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Top Flite: How One BSB Secured Logistics Convoys in Iraq

While preparing for deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom 06–08, the 26th Brigade Support Battalion used a “Top Flite” security platoon to provide convoy security.

You are the brigade support battalion (BSB) commander, and you know that you are going to have to use convoys to get supplies and materials to your brigade combat team (BCT). You know that the brigade does not have enough troops to secure your convoys, and you do not want to divert troops from other missions because you want the BSB to be an enabler for your BCT. You also know that a trained security platoon offers the brigade the extra capability needed to conduct explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) security, route security, and mounted and dismounted patrols. Supporting a BCT may require you to conduct three to four logistics convoys simultaneously. You also know that your modification table of organization and equipment does not contain a blueprint for a security platoon or any other method for securing your logistics convoys. So, how do you provide the security needed to complete your logistics mission?

Every BSB and most other support battalions establish their own methods and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) for providing convoy security. Our unit, the 26th BSB, which was supporting the 2d BCT, 3d Infantry Division, had a security platoon concept that worked during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 04–06. So when presented with the same dilemma 10 months before deploying for OIF 06–08, we pulled out our “Top Flite” security platoon blueprint and made some modifications. We formed the platoon using some of the same Soldiers from OIF 04–06 and many new members. This article lays out a way to conduct logistics convoy security and train for success before your deployment.

Establishing the Top Flite Platoon

Unfortunately, we did not know our mission or location in Iraq until 15 days before our deployment. However, because of the structure and training we had put in place, we were able to adapt to a varied and demanding mission.

The first step was to ask for volunteers. Soldiers who wanted to participate and wanted to be on the road were the first ones chosen. The rest of the Soldiers in this platoon of more than 40 members were “volunteered” by their respective companies. Fuelers, ammunition handlers, mechanics, welders, and even a few infantrymen were all welcomed. No doubt, the keys to success were the right lieutenant and some strong noncommissioned officers. We were able to include a few combat-tested infantrymen and a medical services platoon leader with infantry experience. This leadership team set the foundation for the platoon.

We organized this platoon into three squads with four vehicle crews per squad. Each squad served as the security element for one logistics convoy. The platoon leader, platoon sergeant, and most senior staff sergeant were each assigned to a different platoon, so any one of the three squads was capable of operating independently. Each squad also had a medic. The platoon was placed under the maintenance company, of all places. It was an odd pairing at first glance, but it proved to be a great fit based on the experience of the key leaders within the maintenance company.

As a tank platoon leader in the streets of Sadr City, Iraq, in 2005, the company commander had learned how to project security of an element and actions on contact. This experience helped him as he led a maintenance company and guided a security platoon through its trials and tribulations of becoming a legitimate brigade asset that, if employed properly, was worth its weight in gold. We decided to fill the platoon 10 months before the deployment, allowing ample time to train as a platoon, field equipment, and fully prepare for the mission. With 95 percent of the platoon members working well outside the bounds of their military occupational specialties, training was crucial and we took advantage of every training opportunity we had.

Training Before Deployment

We slowly started platoon training and focused on small-arms gunnery and mastering the weapon systems. Simultaneously, in between small-arms range training, we began using Bradley fighting vehicle and high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) simulators to focus on moving as a crew and platoon. We developed a training scenario involving the execution of a logistics convoy from Forward Operating Base (FOB) Rustimyiah to Victory Base Complex. The battalion established a tactical operations center to facilitate reporting, and we presented each logistics convoy with the following scenarios: improvised explosive device (IED) with casualties, IED without casualties, vehicle breakdown, escalation of force, and route closure.

Following the simulation, scenario, and small-arms gunnery training, we conducted situational exercise logistics convoy lane training for the Top Flite platoon and distribution platoons. We used the same scenarios as the close combat tactical trainer, but these were run in two iterations of each element with a dry fire and then blank fire. The first big training event came in the form of our battalion field training exercise. The distribution platoon conducted situational training exercise lanes and moved through mock urban environments. The Top Flite platoon conducted a convoy live-fire exercise that was very beneficial in determining where to focus training.

