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'On Point' shares OIF lessons learned

Army News Service

Release Date: 5/26/2004

By Joe Burlas

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 26, 2004) -- A little more than a year after the end of major hostilities, the Army released May 25 its first major study on operations that liberated the Iraqi people.

Hard copies of "On Point: The United States Army in Iraqi Freedom" is available through regular Army publication channels, and an online version can be view at

The book is not intended to be a definitive history of what exactly occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom, but an overview, according to its three coauthors.

"Soldiers see what is in front of them, not the big picture (in battle)," said retired Col. Gregory Fontenot, "On Point" coauthor. "We wanted to communicate clearly and effectively what happened. This is the story of America's Army."

And it is a story primarily intended for Soldiers and defense officials, with a secondary audience of family members, Fontenot said.

Borrowing on Saddam's threat of the "mother of all battles," Fontenot said they could have used one command's 650-slide "mother of all briefings" after-action report as the basis for their study, but most Soldiers would not endure reading nothing but dry facts.

The authors -- Fontenot, Lt. Col. E.J. Degen and Lt. Col. David Tohn -- said they purposely wrote the study as a story, not just dry history. They avoided heavy use of military jargon, he said. And they used vignettes and quotes from Soldiers throughout the Central Command area of operations to highlight the study's discussion of what occurred.

In reviewing the deployment phase of the operations, the book describes plane loads of Soldiers arriving in theater, often with nobody in charge to meet them and the ensuing search in the dark as 300 Soldiers try to sort out which duffle bag belongs to who.

In the early hours of active combat, they used a story from a psychological operations officer who described what may have been the first Iraqi combat death.

"The cause of death was a box of leaflets that fell out of a Combat Talon aircraft when a static line broke. The box impacted on the Iraqi guard's head, and 9th PSYOP Battalion may have achieved the first enemy KIA of Operation Iraqi freedom."

The study acknowledged that psychological operations did not lead to the mass surrender of Iraqi forces as many Army leaders expected. Rather, most regular Iraqi military forces did not stand and fight, but melted away before coalition attack.

"On Point" discusses the good and the bad -- including the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company and the deep Apache air attack that went wrong.

The Army does a good job of looking at and learning from its failures so that the same mistakes will not be made in the future, Degen said.

Fontenot said the authors realize that the study is one-sided as there is no balance of perspective by including enemy sources.

"We know this is not the perfect book, but it allows us to use it as a starting point on discussions of what occurred," Fontenot said.

And some of the study's insights have already impacted the way the Army currently trains. Tohn credited the study for the creation of an Iraqi village at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., and a cluster of similar villages at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif.

"The Army is a learning organization," Tohn said. "The Army is not waiting for a final study to make changes."

Chartered in April 2003 by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, Army chief of staff at the time, the 30-member study group was directed to conduct "a quick, thorough review that looks at the U.S. Army's performance, assesses the role it played in the joint and coalition team, captures the strategic, operational and tactical lessons that should be disseminated and applied to future fights."

The team collected more than 2,220 audio interviews, 1,500 video interviews, 236,000 documents and 79,000 photos for the study in May and June 2003. That research material is archived at the Center of Army Lessons Learned, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for future studies.

The first draft of the book went to Army senior leaders in August. Two drafts later, the book was approved for publication in December.

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