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Flexible Support for the Heavy BCT

The 115th Brigade Support Battalion created multifunctional platoon-sized elements to provide more flexible support to a brigade combat team in Iraq.

In order to provide the highest possible level of logistics support to the 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Cavalry Division, the 115th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) successfully experimented with a radical deviation in task organization from the structure outlined in doctrine. Soldiers from A Company (distribution), B Company (maintenance), and C Company (medical) were combined into three platoon-sized multifunctional elements within the distribution company, with each platoon having the resources and flexibility needed to accomplish any mission assigned to the battalion.

With this force structure, A Company was equipped to conduct a variety of complex and diverse missions. For example, less than a month into Operation Iraqi Freedom 06–08, the company was tasked to assist with the recovery of a wrecked Air Force F–16 fighter from a crash site west of Camp Taji. After the aircraft was recovered and the unit responsible for the sector where the crash occurred remained at the site to search for the remains of the pilot, the platoons effectively transitioned from wreckage recovery to logistics support operations.

Later in the deployment, A Company assisted the 2d Battalion, 8th Regiment (Combined Arms Battalion), in relocating a combat outpost in Tarmiyah after the original combat outpost was destroyed by a series of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A Company performed multifunctional logistics missions, recovering 26 not-mission-capable Iraqi Police vehicles from Tarmiyah to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Taji while hauling and emplacing over 300 tons of barrier material to harden the new combat outpost.

When the mission required a reconfiguration of the 1st BCT’s area of responsibility, A Company supported the change by building multiple checkpoints and emplacing lookout towers, traffic control points, and serpentines, thus greatly enhancing the security posture of the land-owning units. Throughout the deployment, patrols delivered fuel to Iraqi Police stations, escorted detainees to the division holding area, transported graduates of the Iraqi Police Academy to their assigned police stations, and escorted provincial reconstruction teams to multiple meetings with key Iraqi leaders throughout the Green Zone and Baghdad.

This brief synopsis of missions highlights only a few of those the 115th BSB conducted using the multifunctional platoon configuration.

Organizing the Platoons

The task organization of the platoons allowed any platoon of the 115th BSB to conduct the range of missions assigned to the battalion. Each platoon included transportation specialists, quartermaster water treatment specialists and petroleum supply specialists, wheeled vehicle mechanics, and medics. Similarly, the logistics platforms available throughout the 115th BSB were reallocated to better assist the platoons in their missions. Each platoon had an M1000 heavy equipment transporter system, five M1074/1075 palletized load systems, M871 trailers, an M969 5,000-gallon fuel tanker, and M931 bobtail tractors. Equipment in limited quantities, such as the single M172 lowboy trailer and the reverse osmosis water purification unit, were assigned to a specific platoon for maintenance but remained available to the other platoons and were used as missions dictated.

Task-organizing the platoons into integrated teams ensured cohesive bonding of personnel and arranged complementary skill sets for missions throughout the deployment, providing Soldiers with a single chain of command for all missions both on and off FOB Taji. Instead of drawing Soldiers from around the battalion to accomplish a mission, the 115th BSB rotated the platoons according to a schedule that provided each platoon with time for maintenance, service on the quick reaction force (QRF), and mission performance. By assigning a mission to one of these platoons, the battalion reduced its coordination requirements and expedited mission accomplishment. Working together daily brought the Soldiers together and allowed them to develop a high level of esprit de corps.

Each platoon had the personnel needed to complete a wide variety of missions. For example, during Operation Rapid Honor, A Company was tasked to provide class IIIB (bulk petroleum, oils, and lubricants) resupply and to retrograde three not-mission-capable vehicles from an Iraqi Police station back to FOB Taji. Under the system generally used in the Army today to perform these missions, a fuel platoon would have sent a fuel element, a transportation platoon would have sent three vehicles to load the not-mission-capable vehicles, a medical company would have sent medics, a maintenance company would have sent mechanics and a heavy expanded mobility tactical truck (HEMTT) wrecker, and a separate security element would have been tasked to provide an escort. By using a task-organized multifunctional platoon structure, the mission could be given to a single, integrated platoon. No other coordination was needed, and the mission could be conducted by a team that had spent weeks developing and implementing a single set of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) and standing operating procedures.

