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CJTF–76 Tackles Reconstitution in the Harsh Afghan Environment

Reconstitution of a unit can be difficult and time-consuming under the best of circumstances. However, when you try to reconstitute a unit that has been in extended combat operations in a harsh environment such as Afghanistan, you must plan for significant challenges.

Army Field Manual 100–9, Reconstitution, defines reconstitution as “extraordinary action that commanders plan and implement to restore units to a desired level of combat effectiveness commensurate with mission requirements and available resources.” A commander takes this action when a unit becomes combat ineffective or when the circumstances and time are right to reconstitute, allowing him to shape and set the conditions for future operations.

During July and August 2006, Combined/Joint Task Force (CJTF)–76, under the lead of Task Force Muleskinner, Joint Logistics Command, planned and executed a reconstitution. The combined capabilities of all brigades in the newly transformed 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) had to be pulled together, managed, and coordinated for maximum efficiency and responsiveness. Both anticipation and detailed planning were critical to the success of this effort.

The Combined Joint Distribution Cell, which served as Task Force Muleskinner Command Post Forward in order to coordinate all coalition logistics assets in Regional Command South to support Operation Mountain Thrust, led the reconstitution effort. Varying capabilities of support units became apparent early during reconstitution planning.

The concept used to determine necessary resources was “places, parts, people, preparation, tools, training, and time.” The success of the reconstitution effort could be attributed to the collective efforts of two brigade support battalions (BSBs); an aviation support battalion; Army Field Support Battalion-Afghanistan; a medical task force; Kellogg, Brown, and Root; and the Counter Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Task Force. For example, the 297th BSB provided the bays and washracks (place), conducted detailed rehearsals (preparation), and orchestrated an efficient round-robin schedule for maintenance and enhancements (time). Likewise, Army Field Support Battalion-Afghanistan provided special tools and critical, intensively-managed repair parts, and the aviation support battalion augmented the efforts with additional mechanics (people).

The units being reconstituted—2d Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment (Task Force Catamount), from Fort Drum, New York, and 2d Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade (Task Force Warrior), from Fort Polk, Louisiana— made up the combined arms team that had been engaged in combat operations fighting Taliban remnants in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Tactical Moves

Before beginning extended operations, the units conducted tactical moves, which in some cases covered several hundred miles, from Regional Command East to Regional Command South. For example, just to make it to the southern portion of the country, 2–87 Infantry units had to disengage the enemy in eastern Afghanistan and travel hundreds of miles over harsh terrain while coming under fire from enemy forces. Once in the south, all of the units briefly stopped in Kandahar to execute one final conditions check and address minor problems before moving into the target area of operations. While moving into position, the Soldiers were under almost constant observation and harassment fire as they pushed deep into insurgent strongholds in southern Afghanistan to conduct decisive operations. Many of the valleys where decisive operations were being conducted had not seen a U.S. presence since right after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, if ever.

The move alone would create logistics and maintenance nightmares for any unit. The terrain in Afghanistan ranges from rugged mountains towering more than 23,000 feet above sea level to vast swathes of desert where summertime temperatures frequently soar above 130 degrees and blinding sandstorms reduce visibility to a few feet. Between the mountain peaks, rivers and streams snake through deep valleys and surge in the summer months from the melting snows. The road system is primitive. Most roads are nothing more than a narrow path carved into the side of a mountain. Few paved roads exist, and those are found primarily in the urban areas.

Operation Mountain Thrust

When Operation Mountain Thrust began, Task Forces Catamount and Warrior entered into extended combat operations. They battled an elusive enemy who preferred using improvised explosive devices to fighting toe-to-toe with the task forces. The Soldiers also battled the summer heat, storms, and terrain.

Battle damage ranged from minor damage to catastrophic loss. However, most of the damage to the vehicles in Catamount’s fleet was caused by the rough terrain and the weight of the vehicles. The fully up-armored vehicles had many suspension and
drive-train problems. But the environment is what took the biggest toll on Soldiers, equipment, and personal and crew-served weapons.

Despite the toll that the environment, fighting, and other factors took on the vehicles and equipment, the fleets were not in shambles when they rolled into Kandahar for the second time. This was because the maintenance teams had fully anticipated and planned for most problems they would encounter. Maintenance was critical because of the remoteness of the area in which the Soldiers were operating and because of the enemy situation.

During combat operations, the most feasible resupply method was by rotary-wing aircraft or Containerized Delivery System drop. With both planes and helicopters in short supply, critical parts and supplies often had to compete for space.

Reconstitution

When combat operations concluded, Task Forces Catamount and Warrior moved to Kandahar Airfield for a major reconstitution effort. This location was chosen because of the proximity of maintenance, ammunition, and general support assets. It featured a runway capable of handling a wide variety of military fixed-wing aircraft, was in the return path of movement, and provided the facilities, equipment, and personnel needed for reconstitution.

Headed by the Combined Joint Distribution Cell (CJDC), the reconstitution task force consisted of many units that came from a variety of task forces and performed a variety of services.

The Joint Logistics Command used the CJDC to provide on-site command and control. Initially, the CJDC helped expedite the flow of supplies and equipment during combat operations. But as operations began to wind down, the CJDC began focusing on regenerating combat power as the Joint Logistics Command Forward and the command and control for reconstitution.

