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“Support at Altitude” for a Multifunctional Aviation Task Force

The doctrinal mission of a forward support company (FSC) is to provide agile, multifunctional logistics support to its maneuver battalion. When the supported unit is a general support aviation battalion (GSAB) with organic CH–47F Chinook, UH–60 Black Hawk, and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) helicopters, the FSC must demonstrate flexibility and responsiveness as it provides organic ground maintenance, fuel, and distribution support.

That flexibility and responsiveness became exponentially more critical when the already diverse 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment (7–101 Aviation Battalion), 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, transformed into a multifunctional aviation task force 3 months before deploying to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) 09–11. The formation and mission expanded significantly as the organic GSAB absorbed AH–64 Apache and OH–58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters and prepared to support all 15 provinces of Regional Command-East in Afghanistan.

The five major mission sets that the battalion supported were air assault; aerial dignitary movements and aerial resupply; reconnaissance, security, and attack; quick reaction force; and MEDEVAC. Throughout this dramatic transformation, E Company, the 7–101 Aviation Battalion’s FSC, was required to develop creative solutions to accomplish its doctrinal missions while taking on additional missions necessary to provide agile “support at altitude” to this new formation known as Task Force Eagle Lift.

E Company Accomplishments

In its 12-month OEF tour, E Company supported Task Force Eagle Lift across the full spectrum of aviation support as the unit executed over 215 air assaults, transported over 85,000 personnel and 4,800 tons of cargo, launched over 1,200 reconnaissance and security missions, and supported over 900 MEDEVAC calls. By the end of its tour, E Company had issued 1.2 million gallons of aviation fuel and 100,000 rounds of ammunition and had conducted over 100 sling-load missions while the task force flew over 4,500 missions and 39,000 combat flight hours. Due in no small part to the agile support provided by its FSC, Task Force Eagle Lift flew more hours across a more diverse mission set than any other aviation task force previously deployed to Afghanistan.

To support its task force’s diverse mission, E Company successfully restructured its task organization to meet new challenges during its combat tour. In addition to its normal fuel and maintenance missions, the company assumed duties as the task force’s class V (ammunition) manager, was tasked with providing a consolidated arms room, and became the battalion’s primary provider for force protection personnel. These new missions required the creation of new sections within the company, intensive cross-training to fill new personnel vacancies, and ultimately, the development of new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) for accomplishing the mission.

A modular approach to task organization allowed E Company to pull Soldiers from each section to fill personnel requirements not doctrinally organic to the formation. By cross-training to meet these personnel shortfalls, Soldiers in E Company could be successfully plugged in and rotated as needed. This approach prevented mental burnout and facilitated midtour leave scheduling by minimizing the adverse impact on mission accomplishment. The development of new TTP gave the Soldiers of E Company ownership of their missions while maximizing flexible and responsive support to the task force’s maneuver companies.

Task Organization

E Company’s creative task organization enabled it to accomplish a variety of new tasks in addition to its doctrinal missions. Unlike FSCs in support of heavy or infantry brigade combat teams, E Company is doctrinally organic to the 7–101 Aviation Battalion. The battalion consolidated its formation at Bagram Airfield while deployed and assumed a general support mission to ground forces in its area of operations.

Despite being centrally located, the mission of the battalion task force required it to operate nearly everywhere in eastern Afghanistan and its FSC to occupy two outlying forward operating bases (FOBs) to provide class III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants) and V support. To do this after losing 10 personnel to a sister task force, E Company transformed its distribution platoon by creating three squads of 10 Soldiers each.

This platoon organization allowed two squads to support 24-hour operations at its two forward arming and refueling points (FARPs), while the third squad remained at Bagram to support contingency “jump FARP” missions and cold fuel operations. [A FARP is used by aviation units to place fuel forward on a battlefield in order to extend a helicopter’s range or maximize its time over an objective. By placing fuel and ammunition as close to the helicopter’s objective as the tactical situation allows, its turn-around time for fuel and ammunition is reduced and its support of troops is maximized. A jump FARP is temporary in nature and refers to a FARP that can be set up and torn down quickly and is able to “jump” from location to location.] Squads rotated every 3 to 4 weeks during steady-state operations and as necessary during periods of increased operating tempo (OPTEMPO).

