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Instilling Innovation in Iraq

The 10th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB), 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), was well prepared for its deployment to Iraq. However, it quickly became evident that the success of its mission would hinge on its flexibility, adaptability, and continuing desire to improve.

Previous achievements of the 10th BSB were chronicled in the September–October 2004 issue of Army Logistician. At that time, the BSB (then a forward support battalion) had returned to Fort Drum, New York, from a deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan. In the year and a half that followed, the battalion simultaneously transformed, reset, and prepared for a second deployment.

As part of the Army-wide transformation, the 10th BSB grew to include a separate headquarters and headquarters company (HHC) and four forward support companies (FSCs). The companies were established to provide direct support to two infantry battalions, a cavalry battalion, and an artillery battalion. The battalion’s A Company provided an organic transportation capability for moving personnel and equipment. During reset, several types of vehicles, generators, and other equipment were overhauled. The battalion also conducted a training program in anticipation of a rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana. All of these changes occurred in a 19-month period.

Deployment Planning

In March 2005, the battalion deployed to the JRTC as part of the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team. The JRTC environment resembled the unpredictable urban conditions that the battalion would encounter in Iraq. The BSB focused chiefly on providing ground resupply to outlying forward operating bases (FOBs) in the maneuver box. The battalion used what, at the time, were standard tactics, techniques, and procedures to ensure the safety and success of the convoys.

In April, key battalion leaders deployed to Iraq as part of a predeployment site survey. They conferred with members of the 210th Forward Support Battalion (FSB), who were deployed to Camp Liberty, Iraq, to support the 10th Mountain Division’s 2d Brigade Combat Team. The site survey gave 10th BSB leaders a good idea of what to expect in Iraq and an opportunity to observe the best practices of units in the field. One such best practice was the 210th FSB’s use of a gun truck platoon. This platoon was created “out of hide” by assigning an assortment of personnel to man M1114 up-armored high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs). Establishing this platoon enabled the 210th to provide its own convoy security without having to depend on maneuver battalions.

As it would do many times, the 10th BSB adopted a proven concept and built on it. The battalion immediately formed its own gun truck platoon, dubbed the convoy security element (CSE). Using borrowed M1025 HMMWV armament carriers, the CSE trained for several days at a newly designed live-fire range at Fort Drum, New York. The training included a capstone exercise in which convoy commanders employed UH–60 Black Hawk helicopters to simulate a casualty evacuation.

On to Iraq

In August 2005, the 10th BSB deployed to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, with the 1st Brigade, which was “plugged in” to the 3d Infantry Division. (In January 2006, the 4th Infantry Division assumed command and control of the 1st Brigade until it redeployed.) The battalion moved into Iraq during the first week of September. Although its primary mission was to provide combat service support (CSS), the battalion was immediately tasked to provide a number of Soldiers to perform additional missions for the duration of the rotation. The BSB leaders were tempted to retain their stellar performers but did not because some of these missions required top-notch Soldiers.

One such tasking was to provide guards for the division holding area, a facility that housed recently captured detainees until they were released or sent to another detention facility. In all, 15 Soldiers were trained to serve as prison guards. The battalion also assumed responsibility for operating the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System balloon and camera. This system provided an “eye in the sky” that greatly enhanced force protection. Soldiers who were critical to the CSS mission learned to operate a system that previously had been unknown to them.

Beginning in the third month of deployment, the battalion released its Soldiers in 10-percent increments on mandatory 3-week environmental and morale leave (EML). EML is authorized for Soldiers serving a yearlong tour in a combat zone. This practice continued through the 11th month of the 10th BSB’s deployment.

At any one time, approximately 300 Soldiers from the 10th BSB were performing nonstandard missions or force-protection tasks or were on leave. As a result, company commanders were compelled to be inventive when they employed their remaining personnel.

Force Protection

When the 199th FSB of the Louisiana-based 256th Infantry Brigade (Mechanized) departed Iraq, it conducted a relief in place with the 10th BSB. The 152d Maintenance Company, an Army Reserve general support maintenance company of Soldiers from Maine, Iowa, and Washington, was attached to the 10th BSB for 7 months. Although the 152d provided an additional maintenance capability, it was diminished somewhat because more than half of the company’s 250 Soldiers provided force protection for high-occupancy facilities, such as the dining hall and gym, and manned perimeter guard towers. (When the 152d redeployed in March 2006, the 10th BSB assumed responsibility for these missions.)


Countermobility, traditionally an engineering task, was another nonstandard mission for the BSB. In October 2005, and later in December, the Iraqis had an opportunity to ratify a constitution and elect members to the National Council of Representatives. To ensure violence-free polling places, the 1st Brigade emplaced barriers throughout its area of operations in Baghdad to block the path of potential suicide bombers determined to wreck the electoral process. For the first time, the BSB performed the decisive operation (an operation that has a firm or conclusive resolution). Using the crane from M985 heavy, expanded-mobility tactical trucks (HEMTTs), the BSB emplaced thousands of 2-ton barriers that were approximately 3 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Palletized load system (PLS) truck tractors provided additional haul capacity.

