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Integrating Contractors Into Brigade Support Battalion Operations

As the sun set over the desert landscape of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer, the logisticians of the 203d Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) prepared another convoy in support of the 3d Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 3d Infantry Division (Mechanized). Following the afternoon logistics synchronization meeting, the distribution company’s truck master returned to her office to make the final adjustments to the next day’s convoy plans.

Her first call was to the supply support activity (SSA). Answering the radio was Mr. Smith, the site lead for a company that provided personnel augmentation to SSAs throughout Iraq. “I need you to load onto the Iraqi truck platoon’s flatbeds 10 containers of the Rhino Snot for Combat Outpost Salie. The convoy is leaving tomorrow morning. I’ll have the convoy, upon its return, stop at the SSA to pick it up.” “Understood,” was his response.

Mr. Smith stepped outside the office container to pass the message. Looking into the issue lanes, he saw Haider Ezzet using a 4,000-pound forklift to load a supply truck. Mr. Ezzet and four additional forklift operators were contracted through a purchase request and commitment (PR&C) to work in battalion motor pools and the SSA. Mr. Smith entered the issue section tent and passed the message to the noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the section.

A couple of hours later, a group of contractors rolled through the FOB’s entry control point after returning from a barrier mission at Combat Outpost Salie. Through FM radio, Sergeant Williams spoke with the contractors and confirmed his next mission and the delivery of the Rhino Snot, a soil stabilizer actually called Envirotac II. The contractors were filling a gap and working side-by-side with the 203d BSB Soldiers.

Supporting the 3d BCT from a newly created FOB, the 203d BSB began its Operation Iraqi Freedom rotation with only the transportation assets that it had drawn from Army pre-positioned stocks in Kuwait. A shortage in up-armored logistics vehicles left the BSB with only 60 percent of its authorized transportation requirements.

The vehicle shortage especially hindered the BSB’s construction projects. The BSB waited a month for concrete to arrive because concrete was in high demand at all combat outposts, patrol bases, joint security sites, and everywhere else that was not yet protected. But once the concrete began to flow, the BSB Soldiers thought they had the construction under control with their palletized load systems (PLSs). How hard could it be to move t-wall and Jersey barriers, Scud bunkers, and towers? They learned the hard way that they definitely did not have it under control.

The corps was able to loan the BSB a crane to use indefinitely and two qualified Soldiers to operate it for 1 week. Their first mission was at Combat Outpost Cahill, which is a few kilometers north of the Salmon Pak facility near Baghdad. Within 3 weeks, the crane, which had been abused for months, finally had to be taken back to the Victory Base complex for extensive maintenance. The 3d BCT had no organic crane capability, so the BSB had to rely entirely on a contractor’s 60-ton crane to emplace concrete. It was obvious that the BSB needed help to move the concrete and barriers.

Filling the Transportation Gap

On 22 June 2007, a contract was awarded to an Iraqi company to move 1,715 barriers. The contract was written so that the vendor was paid by the number of barriers moved. The conditions-based statement of work (versus time-based) gave the BSB increased flexibility to determine the right delivery time based on the tactical situation. The contracted personnel and their equipment easily merged into BSB operations. Although the company was not a military unit of any kind, it worked under the distribution company just like a platoon, so the Soldiers of the BSB referred to it as the “Iraqi Medium Truck Platoon.”

Using the Iraqi Medium Truck Platoon, the BSB increased its ability to move critical supplies and materials throughout the area of operations in support of the 3d BCT. Through the use of a PR&C, the BSB contracted four 22-ton cranes for 30 days. On the first day of the contract, all four crane drivers took a wrong turn on the way to FOB Hammer and were hijacked by terrorists. They were beaten until the contractor negotiated for their release. Within 2 weeks, the vendor had found new drivers and, with 3d BCT gun trucks accompanying them for security, they reported for work. The contractor provided reinforcement to the Iraqi Medium Truck Platoon, allowing the brigade to establish four additional combat outposts and build traffic control points on main routes within the area of operations.

Realizing the importance of cranes and flatbeds, the brigade S–4 and comptroller extended the contract to move an additional 1,708 barriers, which at the time would have completed the brigade’s requirements of an additional 9 checkpoints and a joint security site. Because of the high demand for concrete, the contract was awarded within 30 days. Without a contract in place, the BSB would only have been able to use the forward support companies’ and distribution company’s PLSs, so the same amount of concrete would have taken 60 to 75 days to move.

The BSB also advertised a new contract that would fulfill its movement requirements for the rest of the rotation. After 38 days, a contract was awarded to the same vendor to provide ten 40-foot flatbeds and two 20-ton cranes with operators. Under this contract, the Iraqi Medium Truck Platoon personnel worked on a 2-week schedule for 8 months with 2 days off every other week. The platoon belonged to the distribution company and was organized under the BSB’s chemical officer and a transportation staff sergeant. It received its missions at the brigade’s daily logistics synchronization meeting run by the BSB support operations officer (SPO).

