Graphic - Center for Army Lessons Learned

On Point

The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom

Chapter 4

The March Up-Country

I don't like to say we were surrounded, but we were being fired at from all directions.
Captain Jeffrey McCoy, Commander, C/3-7 CAV
commenting on fighting at An Najaf

Saved by the Helmet
The 2nd Squad, 1st Platoon, 511th MP Company was involved in a firefight at a manufacturing plant near Al Iskandariyah. Staff Sergeant Daniel Small led his squad to a known arms and ammunition cache, where they discovered several men looting the materials. Small directed his squad into defensive positions.

A man immediately began to approach Sergeant Anthony Cassetta's team, consisting of the driver, Private First Class Hunter Cloke, and the gunner, Private First Class Chad Hicks. Cassetta motioned for the man to get into the prone position, but the man refused and began to run at the team. Cassetta then shot the man with his 9mm pistol, killing him. Shortly thereafter, the team began to take small- arms fire from about 300 yards away; Cassetta ordered the HMMWVs to move to form a defensive perimeter.

At this time, Cloke had stopped a vehicle with two Iraqis in it and placed them in the prone position. One of the individuals took out a grenade and threw it toward the team. Cloke grabbed the unexploded grenade and threw it from his position, saving his team. The grenade exploded just feet from his head, spraying shrapnel into his Kevlar helmet and hitting him in the eye. Simultaneously, Cassetta engaged the man with his M-4 Carbine. The man went down but came back up with another grenade and threw it as well. The second grenade did not explode. Cloke, with shrapnel in his eye, engaged the man with his 9mm pistol, finally killing him. As all of this was going on, Small and the rest of the squad were in a firefight against an unknown number of attackers. Ultimately, the squad defeated them, killing one and critically wounding another with well-aimed M-4 fires.1

Summary of Events

The chapter title is borrowed from Xenophon's account of the ill-fated campaign of Cyrus I of Persia. Following Cyrus' defeat and death in 401 BCE, Xenophon successfully led a Greek contingent of the Persian army as it fought its way out of Mesopotamia marching up- country home to Greece. Xenophon's narrative is a classic on the difficulty of campaigning in Mesopotamia, or what we now know as Iraq.

Although hampered by severe sandstorms, coalition aircraft continued to attack air defense, command and control, and intelligence facilities in the Baghdad area. Coalition aircraft continued to achieve high sortie rates despite the weather. The focus of strike missions began to shift to the Republican Guard divisions in the vicinity of Baghdad. Control of the air allowed the employment of slow-moving intelligence-gathering aircraft such as the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) and the RC-135 Rivet Joint, which gathers signals intelligence and UAVs. In the days just prior to the sandstorms, the air component flew an average of 800 strike sorties daily. The majority of the effort was against discrete targets designed to achieve specific effects against the regime, to interdict enemy movement, or in close support of ground forces.2 Even during the sandstorms, surveillance aircraft continued to provide data that enabled the coalition to target Iraqi units over an area of several hundred square miles during weather the Iraqis thought would shield them from air attack. On 28 March, the weather cleared, allowing coalition forces to increase the number of strikes on Baghdad and Republican Guard units. Coalition air forces operated against strategic, operational, and tactical targets, demonstrating both the efficacy and flexibility of air power.

Coalition maritime forces continued their efforts to expand the width of the cleared channel in Khor Abdullah. The channel was opened with about a 60-yard-wide pathway up to Umm Qasr. During operations to widen the cleared pathway to 200 yards, coalition forces identified "bottom-influence" mines. The Iraqis clearly had thought through denying the use of Umm Qasr to the coalition.3

Lieutenant General McKiernan and the CFLCC staff had reason to breathe a bit more easily in the days after V Corps and I MEF breached the berm. Both the corps and the MEF had moved out rapidly. SOF operations to seize the Gulf oil platforms and to generate threats against the regime from 360 degrees were under way and apparently with good effect. CFLCC's theater reception system seemed able to keep pace. In some ways, CFLCC now had to await events as its major formations undertook operations in Basra and in oil fields and began the march up-country. At An Nasiriyah, I MEF encountered and defeated an enemy attack in the sharpest engagement of the war thus far. The 3rd Commando Brigade of the 1st (UK) Armoured Division launched an offensive near Basra that secured Abu al Khasib. British forces continued aggressive patrols and engaged in sharp firefights with paramilitaries in the Al Faw and Basra areas. The Brits prevented any reinforcement of Basra while maintaining the security of the southern oil fields and the port of Umm Qasr.

V Corps had breached the border and secured its initial objectives. Now Lieutenant General Wallace directed several parallel actions to bring the corps forward to where it could threaten Baghdad proper. So far, the attack was "on plan," with the possible exception of the congestion along the restrictive LOCs as the corps uncoiled into Iraq. Casualties were minimal and the first fight, against the Iraqi 11th Infantry Division, had gone very well.

With the initial objectives secure, shifting the combat power north was necessary to prepare for the attack on Baghdad. It involved three distinct actions: moving the actual fighting forces--the 3rd Infantry Division, elements of the 101st Airborne Division, and the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment (AHR)--north; moving the logistics base north; and securing the vital LOCs. These related actions needed to be completed before the corps could engage in heavy fighting anticipated in and around Baghdad. March up-country sequence of events

Click here for higher resolution image (105 KB)
Figure 74. March up-country sequence of events

Lieutenant General Wallace and the corps planners knew that, after the 400-km assault north, it would be necessary to refuel, rearm, and refit the 3rd ID before it continued north.4 Accordingly, the corps planned to seize Objective RAMS, west-southwest of An Najaf and roughly two-thirds of the way between the border and the Karbala Gap. At RAMS 3rd ID and other corps units could refit to continue the attack while continuing to shape the enemy with deep fires. Establishing the logistics foundation became the proverbial "long pole in the tent" and drove the operations to seize RAMS, secure the LOCS, and neutralize the threats in As Samawah, An Najaf, and the surrounding areas.

The corps originally planned to move north along improved roads, bypassing the dangerous urban areas along the way. The 3rd ID would punctuate this maneuver with several feints across the Euphrates River to present the picture of a main effort east of the river. Following the combat troops, the corps logistics units would move forward to establish an LSA near Objective RAMS to sustain the upcoming phases of the operation. Moving north also enabled Wallace to bring his hard-hitting attack aviation forces, the 11th AHR and 101st Division's Aviation Brigade, into the fight, taking the first swipes at the Medina Division. These attacks would degrade the Medina and preclude any moves south to interrupt the corps' advance. Finally, they would thin the defense of Karbala Gap, supporting the 3rd ID's eventual attack.

Positioning 101st Airborne Division attack helicopters within striking distance of the Medina required the establishment of a series of intermediate fueling stops, or "lily pads." The division plan called for the ground emplacement of rapid refuel point (RRP) EXXON, approximately 150 km north of Camp UDARI, Kuwait, into a remote area of the Iraqi desert where the terrain offered reasonable access for 5,000-gallon fuel tankers. The second stop would be the bed-down location at a forward arming and refuel point (FARP) SHELL, just south of RAMS. V Corps and I MEF maneuver to Baghdad

Click here for higher resolution image (349 KB)
Figure 75. V Corps and I MEF maneuver to Baghdad

The 101st had to integrate its FARP personnel and equipment into 3rd ID's early convoys if they were to reach EXXON and SHELL in time to set up. 101st CSS units to support rearm- refuel points crossed the berm on 22 March. The mission of building and securing the refuel points fell to the 101st's 3rd BCT. Fresh from a nearly eight-month deployment to Afghanistan, followed by a training rotation at the JRTC, 3rd BCT built the aviation support facilities with FARP assets detached from the two aviation brigades. These lily pads supported not only the 101st's movement north, but eventually supported almost all aviation traffic transiting Iraq on the left bank of the Euphrates.