When it became apparent that the BSB would continue to be tasked to emplace barriers to provide security at local council halls or to bolster traffic control points, the battalion secured five heavy equipment transporter (HET) tractors and four trailers from a departing corps support battalion (CSB). These HETs were used to move 8-ton barriers (the largest that were available) and to transport a 221⁄2-ton crane that belonged to the 152d Maintenance Company. The crane gave the battalion the capacity to position barriers without depending on assets from the division.

When the HETs were fielded to the BSB, the support operations officer (SPO) arranged for the departing 87th CSB to conduct a driver and maintenance training program. Ten 10th BSB personnel participated in the 2-week training program, which culminated with the operator-trainees driving the HETs to Kuwait to support an equipment retrograde mission. Considering the challenges of driving a HET, the 2-week program was not long enough to train drivers properly. Therefore, training continued for weeks afterward, with the battalion’s previously licensed HET operators supervising the instruction. The 87th CSB’s maintenance training of 10th BSB mechanics included lessons learned in the harsh Iraqi environment.

In anticipation of the March 2006 departure of the 152d Maintenance Company, including its trained crane operators, the 10th BSB began an operator and maintainer training program so that the battalion would have trained operators and mechanics for the duration of its deployment. Using the 221⁄2-ton crane on loan from the 152d and a crane on loan from the 4th Sustainment Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, the 10th BSB was able to emplace barriers throughout Baghdad to establish traffic control points for the Iraqi National Police. These barriers significantly impeded the enemy’s freedom of maneuver. Having the cranes and trained operators and mechanics also permitted the brigade to respond quickly to division taskings without seeking support from outside elements.

B Company mechanics had to learn—on the fly—how to maintain the battalion’s new equipment. Although the 503d Maintenance Company’s maintenance support team provided some assistance with tracked-vehicle maintenance, B Company was still responsible for maintaining them.

Emergency Recovery

The BSB had the standard emergency recovery mission for all vehicles traversing the 1st Brigade’s area of operations. This involved the use of an M984 HEMTT wrecker and a PLS. If a vehicle could be towed, it went on the M984. If a vehicle could not be towed, it was winched onto a flatrack and placed on the PLS.

The 152d Maintenance Company’s assets included an M88 medium recovery vehicle, which had a 35-ton lift capacity. The M88 was on standby atop a HET as part of the brigade’s downed aircraft recovery team (DART). Because the division’s DART was located a considerable distance from Camp Liberty, the 10th BSB used the M88 to recover a helicopter that had crashed in the area. The M88 also was used to recover a truck mired in the mud outside the wire. These events again demonstrated the 10th BSB’s ability to support nonstandard missions.

Patient Evacuation

The 10th BSB’s medical company also was affected by the changes that occurred in the battalion. The medics of C Company provided patient ground evacuation from its troop medical clinic to the combat support hospital in central Baghdad when air evacuation was impractical.

Normally, a light medical company uses an M997 frontline ambulance to transfer patients. However, those light-skinned vehicles were not permitted outside the FOB because they offered patients no protection from enemy small-arms fire. Therefore, C Company used two M113A3 tracked ambulances that it had received from the 199th FSB when the 199th departed. These tracked vehicles had additional protective features, such as bar armor to provide 360-degree protection from rocket-propelled grenades and cupola armor to provide security for the track commander. The 10th BSB conducted a driver training program that produced licensed operators of vehicles that previously had been unfamiliar to the Soldiers of C Company.

C Company Soldiers also received crew-served weapons familiarization training. They had not been trained previously because the company’s modification table of organization and equipment did not include crew-served weapons. This training proved to be invaluable in providing force protection when C Company was called on to transfer a patient during a sandstorm.

Evolving Doctrine

FSCs are organic to a BSB but provide direct support to their assigned maneuver battalions. This could suggest that the BSB commander—the senior logistician in the BCT—could not marshal assets for a complex mission. However, during this deployment, the supported battalions were amenable to an occasional “slicing,” or diversion, of support to a brigade-mandated mission. Therefore, the BSB surged assets from the FSCs (and the base companies) when the situation dictated, such as when the BSB established two traffic control points simultaneously in a sector. During that operation—

  • HHC provided a convoy security element.
  • A Company provided hauling and lift assets.
  • The B and C Company commanders served as mission commanders.
  • D Company provided on-call recovery support.
  • E and F Companies provided additional hauling assets.
  • G Company provided security as the convoys departed the entry-control points.

The CSE was designed to have a “24/7” support capability. However, in some instances, the entire CSE deployed to support a mission. During those times, D Company—the FSC for the cavalry battalion— provided backup emergency recovery and medical evacuation support. D Company had a modest CSE element because it was responsible for supporting an FOB that was located a long distance from Camp Liberty.

When this article was written, the doctrine on command and control of FSCs was still being developed. As the 10th BSB illustrated during its deployment, new FSC command and control doctrine must be flexible so that an inventive BSB commander can surge assets as necessary.


