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Modular BSBs in Operation Iraqi Freedom

The modular units now on the ground in Iraq are very different from the support units that helped drive Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. Modular brigade support battalions (BSBs) first deployed to the theater of operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 04–06. These OIF 04–06 deployments tested new combat service support (CSS) modular design concepts, organizations, and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP).

I had the good fortune to observe and collect information on these modular CSS units as a Center for Army Lessons Learned liaison officer with the 3d Infantry Division during OIF 04–06. I was able to spend time with each modular support battalion to collect lessons learned, TTP, and general modular information.

Transformation Activities and Deployment

After returning from OIF 1, the 3d Infantry Division began transforming to a modular design. This undertaking was enormous, and the modular design changed as issues arose and solutions were found. However, the 3d Infantry Division had to deploy to OIF 04–06 before it could finish converting to the modular design. As a result, the two 3d Infantry Division brigade combat teams (BCTs) that deployed (2d BCT and 4th BCT) were only partially modular-enabled.

During OIF 04–06, the 3d Infantry Division served as the headquarters for Multinational Division-Baghdad (MND–B). MND–B’s task organization included four modular BCTs and one traditional Army of Excellence (AOE) BCT. Two of the MND–B modular BCTs were from the 3d Infantry Division, and the other two were the 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), and the 2d Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). The 10th Mountain Division and the 101st Airborne Division BCTs were organized according to current modular force designs, while the 3d Infantry Division’s BCTs were organized under an older modular force design. In the older design, support battalions report to the division support brigade. In the new design, these battalions are organic to the BCT.

Each of the transforming BCTs faced similar issues. They all were working simultaneously on transformation and deployment missions. Equipment and personnel often did not arrive until deployment time. Many positions were unfilled or filled with Soldiers just out of advanced individual training (AIT) or officer basic or advanced courses. Other authorized equipment and vacant positions were not filled at all.

Transformation Effects on Units and Leadership

The pace of change in the Army has necessitated a “learn as you go” philosophy for the BSBs. Units that are deployed or preparing to deploy and those in the process of transforming to a modular design find it difficult to keep abreast of emerging and changing doctrine. Therefore, commanders are relying on CSS White Papers and PowerPoint presentations for modular force guidance. New logistics doctrine was not released before the deployments, and service schools have not had time to integrate modular concepts into their curriculums. Soldiers attending AIT and the Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Education System schools and officers attending basic and advanced courses are getting only an introduction to the modular concept before they are assigned to units that have already transformed.

Since the entire Army is changing, time has not been available to train everyone on the new CSS modular force concepts and structure. This is an issue both inside and outside the CSS community. One forward support company (FSC) first sergeant said it took him a month to realize that he was not in a company in the supported battalion but in a company of the BSB.

Transforming While at War

In a perfect world, transformation would have occurred when the Army was not at war, but that is not the case. Deployed units are working through theory in the face of reality. Even though the new organizations are modular, many people in the Army still have an AOE mindset. The FSC is a good example of this point.

One of the key features of the BCT modular force is the continued use of the FSC with the combined arms battalions developed under Force XXI. The FSC is a multifunctional unit that includes a distribution platoon and a maintenance platoon organized to provide support to a maneuver battalion. Four FSCs are organic to the BSB, one for each battalion in the BCT. In the AOE, support platoons in the maneuver battalions were the main logistics providers. The FSC is not a support platoon, and it is not organic to the combat arms maneuver battalion. Rather, it has a direct support-type role.

Under transformation, the FSC provides logistics support to the maneuver battalion. The supported battalion’s S–4 is still the main logistics planner. However, the FSC commander assists the S–4 in developing plans that are based on the battalion commander’s guidance. The FSC commander also works with the battalion executive officer (XO) to synchronize support. The support platoon of the combined arms battalion is removed from the battalion’s headquarters and headquarters company. The only CSS function that remains organic to the maneuver battalion is medical support.

The new, robust BSB is a combat multiplier for the brigade commander, who now owns his own support. It is a more robust organization than the forward support battalion it replaced; it has base companies and FSCs to support all the brigade combined arms battalions.