However, as in any battle, the enemy had a vote, and their tactics and their will to fight proved different than expected. For example, 3-7 CAV, which led the way for the 3rd ID, anticipated a relatively simple move north along the Euphrates River. Instead it became involved in a 100-km running fight against persistent, if generally ineffective ambushes. The 2nd BCT's attack to seize Objective RAMS also proved more difficult than expected. After seizing RAMS, the soldiers spent the next several days fending off waves of counterattacking Iraqi paramilitary forces coming out of An Najaf. Just as the enemy had to be prevented from exiting towns farther south, so too would An Najaf have to be isolated to ensure the troops working in the LSA and units moving on the LOC could do so unmolested. Isolating An Najaf developed into one of the hardest-fought actions in the campaign, eventually absorbing two BCTs and the division cavalry. In the end the 3rd ID handed An Najaf off to the 101st Airborne Division. Elsewhere, the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company demonstrated the danger on the ever-lengthening LOCs.

While fighting continued along the corps' axis of advance, the CFLCC continued to build the logistics and sustainment base necessary to support extended combat operations in and around Baghdad. While perhaps not as exciting as the combat operations, these actions were among the most complex and critical to ensuring the campaign's overall success. The fighting in An Nasiriyah and As Samawah demonstrated the risk paramilitary forces posed to the LOCs. With 1st Armored Division unavailable to secure the LOCs as planned, McKiernan and Wallace had to find a way to secure the LOCs. Ultimately, McKiernan released the 82nd Airborne to V Corps and Wallace committed it, along with the 101st, to clean up the enemy forces that threatened to interdict the LOCs.

The march up-country included a series of combat and support operations to set the tactical and logistic conditions necessary to secure the corps' rear area and isolate Baghdad. Adding to the complexity and risk, the region suffered through a sandstorm of biblical proportions. The four major events described in detail are: 5

  • The use of Army attack aviation in deep attacks
  • The battle to isolate An Najaf
  • The operations to secure the LOCs
  • The airborne insertion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade into northern Iraq

These were, by no means, all of the operations that occurred during the march up-country. The coalition executed a series of parallel, sequential, and simultaneous operations across the theater designed to increase the pressure on the Iraqis while moving the sustainment base forward.

Following Turkey's refusal to allow US combat forces to stage an invasion from its territory, CENTCOM and CFLCC determined to use the 4th Infantry Division in the south. Once on the ground, the "Ivy Division" assumed a "follow-and-support" mission, coming up from Kuwait behind the 3rd ID and 101st Airborne Division, ultimately securing part of northern Iraq. While the original plan was not executed, the extended threat of 4th ID attacking through Turkey may have fixed Iraqi conventional forces in the north, preventing them from repositioning south against V Corps and the MEF.

Without the 4th ID operating from Turkey, the coalition instead employed a powerful combination of SOF, Kurdish forces, and conventional US forces in northern Iraq. This included the first US airborne operations mounted from the European theater since World War II and 173rd Airborne Brigade's first combat operation since the Vietnam War. These forces continued to fix the Iraqi forces well north. SOF units worked aggressively in the west and north to interdict any theater ballistic missile capabilities, isolate Iraq from neighboring Syria, and destroy strategic targets throughout Iraq.

In addition to ground attacks from the south, CFLCC kept pressure on Baghdad and Saddam's regime directly by keeping the 2nd BCT of the 82nd Airborne Division, the theater reserve, available to employ deep in Iraq--specifically Baghdad. The 82nd could jump or fly into Baghdad to restore order and demonstrate a coalition presence if Saddam's government fled or imploded. In the meantime its presence in the theater gave Saddam another problem to contemplate.

Finally, as 3rd ID marched north, operations continued in the areas it passed through. The coalition's strategic goal was to establish a free, democratic, and prosperous Iraq, and this work started in earnest as soon as combat was over in the towns to the south. In what Lieutenant General McKiernan described as a "rolling phase IV transition," Army forces began stability operations and support operations in towns and cities from the Kuwaiti border all the way up to the frontline forces. Spearheaded by SOF, the coalition began linking up with local leaders and started the hard work of reestablishing basic public services and some degree of local governance.

Logistics -- Setting the Conditions to Win

At this point in the advance to Baghdad, V Corps and I MEF had nearly reached the end of their organic logistics tether. To continue beyond the range of onboard stores, V Corps and I MEF would require the entire theater's focused logistics efforts. The cliché that amateurs study tactics, while professionals study logistics proved to be quite true. Here is where the true "graduate-level" work of the campaign's design and execution paid off--after the initial push into Iraq.

There are certain hard facts that apply to even the most modern and best-equipped armies. Soldiers must eat, drink, and sleep. Tanks, Bradleys, and other vehicles require fuel and at least some maintenance or they will grind to a halt. For modern armies, fuel is perhaps the greatest single supply burden. For example, OIF planners estimated a daily fuel requirement approaching 2 million gallons through about day 14, when they expected the total requirement to exceed that amount. An armored move of this scale and scope placed an almost overwhelming logistics burden on theater and corps logistics units supporting V Corps and the MEF.

Wallace had believed in the months leading to OIF that the corps would need to slow or even pause somewhere "just to the west side of An Najaf" to "build our logistics power to continue to project our combat power."6 No stranger to the desert or to fighting a resourceful enemy in difficult terrain, Wallace did not just happen upon this conclusion. As a Vietnam veteran and an experienced cavalryman, including regimental command and six years at the NTC in California's Mojave Desert as a trainer and ultimately the commanding general, his planners' estimates made sense to him. Moreover, he knew the capabilities of his units, having commanded the 4th ID and having trained every kind of unit the Army fields during his tour at the NTC. Based on this experience, he knew the corps could win the tactical fights; his concern was adequate fuel, ammunition, and maintenance for future operations. An established LSA at Objective RAMS would be critical to future operations toward Baghdad.

Fuel, water, and food are the greatest burdens for logisticians to bear. To meet the 2 million gallons of fuel per day required--from tanks to aircraft--the Third Army had worked for two years to develop the infrastructure that a potential war with Iraq would require. Among other things, the Kuwaiti national oil company had, at the request of Third Army, laid pipeline nearly to the border. Third Army augmented this largesse by supplying the pumps. But in execution, Colonel Melvin Frazier, who commanded the 49th Quartermaster Group (fuel and water), was the man who brought it all together. Frazier and his troops, working with the 377th Theater Support Command (TSC) and Third Army, started planning in earnest in the fall of 2001. By March of 2003, he had assembled engineers and petroleum units that laid pipeline and built bag farms to store fuel. Between January and March 2003, seven line-haul truck companies arrived and reported to the group. Ultimately, Frazier's units--with support from Army and Marine units--had a system in place that could store 7.3 million gallons of fuel. Moreover, Frazier assigned one truck company to support V Corps and one to support the I MEF. Together with trucks organic to the corps, this meant that V Corps could refuel every 100 km, or five times between crossing the line of departure and arriving at Baghdad.7

Click here for higher resolution image (333 KB)
Figure 76. The V Corps logistics challenge

