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Forward Support Company Operations in Haiti

Supporting humanitarian aid in the wake of the massive Haiti earthquake required a forward support company of the 82d Airborne Division to develop a different approach to its logistics mission.

On 12 January 2010, Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, was hit by a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 82d Airborne Division, assigned as the Nation’s global response force, was called to provide humanitarian aid, assistance, and disaster relief within the city. Before the deployment, many of the BCT’s logisticians made assumptions about what their mission would be and where their focus should be to conduct operations in a very unstable and “different” environment. The environment would be different because Haiti is not Iraq or Afghanistan, so the logisticians needed to adopt a different mentality for this humanitarian mission.

G Company, 407th Brigade Support Battalion, is the forward support company (FSC) for the brigade’s fires battalion, the 2d Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, which has over 350 paratroopers. G Company personnel were tasked not only to support the battalion logistically but also to assist many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that were providing humanitarian assistance in the battalion’s area of operations.

FSC Capabilities

The FSC has a maintenance section, a food service team, a distribution platoon, and a company headquarters. For this mission, the FSC deployed with a maintenance package that included two contact trucks, an M984 heavy expanded-mobility tactical truck (HEMTT) wrecker, a very small aperture terminal (VSAT), a hazardous materials (HAZMAT) container, and Standard Army Management Information Systems (STAMISs), including the Standard Army Maintenance System (SAMS) and Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced for maintenance and supply.

The distribution platoon deployed with two HEMTT fuelers, two high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs), and eight light medium tactical vehicles (LMTVs). Each vehicle and system proved to be critical to mission success. After the first 3 weeks in Haiti, the FSC received additional HMMWVs to assist with command and control. However, because of the speed of the deployment and the demand on transport aircraft and boats for moving supplies and equipment to Haiti, the FSC usually had only 14 vehicles on the ground.

Distribution Platoon

Perhaps the busiest section in the FSC was the distribution platoon, whose trucks and personnel were the first on the ground. The platoon deployed immediately after a field training exercise at its home station, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where use of the LMTV fleet was an everyday operation. Preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS) and knowledge of truck operations proved to be critical when the unit arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport.

The platoon had the mission of picking up humanitarian aid, which included pallets of meals ready to eat (MREs) and water. Pallets were built based on what humanitarian aid was available for the battalion to distribute. The platoon’s truckdrivers were tasked to ensure that they maximized loads without overbearing the trucks and to push class I (subsistence) and water to the rest of the troops. The FSC had only three trucks during the first week and then received the rest of its eight LMTVs in the following days. PMCS and truck management were critical because of the challenging conditions on the streets and the distances the platoon had to drive to get to each humanitarian aid site.

Haitian traffic is very aggressive, and even though there was no threat of improvised explosive devices on the roadway, the flow of vehicles, motorcycles, and people walking and running the streets with little or no regard for traffic laws required drivers to pay careful attention and drive defensively. Constantly operating the trucks in such traffic caused wear and tear on both brakes and drivers. Eventually, the distribution platoon developed into a movement control team.

Working With Humanitarian Aid Providers

After a week of staying at the airport, the FSC moved to a local soccer field. This location provided the extra space needed to control movement of supplies and conduct maintenance. But moving to a larger piece of real estate meant it also gained the mission of securing Government organizations and NGOs that were sharing the new living site.

The FSC lived with a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored disaster medical assistance team (DMAT), which was deployed for 2 weeks from Dayton, Ohio, to assist with medical aid and house an onsite clinic. Also living with the unit was an NGO known as the Utah Hospital Task Force, which comprised over 120 medical personnel, including nurses, doctors, surgeons, and missionaries who speak fluent Creole.

The FSC was not only responsible for security; it also adopted the mission of transporting medical personnel to various hospitals in the brigade area of operations. The DMAT onsite medical center treated an average of 400 Haitians a day. Many had to be transported to the Navy hospital ship USS Comfort and other, larger hospitals in Port-au-Prince. Since the FSC did not own frontline ambulances, it had to use one of its two cargo HMMWVs to move patients.

