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Building a FOB From the Ground Up

In early January 2007, 4 years after Operation Iraqi Freedom began, President George W. Bush announced a plan to bring security to chaotic Baghdad. In addition to changing the combat focus of the troops that were already on the ground, the President ordered the deployment of close to 20,000 troops to the region to assist with the Baghdad security plan. This strategy, devised at the highest echelons, raised this question: Where would the incoming troops be located? Part of the solution to this dilemma was to locate the entire 3d Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 3d Infantry Division at a range complex just east of the capital city. Called Butler Range, this patch of land in the Iraqi desert looked starkly different from most of the forward operating bases (FOBs) of this well-established war effort.

Located in an austere environment, Butler Range lacked almost all of the conveniences that other FOBs enjoyed. There were no dining facilities in sight, no showers to speak of, and no established sleep or work areas. The only protection the location offered was a berm and a few guard towers. Clearly, something needed to be done about the condition of this soon-to-be FOB, so the order came down through the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) to the 15th Sustainment Brigade to make it happen. Planning began for accommodating the 4,000 Soldiers and Airmen who would soon occupy the land.

Assembling the Team

The 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB) had been on the ground in Iraq for only 8 days when it was tasked to command a forward logistics element (FLE). The FLE, made up of units from throughout the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), was tasked with establishing the logistics infrastructure for the FOB. In the middle of learning their new combat mission, the battalion had to change focus, assemble the required components—a maintenance support team (MST), a fuel team, and a class I (subsistence) supply team—and deploy in less than 72 hours.

The timeline was short, and little time was available to get familiar with their subordinate units. The 598th Maintenance Company from Fort Benning, Georgia, arrived in Iraq a few days after the 68th CSSB’s headquarters, and the 192d Quartermaster Company from Milan, Ohio, arrived the day the CSSB got word of the FLE mission. This prompted the battalion commander to appoint members of his own staff—the support operations officer and the noncommissioned officer in charge—to lead the FLE. Then, the rush began to get the team on the ground and prepared to execute.


The 68th CSSB received word of the FLE mission at the tail end of their transfer of authority (TOA) with the 393d Corps Support Battalion. Unfamiliar with their new subordinate units, they had to trust that they would receive the best Soldiers to complete this mission. As an echelons-above-division unit, the CSSB did not have the luxury of deploying with its organic units and, therefore, lacked familiarity with their strengths and weaknesses.

With less than 72 hours between the notice of the FLE’s operation and the execution, the time for mission analysis was limited. There was practically no time to send up requests for information and get questions about the mission answered. There was little direct communication with the units already at Butler Range. No one on the ground could give accurate feedback on the current situation of the site, so the FLE had to make many assumptions. They packed their containers and moved out just 4 days after the first whisper of the mission.

The advanced stage of the war made this task more difficult than most would expect. For one, few in the theater anticipated this mission, making contingency planning for the FLE nonexistent. Most unit missions in Iraq had been so well established and forecasted that units commonly left home station without the ability to conduct contingency operations.

Another problem was that contractors in Iraq had been providing most of the theater-quality life support and even some of the regular Army logistics functions. The prevalence of contracted dining facilities meant that few units still maintained mobile kitchen trailers in theater. Needless to say, the ration cycle had to be straight meals, ready-to-eat (MREs) for the FLE until a more suitable long-term solution was devised. Contractors also had been responsible for much of the water support. The FLE’s inability to produce their own potable water supply posed a problem; instead of the FLE being able to purify it themselves, water had to be trucked in from nearby FOBs. Someone also made the assumption that the FOB needed portable latrines; after all, other FOBs had them. Instead of digging an old-fashioned ditch, portable latrines were emplaced. But, unlike those other FOBs, no contracts were in place to service the latrines. No elaboration is needed to explain what happened as a result.

On the Ground

The FLE had little rest once they arrived. Tents had to be constructed for work and living areas before the operating tempo became too great. At the same time, they began accepting a steady stream of convoys that brought the many components needed to begin building this new FOB. The team had trouble maintaining communication with units that were supposed to be assisting in the effort. The communications support team was unable to move with the command and control element of the FLE, so they had to use the communications assets already available onsite, which enabled only one telephone call a day. So, forecasting was restricted and the FLE had little or no visibility of convoys delivering the supplies needed to stand up the FOB. With more time to coordinate, the FLE might have secured some of the highly mobile and easy-to-use communications systems that were available in theater.

Although communication was limited, the FLE transmitted pertinent information and the plan continued to progress. They established the retail fuel operation almost immediately, which enabled the many convoys to top off before departing. The onsite fuel also enabled Soldiers to use heavy construction equipment to build the FOB without having to wait for fuel. Another priority was emplacing the class I breakpoint. Upon arrival, bottled water and MREs had already been dropped, but a significant amount of preparation had to take place before 4,000 Soldiers could be fed. The site needed to be set up to enable the use of refrigerated containers for storing ice and, eventually, a perishable food supply.