The plan to sustain the force further envisaged staging storage forward to reduce the length of the line haul. This would, in turn, reduce the time on the road for truckers and ensure that the demands of I MEF, V Corps, and nearby air bases could be met. To understand the scale of this effort, CFLCC expected to consume 40 million gallons of fuel by D+20, or about 10 April. By comparison, the Allies in WW I consumed 40 million gallons of gasoline during the four years of the war, a war that Winston Churchill described as having been won "on a sea of oil." By contrast, during World War II, the Allied fuel reserves in Normandy reached 7.5 million gallons only on D+21.8

Figure 77. 101st Airborne Division fuel consumption summary as of 30 April 2003

Clearly, Colonel Frazier and the V Corps and I MEF logisticians were no pikers in setting the conditions to feed the aircraft and fighting vehicles of an entirely mechanized force. Moreover, they planned to travel and fight across a theater to seize a hostile capital almost as far as Remagen on the Rhine River was from the Normandy beaches. To provide historical context, in summer and fall 1944, to keep up with a consumption rate of 800,000 gallons per day for First and Third Armies, General Dwight D. Eisenhower's logisticians created the Red Ball Express. The Red Ball Express required 132 truck companies to move the fuel over its 400-mile route. Frazier and the soldiers and marines of CFLCC, by means of trucks, pipelines, and fuel storage bags, aimed to more than double that accomplishment on a route that exceeded the length of that used by the fabled Red Ball Express.9

Three general officers shared the responsibility of assuring that trucks got forward to the right place and that logistics bounded forward. Major General Claude V. Christianson, the CLFCC C4, Major General David Kratzer, commanding the 377th TSC, and Brigadier General Jack Stultz, commanding the 143rd Transportation Command, responsible for transportation, focused considerable energy on the issue. Stultz attacked the problem vigorously. In the end everyone involved in logistics in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM found that personal leadership and hands-on management proved essential to coping with the scale of the problem.10 To this team, Brigadier General Charles A. Fletcher, commanding the 3rd Corps Support Command (COSCOM), and his counterpart in I MEF added their efforts to assure that bulk fuel and other supplies made it to the tactical units. The marines also extended their hose and reel pipeline system to Jalibah air base south of Tallil, where they built an LSA.

Figure 78. 101st Airborne Division water summary

Regardless of these generals' hard work, they all laid the credit for the fuel movement success at the feet of the soldiers and marines who drove the trucks and laid the pipeline, including 240 km of the Marine Corps' hose reel system. Truckers and logistics soldiers drove themselves to the point of exhaustion. They kept on driving and fighting to get supplies forward. Christianson, not given to hyperbole, claims that these ". . . guys were incredible."11

CFLCC and the corps logisticians managed water, food, and ammunition as intensively as the fuel, with the result that units ran low but never out of any of these vital commodities. The theater did not do as well with repair parts. Generals Christianson, Kratzer, and Stultz all agree that the parts distribution system never worked, despite heroic efforts.12 More than enough parts reached the theater and were duly processed, but almost none reached the intended customers during the fighting. Forward, the troops made do by cannibalizing broken-down equipment and towing what they could not repair. So, as the force moved north toward Baghdad with adequate fuel, water, and food, its ability to sustain an adequate maintenance readiness rate began to suffer. Fortunately, major combat operations ended before the failure of the parts distribution system affected operations in a meaningful way.

Fundamentally, the problem with parts is emblematic of a larger problem in the matter of distribution generally. A requisition for parts has to make its way through a fairly complex system and must be handled several times before it reaches the division where it is needed, let alone the platoon in which the part is required. In General Christianson's view, the real problem is that there is no single agent for managing "cargo distribution," whether it is water or a bolt needed on a tank.13 OIF highlights a problem identified during DESERT STORM that remains to be solved.

Deserts and Rivers--the Terrain

V Corps conducted operations in both desert and river valley terrain on the way to the Karbala Gap. In the western section of the area of operations, the terrain is typical desert--dry and broken with waddies and gullies that disrupt and canalize movement when traveling cross- country. Within the river valley, the terrain is similar to that around As Samawah--plowed fields dissected with irrigation ditches and interspersed with palm groves. Wheeled movement is possible along the canal dikes and roads, but they are generally not wide or strong enough to support armored vehicles. The desert area is generally not populated, while the farmlands between the towns on the Euphrates River are dotted with small villages and farming communities. The terrain was a known factor that the corps could plan for; the weather, on the other hand, was not.

The Mother of All Sandstorms

On 25-27 March 2003, a strong weather system in the Middle East triggered a series of dust/sandstorms that became nearly continuous and slowed operations throughout the theater. On the first day, several moderate to strong thunderstorms swept west to east through Iraq and Kuwait. In front of and behind these storms, strong winds caused blowing sand, reducing visibility to near zero at times. Sand, dust and raindrops mingled to form what troops described as a mud storm. On the second day, the storm center passed across northern Iraq and moved into Iran by midnight.

Strong west and southwesterly winds from this low-pressure system blew across central and southern areas of Iraq, keeping the sandstorms going throughout the theater. On 27 March, most of Iraq's skies cleared as the dust settled under an approaching high-pressure area. But Kuwait and the Persian Gulf were still experiencing blowing dust, hindering ground and air operations around Kuwait and naval operations in the gulf.14

Figure 79. Satellite photograph of sandstorm, 26 March 2003

Figure 80. 3rd ID soldier during the sandstorm

Figure 81. 101st Airborne Division OH-58D Kiowa Warrior after the sandstorm

While the weather threw its wind-borne surprises at the coalition forces, the Iraqis did the same on the ground. The enemy disposition, tactics, and threat were, at times, as murky as the dust-filled air.

Enemy Disposition

CFLCC and V Corps had no evidence of a significant conventional Iraqi force between An Nasiriyah and Karbala. Intelligence officers believed the next conventional forces would be encountered farther north, defending the immediate approaches to Baghdad itself. Here the Iraqis apparently had arrayed three Republican Guard divisions, the Hammurabi, Medina, and Al Nida Divisions from west to east. The Special Republican Guard Division remained in Baghdad, with the bulk of its troops west of the Tigris River and in position to protect essential regime personnel and facilities. During the opening three days of operations, the CFLCC and corps had not detected any significant movement. However, it remained unclear how the Iraqis would respond to the ongoing air and information operations campaigns. Intelligence proved even less precise on tracking or estimating what the various paramilitary troops might do.

As the fight in As Samawah indicated, approximately 3,000-5,000 paramilitary fighters of all sorts defended from the towns and cities along the Euphrates River valley. Generically described in intelligence and operational estimates as Republican Death Squads, these fighters included Ba'athist Party militia, Saddam Fedayeen, foreign fighters, and some elements of the Republican Guard forces. Moreover, as discovered during the fighting, they included Iraqi civilians coerced into fighting against coalition forces by Fedayeen or militia who threatened their families at gunpoint. Although the estimates accounted for these forces, they did not anticipate their intent. As Major General Marks, the CFLCC C2 put it, "We did not predict that they were going to come out of the cities and expose themselves to up-armored vehicles and armored formations without similar protection."15

Click here for higher resolution image (413 KB)
Figure 82. Iraqi force disposition

All of the estimates accurately assumed the Fedayeen were the most dangerous of the paramilitary forces, but they were thought to be in Baghdad in large numbers to bolster the capital city defense. As events unfolded, it appears that Saddam sent them south along the approach routes from Kuwait to stiffen the conventional defense, maintain political control over the southern cities, delay coalition momentum, and induce significant casualties. More surprising, these irregular forces chose to come out of the relatively safe urban areas to engage coalition armored forces out in the open. In doing so, they forfeited the tactical and propaganda advantages offered by fighting from the complex urban terrain--where fighting could result in significant civilian casualties and damage to buildings and infrastructure that could be used to sway international opinion. Even more surprising, the paramilitaries chose to attack the lead armored forces in waves rather than waiting for the soft-skinned, logistics convoys that would follow. Because the paramilitary forces were essentially untrained, if dedicated, their tactics were suicidal in that they literally ran, and drove, to their deaths.