The BSB in OIF

BSBs deploying to Iraq face several issues that affect their support missions. These issues include the type of equipment and vehicles that they fall in on when they arrive, the impact of basing logistics at forward operating bases (FOBs), and the area support mission they are required to perform in theater.

Units deploying to Iraq often fall in on stay-behind equipment and theater-provided equipment that is not part of their standard modification table of organization and equipment (MTOE). For example, an infantry BCT might fall in on M1070 heavy equipment transporters, M113 armored personnel carriers, and other armored vehicles. This situation, in addition to the large number of M1114 up-armored high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicles (humvees) in the theater of operations, affects the Infantry BSB’s support capabilities because it is not designed to maintain heavy equipment and does not have the resources to support it. So, to support tracked and wheeled vehicles, the BSB must augment its maintenance capabilities. Even with additional maintenance assets, the second and third order effects are far-reaching. The BCT must have a prescribed load list (PLL) and authorized stockage list (ASL), and someone must understand how to use them. Heavy BCTs have better historical maintenance and operational experience in trends for maintenance than the Infantry BCTs have. Fortunately, the 1st BCT, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), and 2d BCT, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), have wheeled maintenance personnel who have served as mechanized mechanics at some point in their careers, which helped them meet the additional demands. However, seemingly minor items, such as vehicle licensing, TTP, and operator maintenance, also add to the complexity that units face in Iraq.

FOB-based logistics plays a substantial role in BSB operations. Contractors perform several support missions, such as dining facility, water, and class III (fuel) operations, at many FOBs. Since BSBs are static and partially augmented with personnel and equipment for their support, one BSB commander felt that his unit had a false sense of security concerning its logistics capabilities in a kinetic environment. The main concerns for the heavy BCTs center around fuel, water, and materials handling outside this static environment.

The change to a container-based logistics system also has affected support. BSBs do not have organic, trained container management personnel or the appropriate equipment. With the container-based system, BSBs need additional forklifts, cranes, and rough-terrain container handlers. The volume of containers is much higher than many units realize before they deploy. The high volume of supplies at FOBs creates a situation in which the availability of materials-handling equipment can become a single point of failure. Therefore, units need additional M1077 palletized load system flatracks to accommodate the heavy container load.

In many FOBs in Iraq, the area support burden falls on the BSB. OIF FOBs include not only units from the BCT but also many units and personnel from the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army Special Forces; embassy personnel; contractors; local-national base support staff; Department of Defense (DOD) civilians; and other coalition partners. One BSB that had the area support mission for the International Zone in Baghdad supported almost 14,000 personnel. A second supported a 1,200-Soldier military police battalion. Force-protection missions on base camps often are a drain on BSB personnel when units have to supply gate guards, tower guards, and Soldiers to support dining facilities and morale, welfare, and recreation facilities. In the future, combat training centers should include area support requirements to simulate this increased demand for the support operations (SPO) section. The center of gravity for the traditional AOE FSBs was the maintenance company; for modular force BSBs, it is the distribution company.

Forward Support Companies

Although FSCs are organic to the BSB and provide direct support to the combined arms battalion, some supported battalion commanders still view these units as their own and some do not like the fact that they cannot completely control the company. However, FSC capabilities are enhanced over those of an AOE battalion support platoon. An FSC can get help from the BSB to accomplish mission support when requirements exceed its capabilities. No single career path is best for an FSC commander or XO. Ideally, officers assigned to these positions should have previous experience in both distribution and maintenance operations. However, maintenance experience probably would be more beneficial to FSC officers assigned to a heavy BCT, while those assigned to an Infantry BCT would benefit more from distribution experience. Branch detail officers have a good understanding of combined arms battalion missions and seem to better translate requirements passed to FSCs from the supported battalions. FSC commanders also benefit from experience in a SPO shop, distribution company, or maintenance company.

