of the First SBCT at War
|by Lieutenant Colonel Dennis M. Thompson
The Army continues to implement the transformation
processes set in motion by General Erik K. Shinseki in October
One of the fruits of that transformation, the first Stryker
Brigade Combat Team (SBCT)—the 3d Brigade, or “Arrowhead
Brigade,” 2d Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis, Washington—deployed
in November 2003 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Arrowhead
BCT’s first major combat operation took place in and
around the city of Samarra. Having successfully completed that
mission, the brigade has settled into the Mosul area and has
the opportunity to report some of the combat service support
and combat health support lessons learned by the 296th Brigade
Support Battalion (BSB), which supported the brigade during
the Samarra operation. The motto of the 296th BSB is “Frontline
Support,” and its “Frontline Soldiers” lived
up to that motto during this operation.
|A 296th Brigade Support
Battalion convoy departs Field Operating Base Pacesetter
just before sunrise.
While the Arrowhead BCT operations focused primarily on Samarra,
soldiers from the 296th BSB were dispersed across an area of
operations equal in size to the
state of Connecticut. During the planning and execution of the support for this
operation, called “
Arrowhead Blizzard,” it became clear that, to be successful, we had to
think and operate far beyond the parameters established by Army planners in the
draft doctrine for BSB operations. For the benefit of Army doctrine writers and
other Stryker brigades that are preparing for operational deployments in the
future, I would like to relay some of the lessons learned during the support
of the Arrowhead
Brigade by the 296th BSB and others.
As part of its deployment preparation, the BSB participated in a rigorous training
program that began in July 2002 and culminated in its 2003 deployment. During
that time, the BSB supported brigade elements twice at the National Training
Center at Fort Irwin, California, once at the Joint Readiness Training Center
(JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and numerous times at the Yakima Training Center
in Washington and participated in several field training exercises at Fort Lewis.
After returning from the JRTC in early June 2003, the Arrowhead Brigade recovered
its equipment from several transportation nodes, including equipment that had
been used in a joint logistics-over-the-shore exercise.
After returning from leave, the 296th BSB soldiers developed a training plan
that would prepare them for deployment. At the same time, the combat repair teams
(CRTs) and field feeding teams were attached to supported battalions, which allowed
the BSB to retain Uniform Code of Military Justice and rating authority. This
relationship permitted the BSB’s soldiers to train and support according
to their supported unit’s schedule and minimized confusion or tension between
the battalion and the supported unit.
The BSB training plan was based on a stairstep approach that began with individual
survival skills, including focused individual and crew-served weapons training.
The next step—small-unit
collective training—concentrated on LOGPAC (logistics package) battle drills,
vehicle recovery, casualty evacuation, actions on contact, and convoy live-fire
By this time, the BSB was receiving a wealth of lessons learned from units already
operating in Iraq. From their experiences, we learned the importance of hardening
our soft-skinned vehicles and being able
to navigate and fire effectively from them. Continuous improvement of our LOGPAC
tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) was our number-one training priority
In September 2003, the Arrowhead Brigade conducted a warfighter simulation exercise
(SIMEX) in conjunction with a brigade field training exercise (FTX).
The SIMEX focused on our staging, onward movement, and integration operations
in western Iraq. This gave the BSB an opportunity to analyze the terrain and
time-distance factors for movement and to build a support concept for a brigade
operating across a dispersed battlespace. As a result, some of the support procedures
that we would use later in theater took shape.
Concurrent with the SIMEX, the BSB established operations at Fort Lewis to simulate
support from a built-up area. Not having to relocate to the field allowed our
forward maintenance company more time to repair and maintain the brigade’s
equipment in preparation for deployment. Because establishing the brigade support
area (BSA) in a built-up area was a first for us, we were forced to think differently
than we had before about support and force protection. Currently, we are conducting
support operations in a built-up area in Mosul.
During the FTX, we established LOGPAC standards that we continue to follow in
Iraq: no less than three vehicles in every convoy; at least two crew-served weapons
mounted on pedestal or ring mounts; use of the Force XXI Battle Command for Brigade
and Below system; an effective communications system; and at least one combat
This FTX gave our supporting corps support battalion its first opportunity to
work with the Arrowhead BCT. It takes time for non-Stryker units to understand
the unique Stryker brigade support structure. The FTX allowed both the corps
support battalion and the BSB to work together and develop a support relationship.
I highly recommend that all future SBCTs establish support relationships with
their echelons-above-brigade (EAB) element and include it in all training events.
A full understanding of the support enablers required and the limits and capabilities
of the BSB will foster a mutually beneficial support relationship between the
EAB element and the brigade.