In northern Iraq, two-fifths of the Iraqi conventional forces defended the "Green Line," across from the Kurdish Autonomous Zone, along the border with Turkey, and along the border with Iran (see Figure 83). Stiffened with two Republican Guard divisions, Saddam Fedayeen, and Ba'ath Party militia, these forces secured northern Iraq and posed a significant obstacle to the Kurdish forces. Moreover, if they moved south to reinforce the defense of Baghdad, they would greatly increase the challenge to the coalition forces moving up from Kuwait. V Corps and I MEF advanced north against this enemy disposition.

Click here for higher resolution image (475 KB)
Figure 83. Iraqi forces disposition, northern Iraq

The 507th Maintenance Company

When OIF began, many Americans viewed warfare with almost clinical detachment, assuming that the war could be concluded rapidly, with precision and with few casualties. They also believed that American troops armed with the latest technology and precision munitions could not possibly become lost or surprised in combat. They continued to believe this despite the evidence of Black Hawk Down and the inconclusive results of the air war in Kosovo, possibly because, with the exception of Black Hawk Down, all they saw were gun camera tapes accompanied by cocksure appraisals of the incredible precision of American weapons.16 Americans believed in the apparent precision of our armed forces without considering adaptation by the enemy or the frequent fallibility of the best technology or, for that matter, the human condition.

Humans tire and make mistakes, even if their weapons do not. When theorists and experts describe the modern battlefield as nonlinear, fast-moving, and noncontiguous, they fail to account for the implications of that assessment. If modern warfare is nonlinear--it means just that--there are no lines and no visible demarcation between the "front" and "rear." If there is no front and no rear, then nowhere on the modern battlefield is truly safe. An adaptable enemy may not wear uniforms and may not behave in a manner consistent with conventions developed in the West. If there are no rules--then there are no rules. In March 2003, the condition of the battlefield at An Nasiriyah, the town controlling the major southern crossing on the Euphrates River, was truly "noncontiguous," "nonlinear," and very much occupied by an adaptable enemy prepared to fight "asymmetrically."

Moving Out

The 507th Maintenance Company arrived at An Nasiriyah just over 60 hours after it had started out to join the 3rd Forward Support Battalion (FSB), 3rd ID convoy to Objective RAMS. RAMS lay some 350 km northwest of the 507th's base camp at Camp VIRGINIA, which was near the Kuwait-Iraq border. The 507th departed Camp VIRGINIA at 1400 on the 20th with 64 soldiers and 33 vehicles. Driving cross-country almost due west, it arrived in Assault Position DAWSON at 2100. There, the unit refueled and rested until departing the next morning at 0700. The second leg of the convoy took the 507th from DAWSON to Assault Position BULL, where it would link up with the 3rd FSB. The company drove some 35 km, crossed the Iraqi border, and arrived at BULL at noon on the 21st. 17

At BULL, Captain Troy King, commanding the 507th, met with the operations officer of the 3rd FSB, who provided him a CD-ROM disk containing orders and route information. Although 3rd FSB intended to travel cross-country for a part of the way, ultimately it would travel up Highway 8--called Route BLUE--to a point just south of An Nasiriyah where Highway 8 met Route JACKSON, or Highway 1. There, soldiers at a traffic control point would direct the 600-vehicle convoy from Route BLUE to Route JACKSON. Somehow, King only understood that he would travel Route BLUE.18

In any case, the 507th departed as part of the 3rd FSB column at 1800 on 21 March, moving cross-country to Assault Position LIZARD, which lay to the northwest, across 80 km of difficult terrain. During the night, vehicles in the convoy had trouble due to breakdowns, getting stuck in the sand, or becoming separated from their unit in the dark. Falling behind, Captain King decided to break his convoy into two serials. He led the first serial, consisting of vehicles that could keep up. First Sergeant Robert Dowdy recovered mired or broken-down vehicles and assembled them into the second, slower serial to continue the movement north.19

Captain King and the lead serial arrived in LIZARD at 0530 on 22 March. First Sergeant Dowdy and the second group finally reached LIZARD at 1600. Meanwhile, King reported his situation to his Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Fischetti, and to the 3rd FSB, which confirmed there would be no changes to the route. The 3rd FSB also advised King that the convoy would depart as scheduled at 1400. Rather than leave at the scheduled time, King opted to wait for Dowdy and the trailing vehicles, sending his executive officer on with the remainder of the company.20

At 1930 on the 22nd, King and Dowdy departed LIZARD with 33 soldiers, including two (Sergeant George Buggs and Private First Class Edward Anguiano) who were assigned to 3rd FSB. King had 18 vehicles, including two that were being towed. The serial contained three HMMWVs, two of which were towing trailers, and eight 5-ton tractor-trailers, one of which was being towed. There were also five 5-ton trucks, including a wrecker towing a water trailer, two cargo trucks towing trailers, a fuel truck, and a disabled 5-ton cargo truck. Finally, there were two 10-ton wreckers, one towing the broken-down 5-ton shop van and the other towing the broken-down 5-ton tractor-trailer.21

Click here for higher resolution image (167 KB)
Figure 84. The 507th Maintenance Company sequence of events

Click here for higher resolution image (254 KB)
Figure 85. Captain King's serial, 507th Maintenance convoy

Missing the Turn

Captain King decided to take the most direct route to intersect Route BLUE, some 15 km cross-country from LIZARD. Unfortunately, the terrain proved nearly impassable. It took some 5 hours to reach Route BLUE. Sometime after 0100, the 507th drove through the traffic control point at the intersection of Route BLUE and Route JACKSON. Although there were troops in the area, no one manned the traffic control point. King, believing he was supposed to stay on Route BLUE, continued on rather than turning onto Route JACKSON. Because his next GPS waypoint was generally to the west, there was no cause yet for alarm. Just after 0530, King missed a left turn on Route BLUE. As yet unaware he had missed the turn, he headed north along the eastern side of An Nasiriyah.22

Entering An Nasiriyah

Click here for higher resolution image (549 KB)
Figure 86. The 507th route of movement toward An Nasiriyah

Captain King, First Sergeant Dowdy, and the 31 other soldiers drove north through the eastern edge of An Nasiriyah, passing armed "civilians" and traveling through two Iraqi military checkpoints without incident. When the convoy reached Highway 16 on the northern outskirts of An Nasiriyah, it turned left, thinking it was turning onto Highway 8 south of the city. King turned north at the T-intersection where Highway 16 ends, realized his error and, after consulting with Dowdy, turned the convoy around. By now, after more than 60 hours on the move, King, Dowdy, and the soldiers were exhausted. Nevertheless, they got their vehicles turned around and made their way back and turned left, or east, onto Highway 16, and started looking for the right turn which would take them back south to safety and Route BLUE.