Because of the wide variety of units coming together to execute this complex mission, the CJDC staff was faced with challenges in ensuring everything from maintenance to personnel recovery was happening as planned. To accomplish this, two things were done. First, the task force being reconstituted was operationally attached to the CJDC. This gave the CJDC commander the flexibility and authority to ensure that all assets were in the proper places at the proper times. Second, the CJDC commander and his staff actively conducted updates with the units going through reconstitution and those performing the reconstitution. The objective was for logistics operations to serve as a combat multiplier and not a constraint.

In addition to ensuring the vehicles and equipment were fully mission capable, the maintenance teams also made sure every vehicle had the most up-to-date protection enhancements. This included installing the most advanced counter-IED technologies and ensuring that each vehicle had a complete up-armor enhancement package.

While the vehicles were going through the maintenance process, it became evident that a vehicle identification method was needed. The reconstituting units had a variety of vehicle markings; however, none of them were standardized. Tracking vehicles in the enhancement and repair process called for a system to identify each vehicle quickly and easily. As each vehicle entered the process, it was assigned a number that was displayed on the vehicle. A tracking board was established to track the vehicles through the process by their assigned numbers.

Commanderís Assessment

The Joint Logistics Command, headquartered at Bagram Airfield 200 miles to the north, headed the reconstitution and provided oversight and guidance during the planning and execution phases. One of the key factors in making the reconstitution process a success was anticipating units’ needs and moving critical parts to Kandahar before the process began. An important piece of this process was the assessment made by the commander of the unit being reconstituted. This assessment allowed planners to position all of the necessary material and equipment so the process could be completed in a timely manner. Having the right parts and equipment in place before the process began was critical.

For this reconstitution effort, the commander’s assessment was done in an unconventional way. Task Force Catamount and Task Force Warrior were both in contact with the enemy before their disengagement in Kandahar. Because of this, vehicles and equipment could not be evaluated as thoroughly as planners would have liked. To circumvent this, extensive planning and coordination was done over secure connections provided by the Very Small Aperture Terminal. This terminal allowed all task force planners to come together and establish an accurate picture of the status of the equipment and vehicle fleets.

The Army Materiel Command mechanics and technicians of Army Field Support Battalion-Afghanistan, based at Bagram Airfield, also played a key role. They were responsible not only for giving each vehicle a full inspection and fixing any faults but also for installing the most current up-armor enhancements and servicing all communications and night-vision equipment and weapons. (See related article AMC Support to Reconstitution in Afghanistan.)

Taking Care of Soldiers

In addition to vehicle and equipment maintenance, a strong emphasis was placed on giving the individual Soldier a brief tactical pause and a chance to reconnect to the outside world. From the moment the Soldiers first pulled into the reconstitution area, they were treated very well. As part of this reception process, their vehicles were marshaled, they were shown their living quarters, they received an in-brief on what to expect, and they received a complete sundry pack, a new Army combat uniform, and a towel. Cold soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks also were readily available to compensate for temperatures that were still in excess of 100 degrees at night.

“ I think everyone was surprised when we got here,” said Army Specialist Bryan Garrett of C Company, 2–87 Infantry. “We thought we would be doing a lot of work when we got back, but fortunately we barely had to do anything.”

Another facet of this reconstitution that was different was the role performed by Soldiers, in particular the organic support personnel and mechanics in the units being reconstituted. No Soldiers, including mechanics and logisticians, were allowed to work on a vehicle, other than to conduct preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS). After the initial PMCS, if a Soldier was needed, he was present to facilitate, but his primary focus during the reconstitution process was on getting his personal affairs in order and enjoying the amenities that Kandahar had to offer.

Personnel, finance, legal, medical, religious support, and various other stations were set up for the Soldiers to cycle through. Ample morale, welfare, and recreation opportunities also were made available, including an Internet café and a phone bank for calling family and loved ones. The Soldiers were even given a good taste of home cooking.

“ I am really thankful for all the stuff that was done for us,” said Army Private First Class Jonathan Maxwell, a scout with A Troop, 3d Squadron, 71st Calvary Regiment. “Nothing builds morale better than coming back, relaxing, and having a freshly grilled cheeseburger.”

The goal of CJTF–76 and the Reconstitution Task Force and its associated units was to get each task force through the entire process and back to the fight in 6 to 8 days. Overall, the reconstitution effort was extremely successful. This was best captured when the 10th Mountain Division and CJTF–76 Commander, Major General Benjamin C. Freakley, visited the site and said, “This is logistics at its best.”

The Reconstitution Task Force accomplished a monumental feat in reconstituting more than 5,000 pieces of equipment. Every person involved put in long hours under extreme and arduous conditions, living up to the Task Force Muleskinner motto, “Giving the shirts off our backs and boots off our feet to support the fight.”
ALOG

Sergeant First Class Michael J. Rautio is the Public Affairs Operations Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) for the 10th Sustainment Brigade Troops Battalion and is currently deployed to Afghanistan. He has a B.S. degree in political science from Oregon State University and is a graduate of the Primary Leadership Development Course, the Basic NCO Course, and the Joint Course on Communication.