Class III

While at the company’s outlying FARPs, refueling personnel were required to work hand-in-hand with the FOB landowners, which included both U.S. ground units and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces. Relationships at both FARPs became mutually supportive. E Company refuelers often provided ground units with fuel and ground maintenance support in exchange for life-support enhancements.

At one E Company FARP, located at a French outpost, refuel personnel often refueled French aircraft and, because of its austere location, assisted with the post’s force protection by establishing fighting positions around the FARP and the French task force’s class V storage area. These mutually beneficial relationships effectively demonstrated E Company’s approach to unit support. By building strong partnerships at outlying FARPs and helping units at those FOBs accomplish their missions, E Company was ultimately better able to provide agile support to Task Force Eagle Lift.

Class V

To fulfill its class V mission, E Company formed an ammunition section to perform administrative, storage, handling, and issuing functions for class V. The ammunition section maintained day-to-day accountability of the task force’s authorized basic load and replenished class V stocks as needed. The section consisted of four school-trained military occupational specialty (MOS) 89-series ammunition personnel (one MOS 89A ammunition stock control and accounting specialist and three MOS 89B ammunition specialists) who were augmented by two additional personnel (both MOS 91B wheeled-vehicle mechanics).

Lacking a traditional class III/V platoon and operating predominantly at Bagram, the ammunition section was assigned to the headquarters platoon and was directly supervised by the company’s executive officer, an ordnance officer. This subject-matter expertise mitigated the effects of having nonammunition personnel assigned to the section and strengthened the section to the point that ammunition operations became a relative strength.

E Company maintained its modular approach to task organization with the consolidated arms room. A total of 10 Soldiers were pulled from assignments in other platoons to serve as armorers. With three to a shift and a noncommissioned officer-in-charge to float between shifts, the armorers were able to provide 24-hour support. They used a sign-out system to account for the task force’s weapons and sensitive items that were used during flights and day-to-day operations.

Arms room personnel of all MOSs were trained to perform small-arms maintenance at the unit level and post-flight weapons cleaning, effectively relieving flight crews of that chore and allowing them to focus on mission preparation and post-flight aircraft maintenance. This support shortened the 12- to 14-hour duty days of crews. E Company arms room personnel maintained and cleaned 426 weapons assigned to Task Force Eagle Lift’s flight companies without a single weapon malfunction when it counted most.

By rotating personnel every 3 to 4 months, the consolidated arms room was able to maintain a robust support capability during rest and recuperation leaves and periods of increased OPTEMPO, much like the distribution platoon did.


E Company’s creative task organization was made possible by widespread cross-training. The company leaders’ goal before deploying was to train each Soldier in a second MOS. By doing this, personnel shortages created by new missions could be filled from a broad pool of trained Soldiers and the lack of “appropriate” MOSs for these new missions could be overcome.

The company knew it would assume new missions in Afghanistan, so leaders placed a strong focus on training Soldiers in similar tasks in order to achieve the closest possible match of skills. For example, one FARP function is to provide class V rearmament; without organic MOS 15J and 15Y (OH–58D Kiowa Warrior and AH–64D Apache Longbow armament, electrical, and avionics systems repairers, respectively) Soldiers to perform this duty, E Company relied on cross-trained petroleum supply personnel to accomplish this mission.

Training was provided by armament personnel assigned to the battalion’s attack and reconnaissance company and certified by a pilot in command (PC). The training resulted in FARP personnel being certified to handle and “hot” load .50-caliber rounds, 30-millimeter rounds, and 2.75-inch rockets. By pairing closely matched skills together and certifying refuel personnel to perform multiple tasks, no additional personnel were required to man the company’s FARPs.