Movement Control

The improvised movement control team (the distribution platoon) balanced the transportation of 120 personnel to multiple hospitals, patient transfers, classes I and IX (repair parts) delivery for the battalion, and delivery of humanitarian aid in the form of bags of rice, pallets of MREs, water, and tents. Each truck was managed very deliberately, and the FSC formed operational relationships with the DMAT and NGOs in order to maximize its combat power at the times when FSC assets would be used. The FSC reserved two or three trucks to use for a shuttle service each day, with organized morning dropoff and afternoon pickup times at multiple hospitals.

Because of the high volume of traffic on the major routes in Port-au-Prince, the shuttle left each morning at 0630 and picked up personnel daily at 1630. The average travel time was 2 to 3 hours during the busiest part of the day. Traveling early and during the late afternoon allowed for smooth traffic flow and permitted the unit to use the same trucks to conduct sustainment pushes to the batteries it supported. The rest of the vehicles were used to conduct humanitarian aid deliveries to different camps and to transport patients. Overall, the FSC averaged up to 7 different missions a day with only 8 trucks, and each mission required 2 trucks.

When the FSC conducted convoys, it always traveled with two security vehicles to maintain security and enable self-recovery of a disabled truck if necessary. The unit’s communication package was man­pack radios using single-channel plain text to keep in contact with the company and battalion. The FSC balanced drivers by morning and afternoon shifts to avoid driver fatigue on busy streets.

Humanitarian aid came in various forms, but the most common was 100-pound bags of rice and grains. The maximum truck capacity was 230 bags on one truck. The trucks would travel with the bags covered by tarps to avoid local attention and ensure that the sup­plies would get to the intended locations without problems.

When transporting personnel, the distribution platoon moved 12 on a truck with 2 armed Soldiers in the back. The streets were calm, and violence was not a threat. However, both organizations that it supported required security escorts on their missions. The DMAT and Utah Hospital Task Force were very thankful for the transportation and security operations, which allowed their teams to have a big impact within the battalion’s area of operations.

One of the hospitals in which the Utah Hospital Task Force operated was the largest hospital in Port-au-Prince. The unit regularly transported the senior volunteer surgeon, volunteer chief of staff, and head nurse. Few Haitian doctors were available to assist at the hospital during the first few weeks after the earthquake, so moving the task force’s personnel became a priority. Each day, these medical professionals treated anywhere from 400 to 1,000 patients with various earthquake injuries and illnesses.

On average, the FSC had up to 3,000 gallons of JP8 fuel on hand and never fell below 2,000 gallons. The FSC’s fuelers would only leave the forward oper­ating base to receive fuel at the airport, so the batteries it supported would come to get fuel. Bulk water was stored in a water buffalo since the forward area water supply system 500-gallon water blivets were given to the brigade to consolidate water storage.

Distribution Lessons Learned

Some of the lessons the distribution platoon learned were how to manage the cycle of truck missions, from initial PMCS to convoy missions to after-mission PMCS, and how to set priorities with a fleet of only eight trucks. Convoy briefings and precombat checks and inspections were critical because the dynamics of the Haitian traffic and movement in the city required very deliberate convoy rehearsals and leadership roles. Each member of the platoon became involved with every mission, whether they had military occupational specialty (MOS) 92F (petroleum supply specialist), 88M (motor transport operator), or even 92W (water treatment specialist).

The deployment provided an opportunity for driver’s training and allowed the FSC to see the capabilities of its LMTVs, which they normally would not use in Iraq or Afghanistan. It also allowed the company to see how it could maximize pallets and supplies in the back of one of these trucks. The distribution platoon was the FSC’s workhorse.

Maintenance

The FSC found it to be incredibly important to keep the LMTV fleet on the road. PMCS performed by unit mechanics were critical to maintaining stable combat power. The unit was afforded only one parts container and one HAZMAT container. The maintenance technician and maintenance control noncommissioned officer had the challenge of choosing which parts would be most needed for this type of deployment. Automotive parts were the priority, followed by electronics. Weapon maintenance was a lesser priority.

The maintenance section focused on brake fluid, oil, glow plugs, transmission fluid, seals, gaskets, air filters, and other service parts. Parts vital for maintenance conditions on the ground, such as transfer cases, transmissions, power-steering pumps, and tires, were not authorized as shop stock at the time of the deployment. Under warehouse regulations, modular supply support activities would not allow the FSC to maintain recoverable items.

