1st U.S. Army Support Battalion
The U.S. Army's 1st Support Battalion is anything but a typical support battalion. The SPTBATT , as it is called, is an integral part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), an eleven-nation peacekeeping force located in the heart of the Sinai desert, just west of the Israeli-Egyptian international border.
The MFO itself is not a "typical" organization. It is a unique organization, existing only in this one part of the world and for the sole purpose of monitoring compliance with the Treaty of Peace between Egypt and Israel. It has been in place, quietly going about the business of peace-watching, since 1982. The MFO is an organization unto itself, not affiliated with the United Nations or any other international organization. The 1979 Treaty of Peace between Israel and Egypt, a result of the Camp David Accords, during Jimmy Carter's presidential tenure, set the stage for a Sinai peacekeeping force. Initially the United Nations had a force, the United Nations Emergency Force II (UNEFII) in the Sinai. However, after the expiration of the UNEFII mandate, the UN was not able to field the follow on force. President Carter had promised that the United States would ensure the establishment and maintenance of an alternative force should the United Nations fail to assume the role. This became the basis for the Multinational Force and Observers. MFO Headquarters is based in Rome, and currently the Force consists of contingents from Norway, Hungary, Uruguay, Colombia, Italy, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and the United States. Funding support is also received from Germany, Japan, and Switzerland.
The 1st United States Army Support Battalion history began on 26 May 1979 with the signing of the Camp David Peace Accords and the establishment of the Multinational Force and Observers. The Battalion, originally designated the Logistical Support Element, began a proud tradition on 20 March 1982 by providing logistical, medical, postal, transportation and aviation support to the Multinational Force and Observers. During a restructuring period in the United States Army, the Logistical Support Element was reorganized as the Logistic Support Unit on 23 September 1985. The Logistic Support Unit consisted of six diverse sub-elements: Headquarters, Aviation, Medical, Supply, Support and Transportation Companies.
On 1 August 1989, The Logistic Support Unit was redesignated as the 1st United States Army Support battalion (Sinai) and assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment was removed from the Headquarters Company and established as a separate command. In 1991, the 1st United States Army Support Battalion (Sinai) was attached to the 507th Corps Support Group (Airborne), 1st Corps Support Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Most recently, October 2001, the 1st Support Battalion (Sinai) was reorganized under Task Force Sinai.
The 1st U.S. Army Support Battalion, 350-plus strong, makes up about 14 percent of the MFO. It's mission is to provide logistics support to the soldiers from the infantry battalions (U.S., Fiji, and Colombia) who man the remote sites and checkpoints scattered throughout the desert, as well as provide care and support to administrative personnel on the two main installations.
SPTBATT operates with an authorized strength of 361 personnel. The battalion has five company-sized elements and a South Camp Support Detachment. The battalion structure is as follows:
Units Authorized Strength
(1) Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) 87
(2) Supply and Transportation Company (S&T) 101
(3) Aviation Company (AVN) 100
(4) Medical Company (MED) 67
(5) Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment (EOD) 6
(6) South Camp Support Detachment 66*
*Note: comprised of personnel from the following companies: S&T, AVN and MED
The Support Battalion provides direct support logistics in the areas of supply, transportation, medical and aviation support to all eleven Nations and Contingents of the Multinational Force and Observers. The SPTBATT accomplishes its mission by dividing itself into five companies and one detachment. Each company has soldiers stationed at two base camps; North Camp and South Camp. The battalion supports the Colombian and the Fijian infantry battalions from North Camp and the US infantry battalion from South Camp. Besides the mission of observing and reporting shared by all soldiers of the MFO, each company focuses on providing a specific type of support to the Force.
The mission of the Headquarters Company is to provide technically qualified soldiers to the FMMC, APO, FTO, and battalion staff sections. To ensure personal and professional development of the soldiers while maintaining their health and welfare. To provide technically qualified soldiers to the Force Materiel Management Center, Force Transportation Office, Army Post Office, and battalion staff sections, including the Finance Office and Force Chaplain. Ensure the personal and professional development of all soldiers while maintaining their health and welfare.
Supply and Transportation Company drivers master the harsh desert conditions to deliver water, fuel mail, and other supplies to MFO soldiers. To receive, store, and issue Class II, IV and VII supplies. Operate one Class III issue point and deliver Class III to 31 remote sites. Deliver water to remote sites and Dining Facilities. Operate a central receiving and shipping point, a self-service supply center and a mortuary affairs activity. Provide direct support maintenance for weapons and communications equipment for the US Infantry Battalion. Provide local and line haul transportation support for all classes of supply and personnel.