Almost from the moment they turned back onto Highway 16, they came under fire. First Sergeant Dowdy recommended that the serial pick up the pace to escape the fire. With only five radios, passing the word must have consisted, in part at least, of setting the example and exhortation by hand and arm waving. Dowdy's efforts to get the word out apparently included driving up alongside trucks and yelling instructions at the vehicle commander and driver.23

Moving fast, Captain King now missed the turn south. First Sergeant Dowdy saw the error and called King to have him turn around a second time. By now, the entire serial had passed the turn. Sergeant First Class Pierce sped up and caught Captain King to advise him that he could find the turn. King told Pierce to take the lead. At this point, still under fire, the 5-ton tractor- trailer, driven by Private Brandon Sloan and commanded by Sergeant Donald Walters, broke down. Sergeant James Riley and Private First Class Patrick Miller, in the following vehicle, the 5-ton wrecker towing the water trailer, slowed down so that Sloan could leap aboard. It is unclear what became of Walters. He may have fought his way south of Highway 16 for some distance, but at some point he was killed in the action.24

The serial, now disintegrating, had to travel some 3 km past the missed turn to find enough room to turn the large tractor-trailers around. As they made the U-turn, Sergeant Buggs and Private First Class Anguiano mired their wrecker and its tow in soft sand. Stuck and taking fire, the two needed help. First Sergeant Dowdy, who for more than two days had been policing up the trail of the 507th, slowed his HMMWV and picked them up. Dowdy reported to Captain King that the trail element had turned around and that he had Buggs and Anguiano and that they needed to get out of the city as soon as possible. Dowdy's HMMWV now had five people aboard, including Private First Class Lori Piestewa, Private First Class Jessica Lynch, whose supply truck had broken down, the two soldiers from 3rd FSB and Dowdy himself.25

Driving fast, taking fire, doing a U-turn, and making a hard left off Highway 16 all contributed to breaking the serial into three groups. The first group, led by Captain King, included his HMMWV, a 5-ton tractor-trailer, and a 5-ton truck towing a trailer. The second group of three 5-ton tractor-trailers, one HMMWV, and one 5-ton truck followed some distance behind King. The last group, by now fairly far behind and badly strung out due to problems turning around and making the turn to the south, included First Sergeant Dowdy's HMMWV, two 5-ton tractor-trailers, one 5-ton truck with trailer, one 5-ton wrecker with a water trailer, and one 10-ton wrecker towing a 5-ton tractor-trailer. The company had abandoned three vehicles back on Highway 16.26

Running the Gauntlet

Shortly after 0700 as the 507th sped south, separated into three dispersed groups, it now had to run a gauntlet of small-arms fire, RPGs, possible indirect fire, and at least one Iraqi tank. To add to the convoy's troubles, the Iraqis were placing obstacles--including vehicles--in the road. The beleaguered Americans had to maneuver the lumbering cargo trucks, made less agile by towing other vehicles or trailers, around obstacles. Captain King and his group of three vehicles cleared the city, raced south and made contact with marines of the 8th Tank Battalion assigned to Task Force Tarawa. The marines immediately moved out to rescue the rest of the company, heading back north the way King had come.27

Meanwhile, the Iraqis continued to pound the two trailing groups of vehicles. The second group made it 5 km south of An Nasiriyah before their luck, such as it was, ran out. Taking multiple hits from RPGs and small-arms fire, the tractor-trailer crewed by Specialist Jun Zhang and Sergeant Curtis Campbell came to a stop. Zhang leapt aboard the trailing tractor-trailer crewed by Private First Class Marcus Dubois and Corporal Damien Luten, who had just been shot in the leg. Campbell, also wounded, caught a ride on the HMMWV crewed by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Nash and Staff Sergeant Tarik Jackson. Like Campbell, Jackson was already wounded. Nash, carrying his two wounded passengers, managed to get a bit farther south before Iraqi fire stopped his HMMWV.

Private First Class Dubois, Corporal Luten, and Specialist Zhang turned their slow, awkward tractor-trailer around and returned to help CW3 Nash and his two wounded NCOs. Shortly after this, Private First Class Elliot arrived in his 5-ton fuel truck, carrying Specialist Grubb, who was already wounded in both arms. Sergeant Matthew Rose, driving the last tractor-trailer, and his co-driver, Corporal Francis Carista, also joined at this point. Together, the soldiers formed a defensive perimeter while Rose, a combat lifesaver (trained in combat first aid), supervised three other combat lifesavers in treating the wounded. The marines arrived in time to rescue this group of soldiers.29

The Final Moments

First Sergeant Dowdy's group never cleared An Nasiriyah. They reached their end about 3 km north of where the marines rescued their colleagues. The end, when it came, was quick. First, the 5-ton tractor-trailer crewed by Specialist Edgar Hernandez and Specialist Shoshana Johnson veered off the road, swerving to avoid an obstacle. Dowdy, coming from the rear, passed Miller's 5-ton wrecker and ordered him to pick up speed and keep moving. Soon afterward, an Iraqi round, possibly an RPG, struck Dowdy's HMMWV. Private First Class Piestewa lost control and crashed into the rear end of Specialist Hernandez's 5-ton tractor- trailer. The redoubtable First Sergeant Dowdy died on impact. Piestewa, seriously injured, died after capture. Anguiano and Buggs died as well, like Piestewa, under circumstances that remain unclear. Alive but unconscious, Lynch remained in the wreck.30

Click here for higher resolution image (161 KB)
Figure 87. The 507th Maintenance Company ambush summary28
(The highlighted numbers depict actual locations where vehicles were left)

Iraqi fire stopped Private First Class Miller's wrecker some 400 meters north of where First Sergeant Dowdy died. Private Sloan, whom Miller had picked up minutes earlier, was killed at this time. Miller and Sergeant Riley moved south to assist Dowdy and the soldiers with him. Riley, now the senior man, took charge and attempted to organize a defense but had little to work with. Private First Class Johnson and Specialist Hernandez were wounded, so he had them take cover. No one in Dowdy's HMMWV could help, and Riley couldn't get a weapon to fire consistently. With no good options, Riley elected to surrender. Miller apparently made his way away from the scene and continued to fight until he too was surrounded and compelled to surrender.31

Farther south, Specialist Joseph Hudson and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Johnny Mata maneuvered their 10-ton wrecker past several obstacles and a tank. They reached as far south as the edge of the city before Iraqi fire brought them to a stop. Mata died soon after, killed by multiple rounds after the vehicle stopped. The Iraqis pulled the wounded Hudson from his vehicle and took him captive. The remaining two vehicles of the 507th did not make it quite as far south. Private First Class Howard Johnson and Private Ruben Estrella-Soto were driving a 5-ton tractor-trailer. They, along with Specialist Jamaal Addison and Specialist James Kiehl traveling in a 5-ton truck, were killed just north of where the Iraqis killed Mata.32

The Rescue of Private First Class Lynch

On the evening of 1 April 2003, SOF, supported by marines, assaulted the hospital in which Private Jessica Lynch was being treated. Although there have been news stories subsequently suggesting that the assault was unnecessary since Iraqi troops had left the day before, one fact is clear--the SOF troops brought Lynch out. Her capture, her captivity, even her return home stimulated speculation and enormous media attention.

Less than two weeks later, marines, apparently notified by locals of the presence of American captives nearby, rescued the remaining survivors of the 507th Maintenance Company, as well as two Apache pilots being held with them. The small-unit tragedy of the 507th that began on 23 March had finally ended. The ripples of what happened to the 507th and, for that matter, the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment, will affect how the Army trains and equips units for years to come.