Platoon Soldiers were provided with an array of tools to complete their broad mission set. Their assigned weapon systems ranged from the M4 carbine to the M2 machinegun. Security platforms assigned to platoons used counter-IED equipment and TTP to mitigate the IED threats along the routes. To maintain communication and in-transit visibility, the platoons were outfitted with Harris radios, Blue Force Tracker, Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) system, Movement Control System (MCS), multiband inter/intra team radios, and the single channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS). Platoon security platforms were outfitted with an assortment of other tools that provided personnel with further preparation for unforeseen situations.

Developing Multiskilled Personnel

Cross-training was an important benefit of the multifunctional platoon system. The merging of personnel with different military occupational specialties (MOSs) created a pool of knowledge and experience that could easily be disseminated during sergeant’s time training or during more formal training. Throughout the deployment, Soldiers of the 115th BSB received extensive training on their TTP in a classroom setting and, using a hands-on approach, learned how to operate their equipment. These methods of teaching greatly increased the Soldiers’ survivability on the road. Cross-training enabled A Company personnel to achieve 100-percent tactical combat casualty care (TC3) qualification and become familiar with equipment recovery techniques; assigned mechanics and operators were able to continually review preventive maintenance checks and services procedures for equipment. Soldiers were cross-trained on vehicles they normally would not operate. Cross-training also instilled in the Soldiers a deeper appreciation and understanding of the tasks performed by Soldiers with other MOSs.

The 115th BSB also looked for sources outside the unit to increase the knowledge and skills of platoon Soldiers. The Engagement Skills Trainer 2000, the high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle egress assistance trainer (HEAT), counter-IED training, fire team training, small kill team training, TC3 training, recovery training, jaws of life training, combatives, and enemy prisoner-of-war team training were just a few of the training events and resources that increased Soldiers’ survivability awareness and flexibility so they could meet the requirements of the mission-essential task list. While in theater, A Company also provided firefighting support for FOB Taji using nonstandard firefighting equipment. Regular, specialized training ensured that well-trained Soldiers were always on hand in the event of an emergency.

Forming for Movements

A Company not only had an unusual task organization, it used a unique movement formation for a logistics unit. Because the enemy situation was unknown and contact was likely, the 115th BSB settled on a movement-to-contact formation drawn from Field Manual 3–90, Tactics. A forward security element was formed within each convoy. The forward security element’s assigned task was to provide route clearance and security in advance of the convoy’s main body, thereby allowing for the safest possible passage of the main body.

The forward security element would move forward of the main body as far as 3 kilometers. Having a forward security element far in advance gave the patrol commander time to make decisions before the main body of the convoy was decisively engaged by the enemy or met an obstacle. Noncommissioned officers (NCOs) with combat experience were charged with operating in the forward security element and ensuring that accurate information was relayed to the patrol commander. The formation relied on the forward security element to accurately determine the security of the route before the main body arrived. The distance between the forward security element and the main body depended on METT–TC (mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations) factors.

Directly behind the forward security element was the convoy’s main body, which included all logistics platforms and the integrated security element. The task of the main body was to get to and from the objective as safely and expeditiously as possible and to conduct actions on the objective at the direction of the patrol commander. The largest and slowest vehicles were located as far forward as possible to reduce the likelihood of large gaps in the convoy caused by a slow vehicle’s inability to keep up or a large vehicle’s inability to navigate around an obstacle that would not stop smaller vehicles. The patrol commander was also located within the main body to provide centralized command and control. For accountability and rear security purposes, the assistant patrol commander rode in the trail vehicle. Having the patrol commander close to the front and the assistant patrol commander located at the rear guaranteed that if a convoy was separated for any reason, a senior leader remained with both elements.