Establishing operations was the easy part; keeping the FOB supplied was another story. Resupplying the FLE proved to be much more difficult than planned. First, it took several days for the forecasting to be effective. The first few days of resupply were planned for with little knowledge of what would transpire on the ground. But, once appropriate feedback was received through daily status reports, forecasting became easier. Second, even though the 68th CSSB could fulfill every request for supply that the FLE sent, transportation was a challenge. The 68th CSSB was responsible for command and control of the FLE, but it did not control the priority of movement for supplies to Butler Range. Although logistics packages were arranged and ready to move forward, they often sat in a holding pattern until transportation assets were allocated.

Once the FLE had addressed the necessities, shower, laundry, and clothing repair (SLCR) teams from the 442d Quartermaster Company set up and began operating. Laundry service was a luxury that the military transition team stationed at Butler Range had done without, so the SLCR teams were a welcome sight. The SLCR teams faced problems initially with a questionable water source and no real plan in place to deal with gray water. The new Laundry Advanced System, with the ability to recycle water, mitigated part of this problem. Once a greater supply of water was transported to the FOB, the Soldiers were able to have at least one shower a day and clean clothes.

Construction then began on a small bulk fuel farm for the FOB. The FLE deployed with a rough plan for the fuel farm that had been developed at the sustainment command level, but a platoon of the 148th Quartermaster Company (Petroleum, Oils, and Lubricants) arrived to execute this mission and identified needed modifications. The proposed site and design were neither conducive to berm emplacement nor ideal for the kind of customer support a fuel farm provides. The platoon constructed a more user-friendly and efficient bulk fuel site by altering the bag placement plan and creating more issue and receipt points than were proposed. Having support from the 411th Engineer Brigade onsite accelerated the fuel farm to completion well before the suspense.

The lack of force protection at the range complex also needed to be addressed. Up until this point, the area had never been occupied by a sizeable force, so the modest security measures had been adequate. However, with a major influx of troops to the area following a well-publicized surge, the protective posture of the FOB needed to be upgraded. The mere four guard towers and hastily built berm would not deter an attack for long. The initial solution to this dilemma was to have a quick reaction force (QRF) from the closest FOB on standby. Quick, however, meant 30 minutes. The sheer absurdity of this idea prompted a request for this QRF to be physically located at the fledgling FOB, and the request was eventually approved. The FLE also had a shipment of HESCO [Hercules Engineering Solutions Consortium] barriers delivered to improve their indirect fire defense. Once again, the outstanding engineer support enabled them to amend the situation with record speed.

Transfer of Authority

As the TOA neared, another oversight came to light. The 3d Brigade’s equipment was shipped ahead of the main body, with only the torch party to receive it. With hundreds of vehicles and containers rolling in over the course of several nights, the FLE had to assist in clearing the brigade’s equipment from the cargo reception area. With many Soldiers not licensed on the heavy brigade’s vehicles, this task was not as easy as it might seem, but the FLE made it happen.

Soon after the arrival of the 3d BCT, the Soldiers of the 203d Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) were eager to assume the operations on the FOB that the 68th CSSB and the FLE had spent the past 30 days building. At this point, the bulk fuel farm was fully operational and the class I yard was stocked full of food. Almost 15 days ahead of schedule, Soldiers from the 3d BCT began assuming control of the site. This enabled many of the FLE Soldiers on the FOB to begin a phased return.

Unfortunately, the date that contracted shower and laundry operations were supposed to be emplaced came and went. The TOA occurred with the 203d BSB and the FLE vacated the FOB, but the FLE’s SLCR teams had to stay behind to provide support until the contractors were operational. Weeks passed before the contractors could establish the services they had agreed to, but, eventually, the shower and laundry Soldiers were able to return to their unit.

In the end, despite the hiccups of a hastily planned mission, the FLE accomplished all of its assigned tasks and helped build the FOB. While the Soldiers were thrust out of their comfort zones and into an undeveloped area, they rose to every task. The Soldiers executed the mission successfully and ensured the plan to bring security to Baghdad could be executed.

Captain Jennifer L. Hughes is the Support Operations Plans Officer for the 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion of the 15th Sustainment Brigade. Captain Hughes has deployed twice to Operation Iraqi Freedom. She has a bachelor’s degree in justice systems from Truman State University and is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course.

Captain Allison H. Jaslow is the Adjutant for the 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. She deployed to Operations Iraqi Freedom 05–07 and 07–09. Captain Jaslow has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Central Missouri State University and is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course.