Civilians on the Battlefield
Specialist Eric Huth, a 22-year-old infantryman assigned to B/3-15 IN, witnessed an incident where a Bradley from his company engaged a van loaded with 19 civilians, killing and injuring many of them. Huth was driving the company executive officer and was able to monitor the radio conversations between the company Commander, Captain Ronny Johnson, and the platoon leader manning the roadblock. The van approached a checkpoint but would not stop, even though the soldiers at the roadblock held up their hands as a "HALT" signal. Captain Johnson reiterated his order for the soldiers to halt all vehicles and not to let that van approach American positions closely enough to cause casualties, should it be filled with explosives.

When the van ignored the signal to halt, Captain Johnson ordered the platoon leader to shoot at the van's radiator and tires to make it halt. The platoon leader did that, but the van continued to advance without slowing at all. As it approached the US position, the 1st Platoon leader made the decision to initiate 25mm High Explosive fires to disable the van.

Specialist Huth drove the executive officer to the site within a minute or two of the van being engaged. He witnessed the medics treating the survivors from the van and their medical evacuation. Huth thought the unit had done the right thing, that there was no other way to protect US soldiers from the suicide bombers. The 1st Platoon leader felt very badly about killing the noncombatants, but the consensus within the unit was that it was regrettable but unavoidable, given the situation they were in.

Specialist Eric Huth,
based on an interview with Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Arthur Durante,
24 May 2003

Moving North

During planning, Objective RAMS, [in the] vicinity of An Najaf, was supposed to be a maintenance stop for the unit, but it turned into a 72-hour fight precluding any planned maintenance.
Based on Interview with Captain James Mazurek and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Roger Guillemette
TF 1-64 AR battalion maintenance officer and maintenance technician

With 3rd BCT, 3rd ID securing the logistics and staging facilities at Tallil, the scheme of maneuver required the 1st and 2nd BCTs to move north to secure Objective RAMS as the LSA in the vicinity of An Najaf. The 2nd BCT would secure the actual Objective RAMS, while 1st BCT would move through and north to isolate An Najaf from Baghdad. The 3-7 CAV would close the ring around the town from the south and east, ensuring the Iraqi defenders could not molest the logistics and aviation operations within Objective RAMS.

The 2nd BCT at Objective RAMS

The 2nd BCT, the division's lead element, arrived at RAMS late in the afternoon on 22 March, after moving north and passing 3-7 CAV as it fought in As Samawah. TF 1-64 AR, leading the brigade, traveled 141 km along Highway 28, with the task force's scout platoon and brigade reconnaissance troop (BRT), leading. The task force prosecuted several contacts, including one when the BRT encountered a roadblock about 50 kilometers south of Objective RAMS. Four to six paramilitary troops fired small arms on the troop at a range of about 800 meters. The reconnaissance troop dispatched the defenders and four more who attempted to flank the troop in a pickup truck. The reconnaissance troops then continued toward RAMS and at about 1800, just south of RAMS, handed off the fight to TF 1-64 AR.33

Click here for higher resolution image (460 KB)
Figure 88. Objectives in the vicinity of An Najaf

TF 1-64 AR, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Phillip DeCamp, seized RAMS against light resistance and then spent several hours clearing the area. Ultimately the task force fought off counterattacking Iraqi forces throughout the night, using direct fire, indirect fire, and CAS to retain the critical terrain on RAMS. The Iraqis used tactics similar to those 3-7 CAV experienced at As Samawah--suicidal attacks using RPGs and civilian vehicles against armored vehicles. Paramilitary forces swarmed all over RAMS in civilian trucks. They also fought from spider holes along Highway 28 in the restrictive terrain.34

After destroying more than 20 vehicles and killing approximately 350 paramilitaries, 2nd BCT secured RAMS by 2245 but had not cleared it of all enemy defenders. The brigade human intelligence teams immediately interrogated 27 captured EPWs. The questioning revealed the local enemy unit to be Ba'ath Party militia sent to secure a radio tower in RAMS and to defend against an expected airborne assault. They were completely surprised to see armored vehicles that far north so early in the war. Though poorly trained, the militia fought fanatically, occupying the brigade throughout the night. By 1000 on the 23rd, 2nd BCT had cleared the enemy from RAMS itself and turned its focus to defending against the steady flow of counter-attackers streaming out of An Najaf. The 2nd BCT would remain at RAMS until called on to relieve 3-7 CAV south and east of An Najaf two days later.35
The Iraqi Defense at Objective RAMS
There were two types of enemy [at RAMS], the Fedayeen wearing black pajamas, and the regulars. I would not have known a Fedayeen from a regular at that point. . . .

We captured some of their officers. They were expecting an attack from the sky, with the 82nd dropping in. They thought there was going to be an airborne drop. They positioned their forces as such. Two days before the fight, a general came in and said this is the overview of the land, and left. The next day, the officers came in and drew a circle on the ground, mapping out where defensive positions should be, and then left. Then the soldiers came in. About 6 hours after the soldiers came in, we (TF 1-64 AR) came in.

There was no [command or control] for these guys; they were fighting independently. You could literally see a circle on the ground where the officer had drawn for the RPG guy to shoot from; that is exactly where he died. They were in a wedge formation; I remember seeing five guys in a wedge...that is where they died.

Lieutenant Colonel Eric "Rick" Schwartz,
Commander, TF 1-64 AR,
interview, 18 May 03

Long-Range Surveillance Teams

The 2nd BCT did not attack into RAMS blindly. In addition to estimates developed prior to crossing the line of departure, V Corps attempted to insert reconnaissance deep on RAMS itself. V Corps has a unique, specialized capability to conduct sustained surveillance of an area to support decisions and targeting. Running counter to the trend for high-technology systems and remote sensors, the corps' long-range surveillance (LRS) company consists of the corps' most elite infantrymen, whose mission is to go deep into enemy territory and maintain constant "eyes on" a key piece of terrain. LRS teams are trained in infiltration, hide-site construction, enemy equipment and tactics, advanced communications, and a staggering host of survival and evasion skills. The selection process is brutally competitive to ensure only the very best, most capable, and experienced soldiers make the team. The small LRS teams are the corps' only all- weather, 24-hour-a-day capability to watch a critical piece of terrain.

However, employing LRS is not a haphazard decision. Helicopter infiltration, extraction, and emergency recovery so deep in enemy territory require a staggering amount of planning and preparation. A typical planning cycle is 48-72 hours and includes coordination with the Air Force, the corps aviation units, and the entire targeting community. Even more challenging, once the team is on the ground, it is not mobile. A vehicle would be nearly impossible to hide, and any foot movement is necessarily slow and meticulous to prevent detection. Once the team is at the site, the terrain must support digging ideally undetectable hide sites. A typical hide site is large enough for four soldiers to live in for a week at a time without ever breaking cover. If they are compromised, the lightly armed soldiers have a redundant evasion and extraction plan to reach safety.
Long-Range Surveillance Team Insertions
We never knew where 3rd ID would end up on any given day. The speed of the advance complicated the collection management process. I think we should have gone into Iraq before G-day to collect [far enough ahead of the division's advance]
Sergeant First Class Kevin Ricks
operations sergeant, E (LRS)/165th MI BN