After conducting weeks of walk-through rehearsals of actions and reactions and rehearsing fire commands, we sent the team out to shoot Scout Gunnery Tables VII and VIII. Those 3 days and nights of training side-by-side with the 3d Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, were invaluable in building crew confidence. The Soldiers learned many lessons, such as acquisition of targets, fire commands, and the importance of AN/PAS–13 thermal weapon site batteries. Next, we moved into our brigade field training exercises in which we pushed countless logistics convoys and conducted more situational training exercises.

Cadre from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, came to Fort Stewart, Georgia, to put our BCT through a home-station mission rehearsal exercise. During this exercise, we finally hit the “range walk” phase of our training. The Top Flite platoon was first put to the test during strenuous react-to-contact drills and casualty evacuation lanes. We also trained on air-to-ground integration and survival, evasion, resistance, and escape level-II. Finally, we got to the point that we could begin securing multiple logistics convoys to multiple destinations and got the chance to react to IEDs, small-arms fire, and interaction with host-nation forces.

The training was great, and we learned a lot from the observer-controllers and a lot about our Soldiers and how they worked as a platoon. The training was realistic and battle-focused. In the dark of night, the heat, a winding road, and the Georgia sand could be confused for any rural patch in Iraq. With this exercise, our stateside training was complete and we were ready to deploy.

Training in Kuwait

Kuwait and the Udari Range Complex had many training opportunities led by MPRI. [MPRI is a training, simulation, and Government services company that provides contract training to U.S. military forces.] Training was selected from a menu of choices weeks before our arrival. We chose those tasks in which we needed to be most proficient (react to contact) and those tasks that we needed to work on the most (close-quarters marksmanship). The days were long and hot. Tempers flared, and the Top Flite platoon got “recocked” a few times. But we stuck with the theme “learn and grow.”

The training was as realistic as it gets. We selected tactical mounted counter-IED training to increase IED awareness, the Train the Trainer Counter-IED Confidence course to validate the orders process and refine standing operating procedures and TTP, and the entry control point live-fire exercise to hone our close-quarters skills. All the training that the MPRI staff provided was excellent, and we definitely made huge strides forward as we prepared for combat logistics operations. We also conducted HMMWV egress assistance training (HEAT) and AN/PRC–148 (V)(C) multiband inter/intra team radio (MBITR) and counter radio-controlled IED electronic warfare (CREW) training. The train-up was complete, and now nothing was left but to go out and execute.

Fielding Equipment

We would be remiss if we did not address how our BSB focused on crucial equipment fielding for this platoon. The platoon and company leaders spent the time between field exercises requesting and fielding equipment that BSBs never see and most support Soldiers never use during their careers. Some of our first moves included acquiring advanced combat optical gunsights, Electro-Optics Technologies sights, acquired tactical illuminating laser aimers, and the necessary crew-served weapons (particularly M240Bs). Escalation-of-force kits, which included stop signs, warning signs, and lights, also proved to be very valuable acquisitions. The chain of command all agreed that the more tools they had in their mental and physical toolbags, the easier it would be to get through any situation. Many operational needs statements were submitted. Everyone appreciated what we were doing, and we got what we needed to complete our mission and many other secondary missions.

We were the last of five “surge brigades,” and as such, we had no unit to replace and had to assume support operations within the first week of arriving. Initially, we improved the force protection posture of our vehicles. We mounted rhinos [heat decoys attached to the front of a vehicle to deceive infrared IED-aiming devices]; attached our additional gunner-protection kits, including adding HESCO wire tacked in an arch over the gunner with camouflage netting attached; and mounted as many lights as we could find. Once our trucks were ready, we hit the road.

Beginning Operations in Iraq

We were the first unit in our BCT to start operations outside the wire. We built a logistics convoy briefing room that served as a place to plan, brief, and debrief every mission. We hung overhead imagery of every bridge, major intersection, and patrol base or FOB on the walls. The battle rhythm we built was simple. We held a fusion meeting at 1300 that laid out the transportation and cargo requirements for the next 48 hours. At 1900, we conducted a briefing to give every person in the logistics convoy (to include passengers) a threat assessment, mission, scheme of maneuver, coordinating instructions, and a white-board rehearsal for the next morning’s logistics convoy. Two hours before the start point, we conducted precombat checks and inspections and communication checks. Ninety minutes before start point, the convoy commander and mission commander conducted the go/no-go brief with one of the field grade officers, the S–2, and the S–3 in order to receive an operations intelligence update and to brief on execution of the upcoming mission. We then conducted a convoy update brief for new significant actions 30 minutes before start point. It was our system, we made it work, we stuck to it, and it served us well.

