Suppose that you are on the staff of a combat
brigade element with command and control over four subordinate
battalions and many attached units. These units conduct myriad
missions ranging from cordon-and-search patrols to reconnaissance
gathering, vehicle recovery, and LOGPAC (logistics package)
resupply in and out of your brigade’s forward operating
bases (FOBs). The S–2 rushes in and announces that Alpha
route just went black because an improvised explosive device
(IED) has detonated and a secondary ambush has just occurred
and that the brigade commander wants to know immediately
how many convoys are on the road. Normally, the division transportation
officer keeps you informed of all supplies incoming from corps
and the movement control offi-cer lets you know when the large
supply runs are en-tering your area of operations (AO), but
how do you know where all the brigade troops are? Who is traveling
on the main supply route that just went black? To whom do you
go for this information, and did that person even know before
5 minutes ago that he was responsible for convoy tracking?
In today’s theaters of operations, the movement of supplies and equipment
along supply routes is monitored according to strict division transportation
and movement control procedures to ensure that timely and accurate data are provided
to all customer units. However, the problem we see at the National Training
Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California, and on the battlefields of Iraq is that
internal convoys are not being tracked effectively at the brigade level and
below. How does a brigade know when internal convoys are departing and arriving
at the many FOBs in its AO, what they are carrying, or how many of the brigade’s
troops are on the road at any given time? More important, who should be the keeper
of that information?
The S–2/3 section is best equipped and staffed to track internal convoys
throughout the brigade. The S–2 is collocated with the S–3 so that
he can provide valuable intelligence updates that are critical to convoy operations.
A valuable addition to the S–2/3 section would be a movement control team
(MCT) consisting of a Transportation Corps lieutenant and a sergeant with military
occupational specialty 88M20, chauffeur, or 88M30, motor transport operator.
This MCT could manage the increased convoy traffic within the brigade’s
AO, regularly update the convoy tracking matrix, and coordinate or deconflict
movements on the main and alternate supply routes in the AO on behalf of the
brigade S–3. The MCT also could help the brigade S–3 maintain better
situational awareness of convoy movements within the brigade’s AO and
thereby ensure better coordination among the battalions. Through close coordination
of convoys, the S–3 could track troops on the ground more effectively
and thus have an up-to-date picture of supply routes and incidents that may occur
along the way.
To ensure that all units in the brigade know what is expected of them and to
make sure that convoy movement is rehearsed extensively, the S–3 section
should use the MCT and a convoy tracking matrix as part of its daily battle rhythm
before the brigade deploys to Iraq.
Convoy Tracking Matrix
A brigade-level convoy tracking matrix is a technique that has worked well at
the NTC. This matrix is updated daily at times set by the brigade. It is broad
enough in scope that the brigade and battalion commanders know what is on the
road, but not so detailed that it bogs them down in the minutiae of personnel
manifests and bumper numbers. This matrix seems to work not because the brigade
staff is able to fill in the blocks easily but because the brigade has a battle
drill in place that includes receiving accurate data from its subordinate units
at prescribed times during the day and night. Some brigades have this battle
drill in place before they arrive at the NTC; others refine this tool during
The convoy tracking matrix can be placed on the SIPRNet (Secret Internet Protocol
Router Network), and units can update it at set times or continuously throughout
the day. Brigades that track their internal convoys and missions successfully
use this matrix daily to identify not only where all convoys are at the moment
but also where they have been in order to gather intelligence about the routes
they have traveled. The end state is a finely honed battle drill that can be
used by subordinate battalions to feed information to one consolidated brigade
Above is an example of a basic matrix that can be adjusted to fit a specific
brigade structure. It is a starting point for practice during an NTC rotation
or a home station exercise. It includes basic information needed to get, in
one quick snapshot, an accurate picture of where forces are heading. Unit, destination,
and route information is imperative. Vehicle, personnel, and cargo data are
also useful because they allow tracking of the types of missions and number of
miles driven over the course of a deployment. If a brigade has a Movement Tracking
System (MTS), the mobile transceiver numbers can be placed on the matrix as
well. Use of a matrix will ensure that the brigade base station operator knows
which convoys to track and will facilitate communications checks before the
convoys depart the FOBs. It is always easier to fix the MTS on the base rather
than en route.