The BSB’s first major task in Kuwait was to receive and move the brigade’s
equipment from the port of Ash Shuaybah, Kuwait, to Camp Udairi. To do this,
we stationed six soldiers at the port, including representatives from the support
operations transportation office, the brigade mobility cell, and the brigade
S–4. At Camp Udairi, we established a movement control team, led by the
support operations transportation officer, to track inbound convoys from the
port and report updates to the brigade tactical operations center as combat power
was built. We also deployed our support operations maintenance officer, our materiel
management officer, an ammunition technician, and a food service technician with
the brigade advance party to establish and open accounts and conduct liaison
with theater support agencies.
Key tasks for the BSB at Camp Udairi included receiving, accounting for, and
reconfiguring equipment; making several force protection modifications to the
Stryker, including installing slat armor; and conducting live-fire training.
This training consisted of hands-on drills on all weapons, intensive close-quarters
marksmanship training, IED [improvised explosive device] awareness, and, finally,
a 3-day convoy live-fire event in which soldiers fired from both sides of the
vehicle while moving. Without a doubt, this was the most important event we conducted
at Camp Udairi. Within hours of the start of the event, I could see soldiers’ confidence
grow enormously in their ability to handle their weapons safely and engage targets
The training forced our leaders to conduct troop-leading procedures within a
constrained timeline. This was a huge confidence builder for young leaders and
soldiers. It was inspiring to watch our soldiers aggressively, but with discipline,
engage targets on the move, form a “box” formation for security,
and recover simulated casualties and equipment while pulling security. The confidence
that this drill alone instilled in our soldiers cannot be overstated. This type
of training is an absolute must for all BSBs preparing to deploy. I also would
encourage more time be dedicated to IED detection and battle drills.
Most of the preparation and planning for the Arrowhead BCT’s first combat
operation was completed at Camp Udairi. Moving the brigade from Kuwait into position
near Samarra in Iraq required coordination with the 3d Corps Support Command,
4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), 64th Corps Support Group, Coalition Forces
Land Component Command, and Combined Joint Task Force 7 elements. A combined
arms rehearsal and a combat service support/combat health support rock drill
that focused on moving and operating within the brigade area of operations took
place on 12 November, and the brigade began to move on 2 December. Each main
body move took 2 days, with the final element closing into Forward Operating
Base (FOB) Pacesetter on 9 December.
After the Arrowhead BCT’s move, its mission was to “eliminate all
noncompliant forces in its area of operations, facilitate the establishment of
interim local governments, and support economic development in order to provide
a secure and stable environment for the smooth transitioning to a new Iraqi Government.” The
end state would be reached when the “SBCT had created a safe and secure
environment in the Diyala Province and transitioned the area of operations into
an environment where former regime loyalists are suppressed, an interim government
is established, and civil
|Through innovative thinking and plain old anticipatory
logistics, the BSB can support the brigade across a dispersed
battlefield and can split its resources to meet brigade
infrastructure restoration and economic development
Certain tasks were critical to attaining this end state. We
had to establish logistics communications connectivity across
the brigade and emplace liaisons
to coordinate support with the 7th Corps Support Group and the Stryker Forward
Repair Activity. We also had to make sure the BSB was at or near 100-percent
operational readiness, ensure that all unit basic loads were issued, and carry
4 days of supplies forward. The BSB was task-organized in a way that would guarantee
us an immediate support base at FOB Pacesetter; provide a logistics support team
for the 2d Battalion, 3d Infantry Regiment (2–3 Infantry Battalion), which
was attached to the 3d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division; ensure that EAB support
was established before we arrived at FOB Pacesetter; and provide force protection
throughout all operations.
Task organizing the BSB for this operation, although somewhat contrary to the
doctrinal design of the BSB, was essential to supporting the brigade across a
dispersed battlefield. The task organization consisted of the battalion pure,
minus the support team with the 2–3 Infantry Battalion; an Army Materiel
Command logistics support element team led by a chief warrant officer (W–4);
a group of 11 interim contractor logistics support Stryker mechanics to augment
the forward maintenance company effort; and an EAB forward logistics element
comprising a postal detachment and a shower, laundry, and clothing repair team.
The 2d Platoon of the 334th Signal Company provided habitual support to the BSB
tactical operations center. We placed an automated logistics noncommissioned
officer (NCO) at the theater distribution center in Arifjan, Kuwait, and a captain
and an ammunition NCO at the corps distribution center in Logistics Support Area
(LSA) Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, to serve as liaison officers and parts expediters.
The Anaconda team also conducted liaison with the 64th Corps Support Group; expedited
Arrowhead BCT supplies, with emphasis on class IX (repair and
spare parts); coordinated class V (ammunition) received from the ammunition supply
point at Anaconda and its distribution to the brigade; and assisted the logistics
support team supporting 2–3 Infantry Battalion.