FSCs currently have several limitations that must be addressed. First, additional materials-handling equipment should be added to MTOEs to meet support mission lift requirements. Next, the number of personnel in some of the FSC’s low-density military occupational specialties (MOSs), such as those who perform small arms repair or communications and electronics repair, should be increased. In the AOE, the maintenance company had substantial ground support, electronic, and missile equipment sections to support the brigade. Under the modular design, these personnel were redistributed. Some were retained in the maintenance company, while others were moved to the FSCs. However, as an example, there is only one E–4 10-level position for each of these low-density positions in each FSC. Based on the MTOE, the 10-level E–4 reports to the motor sergeant in the maintenance section. BSBs have expressed a concern about their ability to provide mentoring, training, and backup for these low-density MOS personnel.

Because of this critical issue, one BSB SPO tracked rest-and-relaxation leave for these personnel to ensure repair coverage, while another BSB removed the personnel from the FSCs and consolidated them under the maintenance company. One suggestion proposed adding an E–6 30-level supervisor to each FSC to help allay some of these issues. A truck master also could be added to support the heavy distribution missions performed by the FSC. Lastly, an additional automated logistical specialist (MOS 92A) is needed to operate and manage all of the automated systems effectively.

Security Missions

One of the key issues for any OIF unit is security. A well-postured, prepared, and trained security presence is essential for both combat patrols and combat logistics patrols. BSBs and other logistics units do not have organic security elements. Many units in Iraq actually develop a platoon or team to provide security for combat logistics patrols and to act as personal security teams. The Army should consider adding a security section to future designs of the BSB.

Combat logistics platoons are composed of 30 to 60 Soldiers of varying backgrounds. In Iraq, contractors perform some of the distribution company’s normal mission, leaving the distribution company’s Soldiers available for the security mission. BSB security platoons typically include maintenance Soldiers and enough medics to satisfy mission requirements. A key task is identifying security platoon leaders. Beyond the platoon leader and platoon sergeant, identifying squad leaders and NCOs to serve as vehicle commanders is also critical. Once assembled, the security platoon needs to have a home, so some BSBs place this platoon under the headquarters and headquarters company or the distribution company.

Once a security platoon is manned, its Soldiers must be trained on individual and collective tasks. Since the operating tempo in garrison often prevents Soldiers from enhancing basic combat arms skills or obtaining experience with crew-served weapons, every Soldier needs time to train on the many tasks they will have to perform as part of the platoon. They also must be trained to operate equipment or systems such as radios, FBCB2 (Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below), Blue Force Tracker, and Warlock (an improvised explosive jamming device).

Collective training should be extensive since the unit must train on the latest TTP and vignettes in convoy operations. Several units have contracted with private companies to conduct basic force-protection training. Some combat training centers are using TTP that are outdated for the Iraqi theater. This makes relief-in-place training crucial because battle drills and an understanding of current TTP are essential components of security element training.

Training on the M1114 up-armored humvee is also very important. This vehicle handles much differently than a standard humvee and requires familiarization training for all drivers and members of the security platoon. The interior also contains more equipment than the standard humvee, and the Soldiers need to become familiar with operating in the constrained space.

Manning, organizing, and training the security platoon is best accomplished before deployment. Often, units discover this need only after predeployment site surveys are completed in theater, which leaves limited time to accomplish all necessary tasks before deployment. However, priorities and limited equipment in theater render training for security platoons nearly impossible.


Soldiers in Iraq continue to display ingenuity. This holds true for many Soldiers in the BSB. They continue to modify equipment to improve safety and security. For example, units are using discarded windows to construct a cupola to enhance protection for M1114 gunners, installing gunners’ restraint systems, mounting additional lights, building gun racks, and developing two-patient litters for M1114s.

The new modular CSS organization provides robust capabilities for the BCT. The continuation of many Force XXI initiatives, such as the FSC concept, has proven effective in OIF. Although some issues surfaced during OIF 04–06, the overall effectiveness and abilities of modular BSBs have been tested and proven.

Major Thomas J. Foster, KSARNG, is the G–4 for the 35th Infantry Division at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was embedded with the 3d Infantry Division for the Center for Army Lessons Learned in Operation Iraqi Freedom 04–06. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Quartermaster Officer Advanced Course, the Army Command and General Staff College, and the Army Combined Arms and Services Staff School.