Cross-training was equally emphasized in the maintenance platoon. Recognizing that maintenance personnel would most often be pulled to fulfill other tasks within the battalion and were E Company’s primary source of arms room personnel, a premium was placed on having a wide variety of maintenance capabilities at all times with as few people as possible. Rather than limiting automotive maintenance to just MOS 91B Soldiers, all maintenance personnel were trained to perform wheeled-vehicle maintenance.

This same approach was also used with the company’s 91Bs, who were trained to perform maintenance tasks normally assigned to 91Cs (utilities equipment repairers), 91Ds (power generation equipment repairers), and 91Js (quartermaster and chemical equipment repairers). The company’s MOS 91Ws (metal workers) and 92As (automated logistical specialists) were trained to perform maintenance tasks on all ground equipment.

By cross-training all personnel within the maintenance platoon, E Company’s maintenance supervisors maximized their support to the task force with limited personnel while avoiding increased repair time, no matter what type of vehicle or equipment required maintenance.

New Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

E Company not only creatively reorganized itself to accomplish new missions but also developed new TTP to accomplish doctrinal missions. Aircraft refueling is a doctrinal mission, but it was by far E Company’s most robust task and demanded the most creative TTP to be accomplished successfully.

FARPs operated by E Company were originally temporary in nature. Fuel was sling-loaded as necessary using 500-gallon collapsible drums for a designated time and pumped into aircraft using the advanced aviation forward area refueling system. This method often required additional fuel drums on short notice. To remedy this burden, E Company’s distribution platoon ensured that additional drums were filled and rigged for sling load at all times. As operations increased, so did the number of drums that the platoon staged. A battle drill was developed to quickly alert the platoon’s sling-load teams when additional drums were required on short notice.

The distribution platoon eventually took this battle drill a step further and devised a way to prepackage its jump FARP equipment in a John Deere Gator and accompanying trailer. This roll-on, roll-off capability ensured that minimal time was dedicated to packing, loading, and offloading the aircraft during time-sensitive support missions. Once loaded aboard the Chinook, prerigged fuel drums were picked up and the entire package was en route to its objective. The battle drill for this support capability included fuel sampling and testing, equipment checks, and personnel notification in addition to equipment upload. By configuring all necessary equipment into a readily available package, the platoon could quickly load a Chinook, deploy to the site of its jump FARP, and be operational in as little as 12 hours following notification.

At one point during its deployment, fuel operations exceeded E Company’s ability to maintain enough fuel drums. To overcome this shortfall, the company obtained the necessary equipment and emplaced a permanent fuel system supply point (FSSP) at one of its assigned FARPs. The FARP retained its rearmament capability and remained a predominantly Kiowa fuel point. However, the FSSP gave it the capability to support all U.S. aircraft and many coalition aircraft without the danger of operational demands exceeding resources.

This increased fuel capacity and the availability of a robust ammunition package enabled reconnaissance and attack aircraft to maximize station time in support of ground forces and reduce their turnaround time when fuel and ammunition were needed. By expanding capabilities beyond its doctrinal mission, E Company directly and positively affected Task Force Eagle Lift’s tactical mission.

Expanded Support Mission

E Company assumed its class V support mission because of the aviation task force configuration the battalion assumed before deploying. By necessity, the mission normally executed entirely by the brigade’s aviation support battalion (ASB) fell to FSCs in direct support of their line battalions. During Task Force Eagle Lift’s OEF rotation, its Apaches and Kiowas were heavy consumers of class V (specifically 30-millimeter and .50-caliber rounds and 2.75-inch rockets) and constant attention was required to ensure that sufficient stocks of these munitions were available at all times.

E Company ensured that ammunition handlers were on site at peak hours to keep the ready ammunition storage area stocked with three full loads of class V for each aircraft in addition to the ammunition that was already placed at each aircraft’s parking pad. Ammunition personnel in direct support of these aircraft worked with crew chiefs to restock parking pads each morning and identify which ammunition types were required in greater quantities.