For these reasons, the V Corps intelligence collection manager, Major Matthew Littlejohn, needed to select the LRS objectives with great care. The collection manager, responsible for coordinating the corps' array of intelligence collection capabilities to answer the corps commander's key questions, recommends the proposed sites with an eye to where the corps would need to look three to four days out.36
LRS Team Compromise--10 Feet Away
Despite all of the planning, not all insertions go as planned. Staff Sergeant Peter D. Armstrong's team, Team 1-2, E/165th MI BN, was one of three teams inserted for the campaign. Bedouin dogs compromised the team soon after its insertion into central Iraq. After the dogs followed the team to its secondary site, the team quickly moved to its tertiary site and went to ground. As an example of how disciplined the soldiers are and how effective their hide techniques are, Armstrong's team spent over 48 hours in an 18-inch-deep hole with a sheet covering six soldiers. Iraqis, actively searching for them, came within 10 feet of the team hide site. Staff Sergeant Armstrong lay flat on his back, peering through a small hole in the camouflaged sheet with his weapon tracking the Iraqi leader who was looking for them. Once the Iraqis moved off, the team exfiltrated to an alternate extraction site and was picked up safely.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert P. Walters, Jr.
Commander, 165th Military Intelligence Battalion
1 June 2003

Because of the rapid pace of the corps' advance, site selection proved to be difficult. The corps started the fight with 27 potential LRS sites, of which 17 were specifically to support the 3rd ID; however, the corps only inserted three teams. Indeed, the LRS teams' relative inability to contribute was due to the speed of the maneuver units' advance. After the initial three insertions, the pace was too fast to make an educated guess on where the corps would be--and what it would need to know--three to four days out.37 More- over, the 11th AHR's experiences on 23 March in going deep, along with the sandstorm, cast a pall on aviation's perceived ability to support and made planning and execution more difficult.

Click here for higher resolution image (453 KB)
Figure 89. LRS team positions around Objective RAMS

Despite the inability to employ LRS after crossing the border, two of the three teams inserted provided some basic intelligence. Since the corps planned to use RAMS as a major LSA, it had to know what was there before the first combat troops approached. LRS Team 1-6, led by Staff Sergeant Travis Prohaska, inserted on G-day. The corps expected 3rd ID's 2nd BCT to take two days to reach RAMS; Team 1-6's insertion was planned for two days prior. However, the team was on the ground for only one day before 2nd Brigade "Spartans" rolled into RAMS. While on site, the team reported 10 technical vehicles on the objective and about 60 paramilitary fighters, believed to be a mixture of Ba'ath Party militia and Fedayeen, some of whom came close to Prohaska's position.38 In fact, the team remained hunkered down while 2nd Brigade engaged and destroyed the paramilitaries, only coming out of their hide site after fighting ended.39 Team 2-5, led by Staff Sergeant Timothy Barnwald, inserted to observe the airfield in the vicinity of An Najaf. After an 8-10 km ground infiltration from where the helicopters dropped them off, the team sat in place and maintained continuous coverage until extracted after linking up with the advancing 3rd ID soldiers.40 In OIF, LRS teams achieved little in return for the risks that they took and the effort expended to insert them. SOF units produced far more information but even they could not be inserted everywhere. LRS units assigned to conventional maneuver units also produced very little in DESERT STORM, suggesting that their role and viability should be reassessed.

1st BCT to Objective RAIDERS

At 1120 on 23 March, 1st BCT passed through 2nd BCT on RAMS and proceeded north to seize Objective RAIDERS. 3rd ID wanted RAIDERS as the site from which they would mount the attack on Baghdad. Practically adjacent to An Najaf, RAIDERS also afforded protection for the LSA at RAMS. From RAIDERS, 3rd ID could position forces to preclude attacks against either RAMS or the LOC. To reach RAIDERS the division had to attack through the An Najaf escarpment. The escarpment, a natural shelf nearly 250 feet high running roughly west to east, could only be negotiated via a lone road. On the approach to the escarpment, the road formed a single-lane causeway between a marsh on one side and an inland lake on the other. The climb up the hill was at an 11.6-percent grade in some areas. The Iraqis appreciated the tactical value of terrain and dug in artillery and infantry to take advantage of the narrow approach and steep grade, emplacing fighting positions along the crest and at points along the face of the cliffs.

Colonel Will Grimsley's 1st BCT had the mission to seize RAIDERS. Commissioned as an infantryman in 1980, Grimsley brought a wealth of theoretical and practical experience to commanding a brigade. A graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies and an Advanced Strategic Arts Fellow at the Army War College, he had tours in Germany, Korea, Fort Hood, and Fort Stewart and served as a planner on the joint staff. He was a veteran of many bloodless battles at the National Training Center, the Combat Maneuver Training Center, and the Joint Readiness Training Center. Grimsley also served as an observer/controller for some 30 rotations

212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Attack
Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Canestrini and the advance party of the 212th MASH arrived in Objective RAMS at 0400 on 24 March, prior to the conclusion of fighting on the objective. V Corps developed RAMS as an objective to provide space to concentrate forces for the attack on Baghdad. The 212th and other combat service support units needed space at RAMS to support that attack. Canestrini and his troops first had to wait until the fighting on RAMS stopped. They did not wait long. By 1600 that day Canestrini had done his reconnaissance and had a forward surgical team in place and operational. His main body closed at 1800. The sandstorm and the realities of the nonlinear battlefield moved in at roughly the same time. Canestrini's small hospital unit of 160 troops, including doctors, nurses, medics, drivers, and support personnel, found that they had to "erect" their 44-bed hospital during the mother of all sandstorms while securing their own perimeter.

Commenting on the experience, Canestrini observed, "At one point all (assigned) enlisted soldiers were on the perimeter. The key point is that all medical units must train on this basic task." For Canestrini and his troops, the problem become more difficult when the 212th had to develop a ward for enemy prisoners of war that they also had to secure without help.

Despite sand, manning the wire, and guarding prisoners, the 212th operated at RAMS for 15 days. They treated 100 surgical cases, more than 700 emergency treatment cases, and evacuated more than 200 patients. On two occasions the 212th went from 44 beds to 56 beds by using cots.

Lieutenant Colonel Canestrini
Interviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Judith Robinson
24 May 2003.

at the NTC. Because the terrain confined the brigade to the causeway that skirted the lake through soft ground, Grimsley expected a sharp fight at the escarpment. Intelligence placed an Iraqi regular army air defense battalion defending the escarpment and guarding an ammunition dump on the plateau. Grimsley also expected Fedayeen and Ba'ath militia in the area because An Najaf was a Shia city, so the Fedayeen would be there to assure the Shiites stayed in line. In the end his brigade confronted what amounted to two battalions. The regular army air defense battalion defended the An Najaf Ammunition Storage Facility on the top of the escarpment. A second battalion size force composed of about 250 Fedayeen and special republican guard troops with supporting mortars, dug in at the top and into the face of the escarpment.41

Colonel Grimsley assigned the task of assaulting the escarpment to Lieutenant Colonel "Rock" Marcone commanding TF 3-69 AR. Grimsley and Marcone had "rehearsed" this operation at the National Training Center in the fall of 2002 in anticipation of this very mission. On the basis of that experience and others, Marcone had decided opinions on how to do things. A veteran of DESERT STORM and Kosovo, Marcone had 17 blue force rotations at the NTC. He had participated in several rotations in support of an Army study on the wisdom of tracked versus wheeled scout platoons. Although the Army cited the study as the reason to mount scouts on HMMWVs, Marcone reached a different conclusion. Accordingly, he took the M113s assigned to company maintenance teams and gave them to his scout platoon in return for three HMMWVs for the maintenance teams to use. A firm believer in combined arms, he organized his tanks and Bradleys in what he called "combat patrols" of two tanks and two Bradleys accompanied by an engineer squad, thereby creating his own combined arms platoons and training them that way. Like Grimsley, Marcone believed in combined arms including using fires to support maneuver. Finally, Marcone liked to fight "two companies in relationship to each other. That is the key to success. It is to fight two company teams in relationship to each other because it is an unstoppable force."42

