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Supporting the Fight:
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Supporting the Fight: The FSB

Field Manual (FM) 3–0, Operations, published in June 2001, documented the Army’s shift in its fundamental warfighting doctrine to encompass an evolving operational environment that reflects contemporary threats. The traditional battlefield framework was expanded to recognize the nonlinear, noncontiguous operations that have characterized conflict since Operation Desert Storm. Conducting combat operations in this environment would test the mettle of any armed force, and supporting operations in the same environment would stress the limits of even the finest logistics system in the world.

From the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, coalition logisticians surged sustainment across Iraq, straining to meet mounting requirements as combat forces

pushed forward at an unprecedented pace. Armored columns from the 3d Infantry Division (Mechanized) and the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) advanced on Baghdad with little resistance, while light infantry forces from the 82d Airborne Division secured key routes for follow-on forces. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), led by its 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT)—the “Strike Brigade”—leapfrogged across 1,200 kilometers of Iraqi desert while fighting a succession of urban battles that cleared the major cities for future stability and support operations.

The 526th Forward Support Battalion (FSB), whose slogan is “Best by Performance,” was tasked with supporting the Strike Brigade during this operation. Support missions came early in the deployment—before most of the battalion’s equipment arrived—and continued at a rate unparalleled in the history of combat logistics.

Preparing for War

As the 101st Airborne Division began preparing to deploy in January 2003, 526th FSB began its own effort to prepare for a war that most certainly would assume an urban flavor. The FSB support operations officer (SPO) presented a professional development class on supporting urban operations, drawing on the lessons of Russian forces in Afghanistan and Chechnya and focusing on the unique requirements of light infantry forces engaged in sustained urban combat.

Planners from the Support Operations Office and maintenance company designed special repair parts packages to support the anticipated increase in the use of small arms, crew-served weapons, and missile systems associated with urban operations. Forecasted increases in class IX (repair parts) customer wait times drove the decision to configure battle-damage assessment and repair kits as well. Ultimately, these efforts would sustain the readiness of critical combat platforms as the Strike Brigade proceeded across more than 1,200 kilometers of battered Iraqi highways.

After completing its deployment to Kuwait in early March, the BCT consolidated operations at Camp New York and began final planning and preparation for combat. On 18 March, the FSB forward logistics element (FLE) moved forward as part of Task Force (TF) Sinclair to tactical assembly area (TAA) Carla on the western Iraqi border. There, the FLE established a logistics release point to support the division as it moved into enemy territory. The FLE provided critical sustainment to forces that were staging in attack positions before crossing through breach lanes along the border.

Within 48 hours, over 2,700 vehicles had processed through the logistics release point en route to their attack positions. During that time, the FLE issued more than 27,000 gallons of fuel, nearly 5,000 cases of meals, ready to eat, and 5,700 cases of bottled water to replenish unit basic loads, repaired 127 vehicles, and provided level-I medical treatment for forces passing through the TAA. More importantly, the efforts of the FLE were essential to ensuring that the division maximized the combat power it projected on D-day.

On 20 March, the first day of coalition combat operations, the FLE reintegrated with the FSB and prepared to move into Iraq. Within a week, the BCT began moving from Camp New York to TAA Strike near An Najef, Iraq.

Combat Operations

On arrival in An Najef, the Strike Brigade assumed the division main effort—a role the BCT would maintain even after President Bush announced the cessation of offensive operations on 1 May. On 29 March, the 2d BCT initiated Operation Eagle Strike II in the An Najef area with a bridge seizure north of the city and then proceeded to sweep south to clear the city ofenemy forces. While supporting operations from the brigade support area (BSA) at TAA Strike, which was 20 kilometers west of the city, the FSB positioned a medical-heavy FLE on the northern edge of An Najef. This FLE augmented the capabilities of the brigade main effort battalion aid station (BAS) and reduced ground evacuation time for casualties.

At the BSA, a lack of external transportation support forced the FSB to download all the available light medium tactical vehicles in the battalion to meet the mounting truck requirements of the brigade. Because the FSB was faced with a rapidly evolving operational situation along already extended lines of communication, “outside-the-box” solutions soon became the norm.

On 5 April, the BCT moved 90 kilometers north of An Najef and executed Operation Free Karbala—a ground and air assault to clear the remnants of the Republican Guard’s Medina Division from the vital city of Karbala. For the first 48 hours, the 526th FSB supported urban operations with two separate FLEs. The first, a heavy ground FLE led by the SPO, established a forward logistics base 5 kilometers south of the city, which would evolve into the BSA in the coming days. The second element, a medical-heavy FLE positioned on Landing Zone Robin in Karbala, provided combat health support similar to that provided in An Najef.

After 5 days of intense city fighting, the brigade prepared to move through the Karbala gap en route to Objective Grady, a military airfield near the city of Al Iskandariyah. On 10 April, the FSB SPO led a heavy FLE with integrated aerial medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) capability 70 kilometers through the gap to Al Iskandariyah to establish a logistics support base

forward in the combat zone. On arrival at Objective Grady, however, the brigade received additional instructions to prepare to move toward Baghdad at first light. Throughout the night, the FLE provided critical resupply to brigade elements making final preparations for another jump forward.