Ammunition personnel conducted routine pickups from Bagram’s ammunition supply point based on consumption rates during steady-state operations. When OPTEMPOs peaked during Afghanistan’s national elections, having personnel and sufficient ammunition stocks onhand became particularly vital.

Urgent resupplies of class V were required at E Company’s outlying FARPs. Working on site with the task force’s Apache and Kiowa Warrior helicopters and maintaining close contact with the task force’s tactical operations center enabled ammunition personnel to quickly load waiting aircraft with additional class V for movement to E Company’s FARPs. The ammunition personnel successfully restocked one FARP in under an hour, allowing attack aircraft in the area to maintain valuable support to a ground unit in contact with the enemy.

To more completely meet the needs of its flight companies, specifically during rearming and refueling stops at its FARPs, E Company created class I (subsistence) sustainment packs that could be quickly and easily handed to pilots and crews while they were on the ground. These “brown bag lunches” usually consisted of consumable items that could be eaten quickly or stowed away for consumption during flight. During the colder seasons, sustainment packs included thermoses of coffee or hot chocolate. During night operations, they usually included Rip-It caffeinated energy drinks. E Company’s goal in providing these “creature comforts” at its FARPs was to make its battalion’s combat mission the sole focus of its pilots and crews while they were in the cockpit.

Because of the rugged terrain and the resulting isolation of some coalition FOBs, Afghanistan is an air-centric theater. This reality made it essential that E Company personnel become experts at sling loading during their OEF deployment. Many E Company Soldiers were already air-assault qualified, but because previous deployments to Iraq did not require a reliance on sling-load movements, many of E Company’s personnel required additional sling-load training.

Pathfinder Support

E Company often worked with Task Force Eagle Lift’s pathfinder platoon to rig loads for organic and supported units. Many loads, such as triple containers (TRICONs) and Bobcat earthmovers, were considered nonstandard and required extra attention during rigging. During hookup operations, E Company relied on air-assault qualified personnel to attach rigged loads to Chinooks for movement. The sling-load personnel and the pilots moving the loads developed a close relationship and a level of comfort by working together daily.

E Company applied its creative support approach to pathfinder operations as well. The primary mission of Task Force Eagle Lift’s pathfinders was the recovery of flight crews and passengers in the case of a downed aircraft. These missions usually accompanied a downed aircraft recovery team and were often long in duration.

To support these contingency missions, E Company used the “speed ball” concept and built a sustainment package that could be loaded aboard a Black Hawk helicopter by a buddy team. The package consisted of water and meals, ready to eat, to support 20 Soldiers for 24 hours, sunscreen, work gloves, and additional radio batteries.

A battle drill was developed in which the pathfinder team leader would call back to the task force’s tactical operations center and request the package. E Company would be notified and could load the package onto a waiting aircraft for delivery to the pathfinders on the ground. This “speed ball” reduced the amount of class I taken by the pathfinder team, effectively reducing the Soldiers’ combat load and increasing their mission readiness.

E Company’s success in providing flexible and responsive support during OEF 09–11 was largely due to its creative problem-solving. Its approach to task organization, cross-training, and mission support ultimately maximized E Company’s support capability.

Reorganizing its formation to meet new tasks in addition to its doctrinal missions enabled E Company to provide flexible support. This reorganization required E Company to cross-train its personnel to fill gaps created by these new and expanded missions. The company leaders’ original goal was to give each Soldier in E Company a second MOS, and this proved to be a success. New approaches to mission support and the development of new TTP completed their approach to responsive sustainment for the 7–101 Aviation Battalion while deployed.

Captain Michael R. Miller is assigned to the Army Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He was the commander of E Company, 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, during its Operation Enduring Freedom 09–11 deployment. He holds a B.S. degree in exercise science from Marquette University and is a graduate of the Army Ordnance Officer Basic Course and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.

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