|Instilling Innovation in Iraq
|by Major James J. McDonnell
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.
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
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.
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.)
of the 10th BSB load barriers
that will be emplaced throughout Baghdad to establish
traffic control points for the Iraqi National Police.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
A Company provided hauling and
The B and C Company commanders
served as mission commanders.
D Company provided on-call recovery
E and F Companies provided additional
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
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.
is one of five heavy equipment transporter (HET)
tractors obtained from a departing corps support
battalion. The HETs were used to move 8-ton barriers
and transport a 221⁄2-ton crane that belonged
to the 152d Maintenance Company.
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
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
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
The go/no-go briefing was only one facet of the mission
preparation process. When the CSE returned from a mission,
HMMWVs were driven immediately to the maintenance bays.
Operators and automotive, communications, and armament
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
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.
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
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
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.