One thing we did not account for during all of our planning and organizing of this platoon was Soldiers going on environmental morale leave and the normal attrition that comes with a 15-month deployment. We learned quickly that we needed to stand up an additional three vehicles and crews to serve as a company internal quick reaction force to fill in on missions and as a battalion reserve if the need ever arose.

A few folks were identified as competent enough to be truck commanders, and we selected volunteer drivers and gunners from the shops in the motor pool. These crews did not receive any of the mounted maneuver training at home station that the Top Flite crew had received, but they were expected to complete the same tasks. We adopted a strict policy that any new crewmember going out as a truck commander, driver, or gunner had to complete at least four ride-along missions in which his goal was to watch and learn. We also took advantage of the FOB’s range to conduct crew-served weapons training and the FOB’s counter-IED lane to give the new crews a chance to move through mounted and identify hazards. These crews were used nearly every day, and we could not have accomplished our missions without them.

Maintaining Operating Tempo

On a typical day in Iraq, the 26th BSB was asked either to conduct three logistics convoys or to conduct two logistics convoys and provide four gun trucks for EOD security, route security, or mounted and dismounted patrolling support to a field artillery battery. Some days we were forced to spike and conduct four logistics convoys. The battalion commander’s guidance throughout the 15-month deployment was to get each gun truck crew off the road once every 10 days. However, we did not always meet that goal because of our mission workload.

The Top Flite platoon tackled a myriad of missions during the almost 15-month rotation. We conducted over 700 logistics convoys. We transported more than 70 detainees and provided security escorts for more than 80 EOD missions. We conducted 60 days of route security and 30 dismounted patrols and participated in 9 company- and platoon-level offensive operations. We constructed three helicopter landing zones and, most importantly, secured the logistics trucks that carried the supplies needed to build 10 patrol bases in the BCT’s operating environment. We were one of the first units to rely on mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) and pioneered many of the modifications to the MRAP and its employment techniques.

The Top Flite platoon and the distribution company trucks that it escorted made a name for themselves by pushing longer, harder, and more often than anyone thought possible. We were able to do this by sticking to our systems: the fusion meeting, the logistics convoy brief the night before, the SP minus 2 go/no-go brief to ensure conditions were set, and the pre- and post-operations vehicle quality assurance and quality control process that made certain our vehicles were road-worthy every day. These systems sustained us and kept unnecessary vehicles and personnel off the road. These systems ensured that everyone knew the latest significant actions across the BCT operating environment and the current threats and set our Soldiers up for success. That was our theme, and thankfully, we succeeded.

The bottom line is this: adopt a system and stick to it. We definitely operated on a “bend but don’t break” philosophy regarding the operating tempo. The emphasis we placed on maintenance ensured that our vehicles made it through the rigorous operating tempo. The flexibility of the Top Flite security platoon enabled us to successfully sustain a BCT spread across a 70-mile area. Every day we executed multiple logistics convoys. The Soldiers of this great platoon never waivered and were always ready at start point.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark J. Weinerth is an operations officer in the U.S. Northern Command J–4. He was the commander of the 26th Brigade Support Battalion when he wrote this article. He holds a B.A. degree in psychology from Saint Bonaventure University and an M.S. degree in administration from Central Michigan University. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and the Army Command and General Staff College.

Captain Timothy N. Page, a recent graduate of the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, is in transition to the 363d Training Support Battalion, 3d Brigade, 91st Division, at Los Alamitos, California. He was the commander of B Company, 26th Brigade Support Battalion, when he wrote this article. He holds a B.S. degree in liberal studies from the University of Northern Iowa and is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Mechanized Leaders Course, and the Unit Movement Officers Course.