The assistant patrol commander was responsible for the rear security element of the convoy. The task of the rear security element was to provide security to the rear and alert the patrol commander of any changes to the situation in the rear of the convoy, such as a vehicle breakdown.

For many missions, convoys traveled with an additional maneuver platform located between the patrol commander and the assistant patrol commander. This “flex security element” was available for use at the discretion of the patrol commander. If the forward security element needed reinforcement, the patrol commander had the option to call on the flex security element.

During movement, the assistant patrol commander aided the patrol commander by enforcing standards, guided by established TTP and the patrol commander’s established plan. At the objective, the patrol commander integrated his security platforms with those of the unit in command of the sector; this left the assistant patrol commander in command of his convoy’s security platforms while the patrol commander was overseeing the actions on the objective. This arrangement was key because command of security platforms during movement remained with the patrol commander but shifted at the objective to the assistant patrol commander.

Providing a QRF

The adaptability and potential of the multifunctional platoon system were quickly recognized by the 1st BCT. Shortly after arriving in theater, the 115th BSB was tasked with providing a QRF for FOB Taji. Using the maneuver and recovery elements assigned to each platoon, A Company was able to meet this requirement, completing 75 QRF missions over the course of the deployment. The BSB was especially well suited to provide a QRF because the platoon Soldiers were traveling throughout the BCT’s entire footprint providing logistics support. This made them familiar with all major routes in the 1st BCT’s area of operations.

The company’s three platoons were put on a 3-day rotation: QRF on day 1, missions on day 2, and maintenance on day 3. The availability of a QRF enabled the 1st BCT to use its combat power more effectively because it did not have to fix vital maneuver assets at static locations. The platoons performed the role of a FOB QRF by adjusting their TTP in preparation for a wide variety of missions, including escorting VIPs, establishing traffic control points, securing perimeters, and performing riot response and crowd control.

The strength of the multifunctional platoons lay in their inherent flexibility and the continuity provided by their structure. The task-organization of platoon personnel and equipment ensured increased flexibility to the 115th BSB and to its parent 1st BCT, 1st Cavalry Division. The continuity of the platoons enhanced unity of command and provided Soldiers a single, recurrent chain of command, which increased their peace of mind and their familiarity with their leaders’ expectations. Leaders were able to work more closely with their Soldiers, which helped them to better understand their Soldiers’ capabilities and how to employ the members of their team best. By working together as teams, each platoon was able to establish, rehearse, and implement drills and TTP. The teams formed tight bonds and developed a high degree of esprit de corps.

Task-organizing the battalion into multifunctional platoons also made tactical sense. Cohesive teams work together efficiently and confidently. A team with regularly rehearsed TTP is more effective than a team thrown together to accomplish a single mission.
Although the multifunctional platoon system offers many benefits, it also has some weaknesses. Junior enlisted Soldiers may not get the same mentorship and training in their MOSs that they might receive in an MOS-specific platoon. To minimize this problem, the 115th BSB took steps to ensure that each platoon had experienced NCOs from a range of MOS backgrounds. Mentorship and junior leader development were stressed throughout the deployment.

The multifunctional platoon system was extremely successful for the 115th BSB during Operation Iraqi Freedom 06–08. By the end of the deployment, platoon Soldiers were able to easily complete a wide variety of missions, due in large part to the innovative task organization of the logistics patrols.

Captain John F. Jacques is the logistics planner for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. He served as the commander of the Supply and Distribution Company, 115th Brigade Support Battalion, during Operation Iraqi Freedom 06–08. He is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.

First Lieutenant Justin T. Bergen is the S–3 for the 115th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. He holds a B.S. degree in history from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and is a graduate of the Airborne School, Pathfinder School, Transportation Officer Basic Course, and Unit Movement Officer Course.

First Lieutenant Sonya S. Standefer is the executive officer for A Company, 115th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. She holds a B.S. degree in sociology and criminal justice from the University of Scranton and is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course and Unit Movement Officer Course.

First Lieutenant Carl S. Miller is the S–4 for the 115th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. He holds a B.A. degree in history and political science from Stephen F. Austin State University and is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course.