporting assets from outside of the battalion. But the tankers soon found themselves working with them on a daily basis. Bravo Company learned the load capabilities, characteristics, and, most importantly, the constraints of these logistics vehicles. Coordinating with truck drivers from Kellogg, Brown and Root, the Professional Warehouse Company, and the Iraqi Trucking Company became second nature. Bravo Company learned to familiarize these contracted truck drivers with battle drills and convoy techniques to ensure the success of their convoys. Contractors need a certain amount of information to successfully execute each mission, so Bravo Company also learned to balance the amount of information they gave the contractors with maintaining operational security.

Conducting convoy briefings, battle drill rehearsals, and precombat checks and inspections has always been characteristic of tank company operations, but Bravo Company missed the familiar tasks of establishing a support-by-fire position and executing fire-and-maneuver or cordon-and-search operations. Nonetheless, basic tank platoon maneuvering principles apply when conducting a combat logistics patrol. In the event of enemy contact, every tanker knows to deploy, report, choose a course of action, and violently execute that course of action until the threat is eliminated. But combat logistics patrol Soldiers have the additional challenge of ensuring the constant security of the escorted vehicles while destroying the enemy or communicating with another element to complete the engagement.

Challenges

Bravo Company Soldiers learned different operating styles and schools of thought while attached to the 541st CSSB. The first obstacle was repressing the ingrained search-and-attack mentality and the desire to find, fix, and destroy the enemy. As a combat logistics patrol commander, a Bounty Hunter leader understood that his tactical task was to secure the logistics assets during movement with the purpose of sustaining combat operations. At times, it was tough for Bravo Company Soldiers to know that they were providing support to Soldiers who shared their experience, skills, and MOSs, and they were not out there shooting with them.

Operationally, Bravo Company was often challenged with having to coordinate with other units while transiting their areas of operations. Instead of generating intelligence from the operations officer and sources within an assigned area of operations, Bravo Company used compiled intelligence from units throughout the multiple areas of operations that they patrolled.

Maintaining

While the goal of any commander deployed in combat is to execute his assigned mission successfully and redeploy with every Soldier he deployed with, he also has the duty to develop his subordinates. The most significant challenge of the Bounty Hunter leaders was ensuring that the Soldiers sustained proficiency in their MOSs even though they were executing a nonstandard mission for armor Soldiers. The Bounty Hunter Soldiers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and officers would return to Fort Riley and conduct a permanent change-of-station move to another armor unit, where they would be expected to be proficient in the armor skills associated with their ranks. This expectation deserved the attention of all leaders in the company and could only be met through training.

Weapons sustainment training is the combat standard, but a dedicated leader professional development program is just as important to ensuring the future success of the Armor Corps. Soldiers must know how to be tank drivers, loaders, and gunners. Junior NCOs must know how to be tank gunners and tank commanders. Mid-grade and senior NCOs must know how to be tank commanders and tank platoon sergeants. Lieutenants must know how to be tank platoon leaders and tank company executive officers. This challenge rested squarely on the shoulders of the Bravo Company’s leaders, as their Soldiers may be called on to deploy again, either as part of tank companies or as armor Soldiers assigned to other units.

The Bounty Hunter Soldiers successfully trained, deployed, and integrated themselves into the logistics world and dutifully executed every assigned mission. They learned the capabilities and limitations associated with securing commodity vehicles in a country where the enemy does not care what unit you are assigned to or what your MOS is. Back at Fort Riley and reunited with their tanks, Bravo Company soldiers have a greater appreciation for logistics operations. If anyone ever wants to know who the SPO is, a Bounty Hunter Soldier can reply, “I know that guy, and I know what he can do for me.” Even so, it is obvious that you can take the Soldier out of his tank, but you can never take the tank out of the armor Soldier.
ALOG

Captain Ethan J. Diven serves as the Commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. He is a graduate of the New Mexico Military Institute and earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University. He is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic Course, the Army Airborne School, the Army Ranger School, and the Infantry Captains Career Course.