Over the course of its deployment, the 10th BSB’s CSE transformed from a unit that simply protected convoys to one that performed a host of other security tasks. For example, the BSB decided to level a mound of dirt at an intersection because improvised explosive devices (IEDs) hidden in the mound by insurgents could cause significant damage if they were detonated as vehicles slowed down to negotiate the turn. The CSE secured the area along the highway and, in coordination with engineer assets, cleared the area. Other CSE missions involved escorting newly graduated Iraqi police officers and providing cordons around guard towers that were being built by contractors.

The 10th BSB had the distinction of being one of the first support battalions to launch its own Raven unmanned aerial vehicle. Because the battalion was close to Baghdad International Airport, considerable time and effort were invested in getting authorization for a restricted operating zone for the Raven. Soon after receiving authorization, the battalion’s pilots, who had attended a 2-week training session before deploying, routinely flew the Raven along convoy routes to provide pre-mission reconnaissance.

Systems and Processes

The BSB continually improved its systems and processes throughout its deployment. Because of the dynamic nature of the Iraq insurgency, the battalion could not afford to be complacent.

One of the BSB’s initiatives was the development of a convoy mission brief using a conglomeration of other mission briefs. The mission commander presented the resulting “go/no-go briefing” to the battalion commander 24 hours before each mission. This briefing resembled a mission briefing. It began with an intelligence assessment of the effects of weather on both friendly and enemy forces and updates on the proposed convoy route. The mission commander then discussed his vehicles and their readiness status, the route security plan, and actions that would be required to meet the convoy objective. The S–3 reported on adjacent units and the availability of attack aviation. The briefing closed with a review of communications systems and radio frequencies before the battalion commander approved or disapproved the mission. No stone was left unturned before the convoy rolled out.

Over time, it became evident that some parts of the briefing were redundant or simply irrelevant to the upcoming mission, so they were omitted. Other concerns, such as coordination with land-owning units and combat aviation units, remained essential briefing topics. It also became evident that representatives of customer units, such as U.S. advisers to Iraqi units, should be on hand during the go/no-go briefings to ensure that missions such as barrier emplacements were coordinated properly.

The go/no-go briefing was only one facet of the mission preparation process. When the CSE returned from a mission, its up-armored HMMWVs were driven immediately to the maintenance bays. Operators and automotive, communications, and armament mechanics technically inspected the vehicles as part of a preconvoy inspection maintenance program developed by B Company. If a vehicle could shoot, move, and communicate, it was dispatched for the next mission. If those three criteria were not met, the fault was quickly job-ordered for repair. The same process was used for other vehicles that had deployed outside the wire. The intent was to ensure that the CSE was prepared for a no-notice mission.

The support operations officer coordinated with the on-post contractor to provide crane support to A Company in case barriers had to be loaded for an upcoming mission. The battalion S–3, in coordination with the mission commander, submitted the required graphics and paperwork to the brigade’s aviation element to request attack aviation support.

IED Countermeasures

The BSB’s maintenance warrant officers were at the forefront of innovation. They were aware that IEDs were the greatest threat to the maneuver battalions that patrolled in the sector. To counter the IED attacks, the warrant officers developed both active and passive countermeasures that undoubtedly saved lives.


Because the 10th BSB was operating in a war zone, training was modified to reinforce lessons learned. For example, the S–3 secured a 25-meter, known-distance range four times a month for weapons training. The area was altered so that the training would replicate combat. The BSB Soldiers wore interceptor body armor, and they practiced going through green, amber, and red weapon statuses in preparation for a mission outside the wire. Rather than having to follow commands on a standard garrison range, Soldiers were told what the weapon status was, and they reacted accordingly. After the range fire was complete, the Soldiers performed buddy checks to make sure that no rounds were chambered in their weapons, just as Soldiers do when they return to the FOB after completing a convoy.

Taking advantage of a support relationship they had with a Special Forces detachment, the noncommissioned officers of A Company learned reflexive fire techniques from the detachment and subsequently trained other Soldiers in the company. B Company established a “bulldog competition,” which determined the best weapon system operator based on firing from a variety of seldom-trained positions. These examples of “outside the box” thinking exploited the unique opportunities available for training deployed Soldiers.

Although the 10th BSB was trained and ready for its deployment to Iraq, its success was due largely to its ability to anticipate changes in its environment and develop innovative solutions to the problems these changes presented. In order to build on its success, the 10th BSB—or any logistics unit that deploys to Iraq—must maintain an innovative mindset.

The challenges encountered in garrison are less daunting than those faced in combat. However, leaders and Soldiers in either setting should seek innovative ways to accomplish their missions. Rather than sticking to a schoolhouse solution, they should examine what worked in combat. The training environment should resemble combat conditions in Afghanistan or Iraq as closely as possible. No battalion should ever become complacent, because the enemy and the battlefield situation are constantly changing.

Major James J. McDonnell is the Executive Officer at the Center for Military History at Fort Lesley J. McNair, D.C. He served previously as the S–3 of the 10th Brigade Support Battalion, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), at Fort Drum, New York. He has a B.A. degree in politics from New York University and an M.B.A. degree in logistics and transportation from the University of Tennessee. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.

The author would like to thank Mary K. Blanchfield for her assistance in the preparation of this article. As a first lieutenant, she served as the operations officer for A Company of the 10th Brigade Support Battalion during its deployment to Iraq.