On 11 April, the FLE jumped forward with the brigade tactical operations center to Baghdad and set up operations at a forward logistics base located at a food processing plant on the southern edge of the city. Over the next 48 hours, while the main body of the FSB moved operations to the military airfield in Al Iskandariyah, the FLE provided full-spectrum logistics support to brigade forces operating in Baghdad. When division leaders elected to concentrate the logistics power of the division support command in the immediate vicinity of Objective Grady, the FLE established a permanent presence in Baghdad to support brigade operations. For 2 weeks, the FLE provided support for all classes of supply, full direct support maintenance capability, and medical treatment and evacuation. (The FLE maintained two MEDEVAC helicopters on station at all times.)

In Baghdad, the unique capabilities of the FSB were fully realized. Enemy attacks in Al Mamudiyah, 20 kilometers south of Baghdad, threatened to sever the lines of communication along Highway 8. The FLE commandeered and repaired a small fleet of Iraqi Government vehicles to move brigade forces, captured ammunition and weapons, supplies, and equipment. Refrigeration trucks provided chilled water with sustainment packages; small forklifts moved equipment and supplies; and a variety of cargo trucks supported specific brigade movement requirements. Although they seem inconsequential, these actions allowed the FSB to limit the number of vehicles transiting Highway 8, effectively mitigating risk while focusing the logistics effort on the fight in the city.

Although an FLE is de-signed to provide support for limited periods of time (typically 48 to 72 hours), a more permanent presence enabled the division to benefit from consolidated logistics power while the brigade enjoyed reduced lines of communication and increased logistics responsiveness. When elements of the brigade began to move toward Mosul on
20 April, the FLE collapsed back onto the BSA, which had already marshaled for the movement north.

As with previous ground convoy operations, the FSB FLE led the BSA forward through Baghdad and north to Mosul to link up with the battalion quartering party. There, the BSA established operations at the Iraqi V Corps headquarters compound, which had been abandoned months earlier in the wake of coalition efforts to unseat the regime. Once again, the BCT cleared the city first and then began local security and stability operations to restore basic civil order to Mosul.

Stability Operations

In Mosul, the Strike Brigade quickly grew from a standard air assault infantry brigade into a hybrid combat team optimized to begin restoring basic order, reestablishing civil services, and returning the city to the people of Mosul. Supporting the main effort BCT became a mounting challenge for the 526th FSB. Instead of supporting a typical 3,500-man infantry brigade combat team, the FSB found itself sustaining four infantry battalions, an armor battalion, two field artillery battalions, a military police battalion, and nearly 6,500 troops who were executing the first decisive stability operation in Iraq. Included among those forces were a civil-military operations center, an Albanian infantry company, and the first vestiges of what would become a rebuilt Iraqi army. While the stability effort represented a significant operational challenge for the Strike Brigade, sustaining such a large and diverse coalition force tasked the FSB to its limits. After 41 days of combat operations, post-combat recovery began in earnest.

In the months that followed, the 101st Airborne Division established its headquarters in Mosul and its other two combat brigades operated west and south of the city. The Strike Brigade enjoyed unrivaled success in the city. It eventually brought an end to the threat of the sons of Saddam Hussein and served as the driving force behind the reconstruction of the city and the establishment of a viable civilian government there. The “Mosul model” soon became the national paradigm for stability operations and civil-military cooperation.

As the supported population of the 526th FSB swelled to more than 7,000 troops, the battalion expanded support operations to better accommodate the transition from dynamic combat operations to static stability operations.
The FSB’s maintenance company established the first local national repair program in theater to provide general support-level repair of reparable components and major assemblies. In the first 4 months of operation, the output of the program was more than double the number of major assemblies received from wholesale sources and was directly responsible for two-thirds of the combat platforms repaired in the company.

The BSA settled into the fixed facilities of the former Iraqi V Corps and became Camp Performance, a model in its own right, not only for quality logistics support but also for a peerless morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) center.

The expansive MWR complex offered soldiers a variety of options: a full-service restaurant, pizzeria, coffee shop, 50-station Internet café, souvenir shop and laundry, mini post exchange, satellite phone center, barber shop, specialty shop and tailor, game room, computer-based education center, consolidated chapel, classroom, conference center, and the first U.S. Forces library in Iraq, which was supported solely by private donation. Affectionately referred to as “China Beach” by visitors, the MWR complex was visited by as many as 3,000 troops each day.

For the duration of its stay in liberated Iraq, the 526th FSB continued to set the standard for forward logistics support. With the largest supported unit population in the 101st Airborne Division and a maintenance workload equivalent to two companies in the division support command, the performance of the 526th FSB is a testament to the versatility and resourcefulness of the soldiers and leaders supporting our forces at the tip of the sword. During the year-long deployment, the challenges and missions faced by the 526th FSB tested the mettle of the battalion, but the time in Iraq will forever be remembered as a “Best by Performance” year. ALOG

Major Steven M. Leonard is the Executive Officer of the 526th Forward Support Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He is a graduate of the University of Idaho and holds master’s degrees in systems management from Murray State University and in theater operations from the Army Command and General Staff College. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Advanced Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Air Assault School.

Supporting the Fight:
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