While every mission is unique, the BSB established some basic rules to ensure that off-the-FOB convoy missions were successful. All of the contractors in the Iraqi Medium Truck Platoon and their equipment were treated and protected as if they were assigned to the BSB. Every mission included a squad leader so that if the mission went off course, the squad leader could intercede or get on the phone to ask for backup. The Iraqi Medium Truck Platoon ensured that the maintenance company ran quality assurance checks on the trucks and cranes before each mission, and if there were any issues, the platoon, with the contractor’s supervisor, would coordinate replacement vehicles and crews. Because of the high degree of trust among the personnel and the contractor’s competence, lost equipment was typically replaced in less than 24 hours.

The Engineer Capability Gap

Transportation was not the only capability that the 203d BSB lacked; it was also short on engineer assets. The heavy BCT’s combat organization normally includes two engineer companies to perform mobility (route clearance), countermobility (obstacle plan development), and survivability (fighting positions and protective emplacements) missions. But as a surge brigade, the 3d BCT had no engineer companies (even though it was deployed to an area of operations that had no established bases) and was forced to rely on engineers outside the brigade for support. Two organizations—a contracted company and the Air Force’s Red Horse Squadron—had the right capabilities. However, as required by its contract, the contractor and its assets were not permitted to leave FOB Hammer. On the other hand, the Red Horse Squadron could support off-the-FOB missions but required multiple layers of command to approve missions that deviated from their assigned task and purpose.

Over the course of several months, the 3d BCT tried different techniques to solve its engineer capability shortfalls. To make force protection improvements throughout the battlespace, the brigade hired individuals for specific projects through field ordering officer payments, sent engineer work requests (EWRs) to the division for Task Force Liberty engineers, and developed short term PR&Cs. Sometimes the 3d BCT was able to have the right mix of assets at the same time, but typically it could not provide the immediate response that the maneuver commanders wanted.

Filling the Engineer Gap

A more permanent solution was needed, so the BSB SPO wrote a service statement of work and found three vendors who were willing to provide their services for an 8-month contract. After 4 months of pushing paperwork through the brigade, division, and corps, the contracting office finally chose a vendor. The 203d BSB referred to the contracted personnel as the “Iraqi Engineer Platoon.”

The Iraqi Engineer Platoon had two fill-and-evacuation sections, a grading and compacting section, and additional personnel and equipment to augment other sections and units on the FOB. For the first fill-and-evacuation section, the vendor provided two bucket loaders, one dump truck, and one excavator. The second fill-and-evacuation section included one bulldozer, one bucket loader, one dump truck, and an excavator. The grading and compacting section had one grader, one bulldozer, one bucket loader, and a steel roller. The personnel who augmented other units on the FOB had two 20-ton cranes to supplement the Iraqi Medium Truck Platoon’s lift capability, five 4,000-pound forklifts (one for each battalion motor pool and one for the SSA and class I [subsistence] yard), and two pavement spreaders and a compactor to assist the Red Horse Squadron in improving the road networks on the FOB.

Having these pieces of equipment in the quantities requested enabled the 203d BSB to meet short suspenses and accomplish engineer missions that were deemed low priority for the Red Horse Squadron and the existing contractor. The Iraqi Engineer Platoon was able to move within 24 and 48 hours of mission receipt, and because the operators were not Soldiers, they were specifically dedicated to engineer tasks and were not subject to details like guard duty. No more EWRs were denied because of limited equipment availability. If the 203d wanted it done, it had control of the assets to make it happen.

Because the Iraqi Medium Truck Platoon was well led by skilled leaders, the 203d BSB aligned the Iraqi Engineer Platoon under the Iraqi Medium Truck Platoon’s leaders and expanded their operation to the equivalent of a company-sized unit.

Filling Other Gaps on the FOB

Establishing an SSA in the middle of the desert with literally no infrastructure to begin with was a challenge for the Soldiers of the 203d BSB’s distribution company. Initially made up of just boxes and 463L pallets amid the dust of the Besamaya Range Complex, the 3,500-item multiclass warehouse came together under the leadership of a chief warrant officer (W–3). Once again, contractors were invaluable to BSB operations. A company contracted by Multi-National Corps-Iraq provided one site leader and four workers who, under the SSA technician’s direction, assisted in receiving, storing, and issuing classes II (clothing and individual equipment), IIIP (packaged petroleum, oils, and lubricants), IV (construction and barrier materials), and IX (repair parts).

An additional lifesaver was a contracted recovery and lift team that was resourced by the 15th Sustainment Brigade and established on FOB Hammer. This team provided the only forklifts and assets to upload and download containers for the motorpool and SSA, and at times it was the only crane support for both on and off the FOB. The same contractor also provided facility operations and maintenance for the FOB, bulk water purification, more than 40 mechanics to work in the unit motor pools, laundry services, latrine and shower cleaning, refueling and maintenance of generators, management for the gym, dining facility support, and morale, welfare, and recreation events.

Learning while in garrison the particulars of contracting, such as writing a PR&C and knowing what an Army contract letter is and how it is different from a letter of technical direction, will pay large dividends when you are in a combat setting. Always look at yourself and your organization and ask what you could be doing to improve your foxhole to make life better for your Soldiers and the next unit that falls in on your mission. In many instances, it will be a contractor who helps you achieve that goal.

Major Damien Green is the support operations officer for the 203d Brigade Support Battalion, 3d Brigade Combat Team, 3d Infantry Division (Mechanized). He has a bachelor’s degree in education from Providence College and is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Support Operations Course.