The brigade operational set for this mission had the 2–3 Infantry Battalion
task-organized to the 3d (Stryker) Brigade,
4th Infantry Division. The 2–3 Infantry “Patriots” were operating
out of FOB Eagle just outside of LSA Anaconda. The 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry
Regiment (1–14 Cavalry Battalion), was charged with establishing area security
in order to isolate Objective Lewis (eastern Samarra), which would facilitate
clearance by the Infantry battalions. Once the cordons and traffic control points
were set, the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment (5–20 Infantry Battalion),
would move through the northern sector of the city to clear Samarra of noncompliant
forces in order to deny the enemy sanctuary. The 1st Battalion, 23d Infantry
Regiment (1–23 Infantry Battalion), moving into the southern end of the
city, would have the same mission, task, and purpose. The 1st Battalion, 37th
Field Artillery Regiment (1–37 Field Artillery Battalion) was tasked to
provide area and route security in the Lakewood and Tacoma areas of operations
in order to allow the brigade freedom of maneuver and prevent disruption of Arrowhead
BCT operations. The artillery battalion also ran the BCT’s forward detainee
transfer point site to hold noncompliant forces.
Since the 2–3 Infantry Battalion was detached from the Arrowhead Brigade,
the 296th BSB felt it essential that the 2–3 Infantry Battalion have a
robust support package to ensure their requirements were met while retaining
the ability to surge support to the 2–3’s companies as required.
We augmented the CRT with 7,600 gallons of fuel delivered on two M978 heavy,
expanded-mobility, tactical truck (HEMTT) fuel tankers, each carrying 2,300 gallons
of fuel and pulling a load-handling system (LHS) trailer that carried three 500-gallon
fuel blivets, which gave us flexibility to position fuel assets in several locations;
four HEMTT–LHSs carrying six 500-gallon water blivets each; 3 days’ supply
of meals, ready to eat; bottled water; and additional packaged class III (petroleum,
oils, and lubricants), class IV (construction and barrier materials), and class
We also augmented the CRT with an electronic maintenance and generator repair
capability. This augmentation consisted of 6 soldiers in addition to the 18 that
usually support the battalion. The augmented CRT, combined with the fuel, water,
and transportation assets, replicated the support platoon concept found in legacy
maneuver battalions and simultaneously conducted distribution-based logistics
from LSA Anaconda for all classes of supply except IX. We pushed
|Stryker combat vehicles wait to
provide security for a convoy that is ready to roll
out of Camp Udairi, Kuwait.
repair parts from FOB Pacesetter and LSA Anaconda.
The Stryker Forward Repair Activity at LSA Anaconda also provided
repair parts for the Strykers when required.
To support operations in the northern sector of the brigade’s area of operations,
we collocated a forward logistics element (FLE) with the 1–37 detainee
transfer site. The FLE had rations, six 500-gallon blivets of water, six 500-gallon
blivets of fuel, ammunition, and two medical evacuation squads. This element
provided support to the 1–14 Cavalry, 5–20 Infantry, and 1–37
Field Artillery Battalions, while a similar package was collocated in the 1–23
Infantry Battalion’s combat trains command post area to provide forward
support at the infantry battalion level. The remainder of the BSB supported the
Arrowhead BCT from FOB Pacesetter by pushing LOGPACs every other day along Main
Supply Route Dover (the southern route to the 1–23 Infantry Battalion)
and Alternate Supply Route Grape (the northern route to the 5–20 Infantry,
1–14 Cavalry, and 1–37 Field Artillery Battalions). Company C, 52d
Infantry Battalion, maintained route security. Following the baseline established
by the Arrowhead BCT, each convoy consisted of at least four vehicles, and we
usually had at least six crew-served weapons at the ready when we departed FOB
Pacesetter. Our TTP also provided for an advance element (two high-mobility,
multipurpose, wheeled vehicles with crew-served weapons and communications capability)
to screen the route and a trail party (with the same configuration) to provide
rear security and conduct actions on contact. This may seem costly in terms of
vehicles and soldiers, but it is cheap when compared to the payoff in force protection
andthe value of a show of strength.
Therefore, as the Arrowhead BCT began operations, the BSB positioned tailored
support teams in three different locations throughout the area of operations.
The remain-der of the BSB provided support from FOB Pacesetter. Although distances
from the FOB to any point were relatively short (not longer than 30 miles), our
resources were spread thin with minimal to no redundancy in place. Concepts developed
and refined during our 18-month train-up for this operation
were proven to work in combat operations. Our every-other-day LOGPAC to companies
provided “as ordered” sustainment
down to the company level and minimized the exposure time of our drivers and
equipment. Forward positioning of medical, fuel, and water assets also allowed
us to minimize our time on the road and to have mobile, responsive support forward
on the battlefield where it was needed. From lessons learned at the training
centers, we modified our distribution TTP so that, instead of dropping flatracks
at logistics release points, we simply dropped the required sustainment (usually
packed on wooden pallets) on site and drove away with our flatracks. This “combat
offload” allowed us to retain control of our flatracks.