The Medical Company provides surgeons, medics, dentists, and physical therapists who treat the entire Force. Provide health, physical therapy and dental care; veterinary and preventive medicine services; Class VIII support and medical equipment repair, and medical evacuation and training, for the MFO. Additionally conduct Expert Field Medical Badge training and testing for the SPTBATT and the US infantry battalion.
The mission of the EOD detachment is to provide explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) support to the Multinational Force and Observers. Train the members of the MFO on the recognition of hazardous ordinance; render safe or dispose of all improvised explosive devices that pose a threat to the Force; update maps with current hazard locations; verify temporary observation posts.
Apart from their work duties, Support Battalion personnel participate across the range of military, cultural and sporting activities offered by the Force. The Contingent enjoys participating in all team and individual sports programmed by the Force.
The mission of the Aviation Company is to provide general support aviation, aeromedical evacuation, and aerial reconnaissance and security operations to the Multinational Force and Observers. The company has a total of 10 UH-1H/V airframes with 7 stationed at North Camp and 3 at South Camp. The unit has a broad range of organic support operations to ensure that aircraft and personnel are available to accomplish the mission.The Aviation Company uses it's fleet of Huey's to provide air transport and the observation platform for Civilian Observers verification missions throughout the operations area, as well as performing VIP missions, personnel transport and resupply missions for several of the most isolated and dangerous sites. Provide general support aviation, aeromedical evacuation, aerial reconnaissance and security operations to the MFO. In addition, perform maintenance on all aircraft assigned to the company and operate a class IX repair parts warehouse.
Army aviation offers many challenges, but very few measure up to those faced by the UH-1 aviators (call sign "Nomad") supporting the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping operation in Egypt's Sinai desert. These soldiers serve a one year tour of duty as part of the 1st U.S. Army Support Battalion, a forward deployed element of the 1st Corps Support Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.
The Aviation Company, 1st U.S. Army Support Battalion (1SB), is organized into two flight platoons, one maintenance platoon, one shops and warehouse platoon, and a headquarters platoon. It conducts all activities related to American helicopter operations in the Sinai Peninsula. The company is based at two locations that are more than 250 miles apart, with almost all of the vast Sinai between them.
The 1SB aviators fly in one of the harshest operational areas in the world the mountains and sandy wastelands of the Sinai. The Nomads' fly over the waters of the Mediterranean Ocean, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba, the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal. Their mission includes crossing the international border into Israel, where part of the operational area contains the highly sensitive and volatile Gaza Strip.
The Nomads' responsibilities are extremely diverse and, like everything else in this part of the Middle East, politically sensitive. The Avn. Co. undertakes general aviation transport and resupply, aeromedical evacuation, aerial reconnaissance and security operations for the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), an eleven nation task force formed in 1982 to monitor Israeli and Egyptian compliance with the Camp David peace accords. Simply stated, the terms of the agreement between the two nations called for Israel to return control of the Sinai and the Suez Canal to Egypt. In exchange, Egypt would recognize Israeli sovereignty and agree to certain conditions regarding the deployment of Egyptian armed forces in the Sinai. Israel, distrusting the United Nations to monitor these conditions, insisted on an independent force with a heavy American presence. The MFO is that force. It currently consists of soldiers from Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hungary, Colombia, Uruguay, Canada, Italy, France and the United States.
The MFO maintains two main bases in Sinai: North Camp, near El Arish, and South Camp, near Sharm El Sheikh. In addition, numerous observation posts and command posts are spread throughout three sectors in the Sinai wilderness. These outposts are manned by infantry battalions from Fiji, Colombia and the United States.
The conditions of the Camp David accords include the deployment of no more than one Egyptian mechanized division, with specific limits on heavy weapons, in the Sinai. This division is restricted to the vicinity of the Suez Canal, which separates Egypt proper from the Sinai.