If planned convoy start times are known and entered on the matrix up to 24
hours in advance, upcoming missions can be deconflicted and congestion reduced
the main supply route. Having another column that shows actual convoy start
times triggers the battalions to contact the brigade before their convoys depart
the FOBs. Destination arrival and departure times should be entered in separate
columns to allow plenty of room to annotate remarks such as “RON” (remain
overnight) or other useful information. The “MC” (mission complete)
column shows when missions are closed and, more important, if they are still
open. This is a helpful reminder to notify the battalion to check on the status
of the convoy and ensure the convoy has not encountered problems. It also provides
a check to ensure that battalions are providing the closing information required.
The “Incident” and “Remarks” columns give the S–2
a data source to assess routes and named areas of interest and provide other
staff sections with specific information they need.
The two “bottom lines” about the matrix are: Tailor it so that it
works best for your brigade, and, most important, actually use it. The matrix
can facilitate the flow of vital convoy data among brigade units. If you are
on the battalion staff, know before deployment what the brigade’s S–3
standing operating procedures state about departing and arriving at the FOB,
checkout and check-in procedures, convoy clearance and start times, and post-mission
debriefings. If you are part of the brigade staff, you should know the primary
and alternate points of contact in each battalion staff section and have their
primary and alternate phone numbers readily available. Know the grid coordinates
of the subordinate units and the main and alternate supply routes that will
be used. Work seamlessly with the S–2, correlating named areas of interest
and actual convoy routes.
Communicating Convoy Movements
By using a matrix managed by an MCT within the brigade S–3 shop, the brigade
could ensure timely coordination of convoys within its AO. Posting the matrix
on the SIPRNet allows battalions to anticipate the arrival of convoys in their
AOs and gives them time to deconflict convoy arrivals with ongoing operations.
The movement of convoys across battalion task force boundaries must be treated
as a friendly forward passage of lines. When a convoy departs its FOB, the
battalion S–3 should notify the brigade S–3 of the convoy’s
start time. When the convoy crosses bat-talion task force boundaries, the convoy
should notify the gaining battalion task force of its anticipated arrival time
in the new AO. When the convoy arrives at its destination, the gaining battalion
S–3 should notify the brigade S–3 of the convoy’s arrival.
At this point, the brigade MCT should update the matrix and post it to the SIPRNet
to allow widest dissemination of the information. Battalion and brigade staffs
must train in this key battle drill to ensure that units execute this vital
function. Units must maintain proper control and coordination of convoys to ensure
safe and secure travel on the main and alternate supply routes and efficient
use of convoy resources.
One final stop can be an enabler for controlling convoy movements: the FOB front
gate. A gate control team of Soldiers who have been trained to manage traffic
flow in and out of the FOB is key to convoy management. Units should establish
this team at home station and train its members on proper gate procedures before
Here is how the gate control team works. Before a convoy departs the FOB, the
gate control team checks to see if the convoy has received clearance from the
battalion tactical operations center. The gate control team logs convoy departure
times and destinations. The team then calls the FOB headquarters to announce
the departure and arrival of convoys. If the convoy does not have clearance to
depart, it moves to a holding area until clearance is granted.
The gate control team’s most important function is preventing convoys that
have not been cleared by their units from departing the FOB. Keeping undocumented
convoys off the main and alternate supply routes greatly aids convoy tracking
and ensures better use of limited resources and personnel. The team also monitors
inbound traffic that is waiting to enter the FOB.
By following the procedures described and posting all actions to the convoy
tracking matrix at all levels, you will have an up-to-date route intelligence
picture that will keep your unit informed of when convoys are on the road and
where they are at any given time. Find a standard that works for your unit and
rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Then all units will know what is expected of them.
Major Martin E. Stokes is the Battalion Executive Officer Logistics Trainer
in the Operations Group at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.
He has a master’s degree in history from Colorado State University. He
is a graduate of the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics
Officers Advanced Course, and the Army Command and General Staff College.
Captain Christina A. Helferich is the Distribu-tion Company, Brigade Support
Battalion, Trainer in the Operations Group at the National Training Center.
She has bachelor’s degrees in history and political science and a master’s
degree in teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is a graduate of
the Transportation Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career
Course, and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School.