When a truck became not mission capable and the section did not have the repair parts needed to fix it, the maintenance personnel worked with other maintenance teams within the BCT to look for parts. Finding parts within the BCT was necessary for several reasons: Other missions had a higher priority for class IX; most supplies were coming by aircraft, but the airport had no surplus storage space and repair parts were not a priority for that space; and boats with supplies did not come until a week or so after the brigade deployed. Self-sustainment thus became the standard maintenance practice. With this condition set, driving techniques and operator maintenance became even more important to keeping vehicles in proper working condition.

Many of the streets in Haiti had rubble from the earthquake and many roads were unfinished, which meant the FSC’s vehicles regularly drove over pot­holes and other unstable terrain. Warm temperatures and high humidity also adversely affected truck operations. These environmental conditions caused wear and tear on shocks, brakes, tires, and transmissions. As the battle rhythm became more predictable, the FSC started conducting services. The maintenance section serviced an average of two to four trucks for the battalion daily. This allowed the FSC not only to get ahead of the service schedule but also to diagnose and foresee any maintenance issues it might face.

The FSC’s maintenance combat power included two contact trucks (one of which went to A Battery, which was based at a different location) and two maintenance support teams. The teams each had three mechanics who provided on-the-spot maintenance support to the batteries and worked well with the batteries’ operational tempo.

The most critical MOS for the maintenance section was 91D, generator repairer. The FSC had one at each site. These repairers also served as master electricians for many of the hardstand buildings that housed the troops. The 91D team at the soccer field rewired the hardstand building that housed the command post and soccer field lights. The FSC deployed with STAMISs and were able to use VSAT to access Army Knowledge Online since it did not have a hub for the Unclassified but Sensitive Internet Protocol Router Network.

At times, the company faced connectivity and data blast issues when using SAMS–2 and the Standard Army Retail Supply System, so it ran disks daily to A Company, 407th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) to mitigate the problems. The FSC still ran Army Materiel Status System reports and conducted normal maintenance shop operations, even though conditions on the ground were still being set.

Headquarters and Security

To transport thousands of humanitarian aid supplies and hundreds of NGO personnel and to secure a site for treating over 4,000 Haitians, the FSC needed a command and control element and adequate security. During the military decision making process, the FSC made a conscious decision not to deploy its containerized kitchen and food service equipment. Planners based this decision on assumptions about conditions on the ground, the length of the deployment, and the availability of space on watercraft and aircraft. MREs and water were the standard for class I consumption.

With that being said, the FSC used its food service team, headquarters elements, and small elements of the distribution and maintenance platoons to pull security on the compound. Three shifts of eight personnel ran security at the site.

Even though the threat of enemy activity was almost nonexistent and the Haitian people were very supportive of the FSC’s assistance and operations, the humanitarian mission proved to be very challenging and much more complicated for a logistics unit than many would think. The FSC deployed with all organizational equipment less than a week after coming out of a field exercise and did not have much formal training on how to work with other Government organizations and NGOs. The FSC had to organize and plan logistics and humanitarian missions with a small amount of combat power and deploy to a theater of operations that had no military logistics hub. This was a tough and challenging mission for the paratroopers, but they did what all great paratroopers do—accomplish the mission and exceed expectations.

As the deployment progressed, the 7th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion arrived with shower, laundry, maintenance, and other logistics support. However, the 2d BCT’s FSCs and BSB were the logistics answer while all other units were conducting refugee camp assessments and humanitarian missions. Balancing both humanitarian and logistics missions created many challenges, but the paratroopers of the 2d BCT were on point. Many of the tactics, techniques, and procedures used in Haiti can be applied to Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, from operational readiness of equipment, to personnel management, to sustaining a force in austere conditions.

Rules of engagement and escalation of force for a country in need proved challenging for the paratroopers. Most were combat veterans of the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, and they learned to approach the local citizens in the post-earthquake conditions in Haiti differently than they had in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately, most of the Haitians the Soldiers met supported the mission and were very friendly. Assisting the Haitian people after the earthquake was very fulfilling and gave the team a great sense of accomplishment.

Captain Julio J. Reyes is the commander of G Company, 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 82d Airborne Divi­sion, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He has a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois Uni­versity at Ed­wardsville and is a graduate of the Ordnance Of­ficer Basic Course, Basic Airborne Course, and Jumpmaster Course.


 
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