Perhaps the biggest overall lesson we learned is that the BSB must be prepared
to task-organize and flex in order to support the SBCTs. During the development
of the BSB doctrine, we were constantly reminded of the need to reduce the logistics
footprint and to plan and forecast requirements accurately and on time in order
for the limited BSB assets to be able to support the SBCTs successfully. Our
experiences thus far in supporting the Arrowhead BCT have shown that, through
innovative thinking and plain old anticipatory logistics, the BSB can support
the brigade across a dispersed battlefield and can split its resources to meet
brigade requirements. We have proven that the structure can readily support various
maneuver battalion concepts of operation simultaneously. Because of this agility,
we have routinely task-organized several
different support elements depending on the brigade or battalion operational
Other examples of how we have flexed our organization include the following—
• We positioned our medical company assets across the battlefield and forward-positioned
evacuation ambulances with each battalion main aid station. This is routine in
most medical companies in forward support battalions across the Army. However,
we have taken our medical coverage one step further and split our treatment assets
to give us split level II medical care capability. (Level II care includes physician-directed
resuscitation and stabilization and may include advanced trauma management, emergency
medical procedures, and forward resuscitative surgery.)
• During the Samarra battle, we positioned a treatment team and a doctor
forward with two frontline ambulances at each of the two FLE locations to provide
enhanced medical care forward on the battlefield.
• We forward-positioned fuel and water blivets in order to store and issue
retail fuel and water at the maneuver battalion level and thus reduce the frequency
and the density of LOGPACs to each battalion location. Augmentation of each CRT
with additional electronics, armament, and generator repair capability minimized
the volume of equipment required to evacuate to the BSA.
• As the maneuver task organization changed, we reorganized our maintenance
support to reflect the changes and added or deleted units to the major unit’s
Unit-Level Logistics System-Ground terminal. We “pulse” maintenance
capability forward when needed to augment the CRTs that provide support for more
than the normal maneuver battalion organization.
As important as it is for BSB’s to be flexible, it is equally necessary
for EAB support organizations to understand the SBCT support concept and the
BSB organization. Multiple logistics reporting chains, with numerous agencies
asking for the status of our brigade, become burdensome and tedious. Although
the BSB is not designed to do so, we often have been required to send assets
rearward to pick up supplies and evacuate equipment. Just as we must be flexible
and change our task organization and our troop-to-task list to support the fight,
EAB organizations also must be flexible. Mobility for the brigade and battalion
is lessened unless the supporting logistics architecture is flexible and able
to conduct distribution-based logistics.
Although plenty of assets may be positioned in theater, units often have no way
to get them without resorting to supply point distribution. Implementation of
strategic-configured loads will assist theater assets and the BSB greatly in
providing distribution. (To date, BSB soldiers have done most of the load configuration.)
Admittedly, much of what we do is no different from what forward support battalions
do every day when deployed. However, we have capabilities that they do not, such
as materiel management center capabilities in the support operations section,
embedded civilians, organic preventive medicine, and laboratory and x ray facilities.
At the end of the day, it’s all about providing first-rate assistance to
the supported unit.
Now that we are in Mosul, our concept of operations and support has changed in
keeping with our brigade’s mission and the existing support infrastructure.
What hasn’t changed is the BSB’s ability to provide tailored and “before
they need it” support across the area of operations and rapidly transition
its support structure from one mission set to the next.
I am privileged to serve with an innovative and enthusiastic group of young leaders
who work assiduously to ensure we are providing support in the best possible
manner. The “Frontline Soldiers” of the 296th BSB are the unsung
heroes in what we do. Every day, I am in awe of the professional and disciplined
manner in which our soldiers carry out their mission and the great attitude they
maintain. All of the soldiers in the battalion truly support like champions.
I also must give credit to the external organizations that have assisted us.
The Arrowhead BCT Logistics Support Element; the Program Manager-Stryker; the
interim contract logistics support Stryker mechanics; the Stryker Brigade Coordination
Cell at Fort Lewis; the Arrowhead BCT Central Technical Support Facility; and
the Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia, are but a few of
the organizations that have played critical roles in our ability to provide support.
So far, the operation truly has been an “Army Team” success story.
The lessons learned that I have presented have been compiled from information
provided by many frontline support leaders. We hope that these lessons will be
of value to follow-on BSBs and show that the BSB and the fundamental support
concept for the Stryker Brigades provide a viable framework on which each unit
must build its own support approach. ALOG
Lieutenant Colonel Dennis M. Thompson is
the Commander of the 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3d
Stryker Brigade Combat
Team, 2d Infantry Division. Previously, he was the Chief of
the Logistics Branch of the Stryker Brigade Coordination Cell
at Fort Lewis, Washington. He has a master’s degree in
geography from Pennsylvania State University.