On the other end of the Sinai, the Israeli border is defined on one end by the town of Rafah, part of the volatile Gaza strip, and on the other by the Israeli resort town of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba. The accords authorize the Israelis no more than one mechanized brigade in the vicinity of the border. The Israelis depend on sophisticated listening stations and ground surveillance radar to secure the border, and very rarely have anything other than heavily armed four-wheel-drive vehicles within the zone set by the treaty. The toughest part of treaty verification along the Israeli border is Israeli air-traffic control. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) often use Nomad aircraft as training aids, vectoring F15 and F16 fighters as well as pairs of IDF AH-64 Apaches to intercept.
Though the aviators of 1SB undertake a variety of challenging missions, few are as hair raising as the slingload operations flown in support of Observation Post 3-11. Located on Tiran Island, five miles off Sinai's coast in the Gulf of Aqaba, OP 3-11 is manned by U.S. troops who monitor Israeli and Egyptian naval and maritime activities in the strategically vital area where the Gulf meets the Red Sea.
Tiran Island now belongs to Saudi Arabia and is leased by Egypt so that the observation post can be operated there. The actual OP is located on the island's western edge, more than 800 feet tip a cliff wall overlooking heavily mined beaches. The island is accessible from the water in a few locations, but the OP's location and the treacherous slopes leading up to it make resupply by any combination of sea and ground transport almost impossible. The OP 3-11 troops therefore rely on the slingload missions flown on Thursday and Sunday mornings by UH-1's of the South Camp Aviation Platoon for their transportation to and from work, as well as for food, water, mail, fuel and just about everything else.
Most missions deliver (15) 1,000 pound slingloads to the island OP, and each mission requires two or three slingloads to be backhauled to the staging area at Sector Control Center 7 (SCC-7). The UH-1H can easily carry over 2,000 lbs., but the high winds and extreme heat encountered in the south Sinai desert often limit the helicopters' load carrying ability and flight performance. The slingloads carried out to Tiran Island consist mainly of water blivets and pallets holding food, equipment and fuel. When improvements or repairs need to be made to the buildings at the site, constriction materials, equipment and prefabricated structures are also flown out. Because the Egyptian lease on Tiran prohibits the island's sand from being used to fill the sandbags needed to build and maintain the OP's security walls and bunkers, prefilled sandbags must also be carried out to the waiting soldiers. An average resupply mission will deliver more than 12,000 lbs. of supplies to Tiran Island in less than four hours. That adds up to more than 432 tons of supplies a year.
The four UH-1 s and 30 soldiers of the South Camp Aviation Platoon also undertake a variety of other missions, including general aviation and medical evacuation support for the U.S. infantry battalions that rotate through South Camp every six months.
Like any other Army unit, the 1SB Avn. Co. catches its share of "hey you" missions. Unlike other units, these missions often involve crossing hotly contested border areas and executing in less than optimal circumstances.
The soldiers, though they had to work extremely hard, thoroughly enjoyed the unique experience of successfully conducting a complex operation in a foreign land with limited support. Their professional conduct and performance throughout this operation insured that the MFO will be able to keep the peace in the Sinai for many years to come.
The fact that 1SB's Avn. Co. maintains an operational readiness rate averaging 85 percent is nothing short of miraculous, especially given the fact that the unit is flying Vietnam vintage aircraft at a frantic pace in an extremely hostile environment more than 5,000 miles from its support maintenance at Fort Bragg. This success is attributable only to the heroic efforts of the company's maintenance soldiers (there are no civilians).
These maintainers regularly work 80 to 90 hour weeks, and on weekends and holidays, whatever it takes. In one instance a maintenance team deployed more than 100 miles into the Sinai to replace the entire powertrain of a UH-1 after an N2 accessory gearbox failure. The soldiers worked for 10 days in 120 degree heat, completely exposed to the elements. In the end, the UH-1 returned to El Gorah under her own power.
Working hand in glove with the maintainers are the Class IX warehouse personnel. Managing more than 4,000 lines of aviation parts, they set the standard for service and accuracy. The Class IX warehouse has an incredible 100 percent location accuracy and 98 percent accountability accuracy.
The 1SB Avn. Co. mission would be difficult under virtually any command structure. Under the spotlight of an 11-nation multinational force, conducting peacekeeping operations in one of the world's most publicized and politically charged flash points, all the usual challenges are magnified. No other unit in the Army, much less Army aviation, executes a mission of the complexity and OPTEMPO of the 1SB Avn. Co.. The variety, complexity and political sensitivity of the MFO mission makes "Supporting the Force", by Air, a challenge every day.
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