by Major Mark A. Ferris
When the Special Forces, the Rangers, and other special operations forces take the field, they are supported by the Army's only two forward support companies.
Congratulations, you've been assigned to a forward support company. If you're ever fortunate enough to receive those orders, you won't have to wonder about your destination: you'll be coming to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 528th Support Battalion (Special Operations) (Airborne). The Army currently has two forward support companies, and both are assigned to the 528th.
When you receive your notification, you will probably have many questions. What is a forward support company? What is its mission? Who does it support? How is the company employed? What are its capabilities? How does it train?
Mission and Employment
The mission of a forward support company (FSC) is to provide combat service
support, limited level II combat health service, and limited engineer support
to Army special operations forces (SOF) units worldwide and in any conflict.
Specifically, the FSC's assigned to the 528th Support Battalion provide support
to Army spe
cial forces units, the 75th Ranger Regiment, civil affairs and psychological operations units, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
The multifunctional FSC's are rapidly deployable. Having two FSC's means SOF units can be supported in two major regional contingencies simultaneously. A deployed FSC may be directed to provide support for a joint special operations task force consisting not only of Army SOF units but also Navy Seals, the Air Force's Special Operations Wing, and Marine Corps assets.
FSC's also are employed to establish and operate an intermediate staging base (ISB) for SOF. The company is equipped with 5 MK19 machineguns, 8 .50-caliber machineguns, and 15 M249 squad automatic weapons, so it can provide force protection for itself and its sector of the ISB perimeter.
Organization and Capabilities
An FSC is commanded by a major and is authorized 133 soldiers. It is structured
with capabilities similar to those of a divisional forward support battalion.
As you can see from the chart above, the FSC modification table of organization
and equipment (MTOE) provides the unit with the capability to arm, fuel,
fix, move, and sustain the force, as well as construct a base camp (thanks
to its engineer platoon). With attachments from the battalion's headquarters
and main support company, it can act independently without a higher
Soldiers of a forward support company board a C-130 transport for airdrop onto the Sicily drop zone at Fort Bragg.
Maintenance is provided to a supported unit by the direct support (DS) maintenance section. The DS shop has personnel skilled in automotive, special-purpose engineer, weapons maintenance, and allied trades. It also provides contact teams and equipment recovery support to SOF units.
The supply and services platoon provides class I (subsistence), III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants [POL]), V (ammunition), and water production and limited distribution to SOF units. The class I ration distribution section is capable of breaking down and distributing rations to the food service sections of various SOF units. The class III POL section can receive, store, and issue diesel, mogas, and JP8 fuels for ground operations; it also can conduct both hot and cold refuel operations in support of elements of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and Air Force special operations aircraft.
The MTOE of a forward support company.
The class V ammunition section is capable of conducting ammunition transfer point operations. However, it normally will be given the mission of establishing an ammunition holding area for supported units. The water purification section produces water using two 600-gallon-per-hour reverse osmosis water purification units and distributes it through a forward area water point supply system. By using the purification unit, the section can provide potable water for small-unit operations.
The transportation platoon conducts short-haul operations for personnel and equipment. The platoon can operate at an ISB or provide support forward in the area of operations. It is configured with two truck squads that employ both 5-ton medium tactical vehicles and 5-ton tractors with both box trailers and low beds.
Another part of the transportation platoon is the movement control team (MCT). The MCT coordinates movements for the FSC and for SOF units, both those at home station and those forward deployed. It coordinates movement by all modes of transportation, including air, sea, rail, and road. The MCT also has the mission of managing the FSC's common-user land transportation assets. It coordinates movements of SOF units in a theater with the theater movement control center.
The engineer platoon's mission is to construct a base camp capable of sustaining SOF units in an austere environment and serving as an ISB from which operations can be launched. It is composed of combat engineers, masons, electrical repairers, generator mechanics, and supply personnel. They are capable of erecting a camp from the ground up or improving existing facilities, and they can provide the camp with electricity. Their secondary mission is to erect and fortify the base defense in support of the force protection (countermobility and survivability) plan.
The headquarters platoon provides command, control, and administrative support for the FSC. The medical section can establish an aid station and provide level I and limited level II care in an ISB. The platoon's food service section provides meals for the company; with augmentation from the battalion's headquarters and main support company, the section can provide food for an entire ISB.
Training to standard is the key to success for the FSC's. Company commanders identify and develop clearly defined, measurable, and attainable standards and establish the systems necessary to meet those standards. Training is mission-essential task list (METL) and battle focused; it is tough, realistic, and challenging; and it is well planned, resourced, and rehearsed. With a mission to deploy rapidly, the FSC's place a strong emphasis on maintaining their equipment to technical manual 10/20 standards. Training at the individual, collective, and leader levels is designed to support the unit's METL.
FSC's deploy on numerous training missions, both in and outside the continental United States. During fiscal year 1997, the FSC's deployed in support of numerous exercises, including Joint Readiness Training Center and National Training Center rotations, Exercise Bright Star in Egypt, Exercise Cobra Gold in Thailand, and exercises in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Germany.
Improving FSC Capabilities
Plans have been finalized to change the 528th Support Battalion's organization to add a third FSC. The Army also plans to add an FSC and a main support company in the reserve components.
The beneficiaries of adding a third FSC to the battalion are the line troops
and the line companies. Under the current battalion structure, operational
tempo dictates that the FSC's are always in a two-cycle management system:
either prime-time training or mission execution. In order to meet garrison
support requirements, the FSC's must sacrifice either training or mission,
and mission is never sacrificed. The third FSC will allow the battalion to
shift to a three-cycle system. One company would be detailed to meet garrison
support requirements; the second unit would conduct intensive, uninterrupted
training before assuming the mission cycle; and the third company would be
prepared for deploy ment on 18 hours' notice.
|An engineer platoon establishes base camp during Exercise Bright Star `97 in Egypt.|
Ground was broken in October 1997 for the new Special Operations Logistics Facility at Fort Bragg. This state-of-the-art facility will become the home of the 528th Support Battalion in December. It will include a new battalion headquarters, direct-support maintenance facilities, a supply support activity warehouse, and a parachute-rigging facility and will house all other organic assets of the unit.
|Forward support company soldiers establish a refuel site to support SOF aviation assets at an intermediate support base at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.|
The new barracks complex for the 528th opened in June. From these facilities, the battalion will be able to support and deploy combat service support assets anywhere in the world. The complex will assist in ensuring success on the battlefield for SOF.
The forward support company is a unique organization, from its MTOE to its
mission. It offers a challenging, fast-paced assignment. If you want to work
with hard-charging, dedicated professionals, don't wait for your branch to
assign you to the 528th Support Battalion; call and request assignment to
this unique organization in today's Army. For more information on the 528th
Support Battalion, contact the battalion adjutant at DSN 239-9886 or -8157
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Major Mark A. Ferris is executive officer of the 528th Support Battalion (Special Operations) (Airborne), at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from Marshall University and is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Army Command and General Staff College.