Figure 90. The 1st BCT moving along Highway 28 to Objective RAIDERS after clearing the An Najaf escarpment

Marcone and Grimsley justifiably expected trouble attacking through the defile that led to the top of the escarpment. So did the division and corps. Accordingly, Grimsley had his own direct support battalion, 1-41 FA, and a second artillery battalion, 1-10 FA, reinforcing the direct support battalion positioned forward to support the assault up the escarpment. Further, Grimsley placed B/1-10 FA in Marcone's task force so Marcone had immediate support. To cover his advance Marcone ordered B/1-10 FA to lay in a 1,000-meter smoke screen. Grimsley also cued up air support and asked Colonel Dave Perkins and his 2nd BCT to help where they could. Perkins moved part of his brigade up to where they could support by fire.43

Despite the screen, the Iraqis still shelled Marcone's task force, which was stacked up on the road since the terrain prevented dispersal. Iraqi mortar and later artillery fell within 50 meters of vehicles. Nonetheless, TF 3-69 AR's assault force quickly gained the heights. The lead unit, a tank company team, went deep while Captain Dave Benton's team B/3-7 IN, the Bandits, turned east and swept the escarpment, destroying the dug-in mortars that harassed the brigade. The remainder of the task force dealt with the air defense troops, who served as the guard force at the ammunition storage site. As 1-41 FA moved over the escarpment, each battery shot fire missions, mostly counterbattery, to protect the brigade's movement. Despite a brisk fight, neither the artillery nor the brigade sustained casualties.44

Close air support assured TF 3-69 AR's success. As Marcone's troops advanced under fire, Grimsley's tactical air control party opened kill boxes on the escarpment. Grimsley used A-10s to "fly the road and get as close to the escarpment (as possible) ... [then] react to contact left and right all the way down the ridgeline . . . It was almost like opening a breach laterally for us."45 The fighters also began reporting what they believed was armor moving to reinforce the fighting, but it eventually proved to be truck-mounted paramilitary troops. Marcone's troops and aircraft from all four air forces (USMC, USN, USAF and RAF) supporting the brigade that day quickly dispatched the reinforcements. The airmen also assisted in destroying enemy artillery. For a time the brigade could not locate enemy artillery firing on them because one of their counterbattery radars broke down. Brigade fire support officers estimated enemy artillery locations from crater analysis. CAS aircrew flew over the estimated locations and detected D 30 howitzers from their muzzle flashes and destroyed them. Reflecting on that fight and those to come, Will Grimsley noted that there are a "host of Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Royal Air Force pilots I would love to meet some day."46

Figure 91. The 1st BCT climbing the An Najaf escarpment en route to Objective RAIDERS

Ground Surveillance Radars and the Sandstorm
Animal 24 and Animal 26 [A/103rd MI BN ground surveillance radar teams], in direct support to the brigade reconnaissance team (C/1 CAV/1st BCT), finally had a chance to prove the worth of the Ground Surveillance Radar (GSR), specifically the new and improved AN/PPS-5D.

Throughout this week, 3rd ID was swarmed with the most intense and blinding sandstorms we had yet experienced. While all other reconnaissance assets were severely degraded, GSR consistently reported enemy targets. GSR's greatest accomplishment during the war was on 26 March when Sergeant Perez's team, consisting of Specialist Apostolou and Private Vasquez, detected 40 enemy targets during a sandstorm. Many of these targets were also confirmed when Corporal Kottwitz's team, consisting of Specialist Russell, Private First Class Showers and Private First Class Schexayder, detected them.

The targets were reported to Raider X Ray and subsequently destroyed by indirect fire and CAS assets.

A/103 Military Intelligence Battalion
Unit History

While 2nd BCT secured Objective RAMS and 1st BCT advanced to Objective RAIDERS, 3-7 CAV departed As Samawah and moved north along the river to isolate An Najaf. Major General Blount wanted to prevent the Iraqis from moving additional reinforcements into the city and to prevent the Iraqis from interdicting operations at Objective RAMS. It was clear that the town could not be bypassed and left unattended. Although the BCTs advanced along the relatively clear highways west of the Euphrates River, the squadron hugged the valley and moved through some of the more densely populated and heavily defended areas south of Baghdad.

3-7 CAV--Ambush Alley

After returning to division control on 24 March, 3-7 CAV marched north on Route Appaloosa (See Fig. 92) paralleling the Euphrates en route to a bridge designated Objective FLOYD. FLOYD was east and south of An Najaf; securing it would prevent Iraqi forces from entering or leaving the town from those directions. The squadron took Route Appaloosa to avoid congestion with 2nd BCT, still moving north to secure Objective RAMS.47 During the movement, the squadron ended up stretched out over an extended distance, beyond radio range. The satellite-based BFT email system provided the only reliable means of communications throughout the squadron. Communications proved essential as the enemy compelled the cavalry to fight through a series of well-prepared ambushes. Paramilitary forces fought from the side of the road and from ramps using small arms, automatic weapons, and RPG teams. They also attacked from armed vehicles that the troops called technicals, and a mix of ordinary cars and trucks. After the fact, soldiers dubbed the route "Ambush Alley." Ultimately, the squadron fought through a series of ambushes throughout the night. Complicating matters, visibility dropped precipitously with the start of the now infamous three-day sandstorm.48

Click here for higher resolution image (606 KB)
Figure 92. Ambush Alley--officially known as Route Appaloosa from As Samawah to An Najaf

At 2100, as the squadron continued north out of As Samawah, it hit the first ambush. As the A/3-7 CAV scout platoon leader, First Lieutenant Matt Garrett, moved past a mosque on the western side of the road, he radioed, "Hey look, we're in Florida, it's Middle Eastern Times,"49 referring to the popular restaurant in Orlando, Florida. The mosque caught his attention because of its design and complementary lighting that accentuated the architecture. Just as he commented on the radio net, Iraqis emerged from the mosque and engaged the platoon. Alpha Troop's fire support officer, First Lieutenant Wade, said it looked like "Star Wars, with the tracer bounce off of the vehicles." 50 The ambush lasted approximately 2 hours as Alpha Troop fought through the extended engagement area. Artillery proved useful only in the early stages of the fight as the enemy closed to within 15 meters of the vehicles; so close the troop could not use artillery. Nonetheless, the heavily armed and armored cavalry cleared the engagement area with no casualties or losses.

Because the terrain did not permit maneuver, the following cavalry troops had to fight through the same ambush area as they moved north. The squadron confronted other difficulties during the running ambushes. After a canal bridge collapsed, dropping an M1 tank about 15 feet into a canal (with no injuries), A/3-7 CAV had to turn around on the narrow road and retrace its steps to the original route. Narrow roads and soft ground compounded the misery and resulted in an overturned truck and three mired vehicles. The collapsed bridge stranded a five-vehicle hunter-killer team of tanks and Bradleys on the far side. They had to wait until daylight before maneuvering back to the squadron.51

The ambushes continued intermittently all the way up the road, but they were particularly intense at Fasillyah and other towns along the river. At sunup, the Air Force weighed in with A-10 Warthogs using missiles, 500-lb bombs, and their 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling gun. 3-7 CAV finally consolidated south of Objective FLOYD at 0550 on the 25th, after 9 hours of fighting through one ambush after another. 3-7 CAV learned some important lessons during the fight up "Ambush Alley" and refined tactical techniques on the way. For example, their supporting artillery reacted to calls for fire quickly because they "went to ground" and laid the guns on the direction of potential targets as soon as they heard a spot report. Therefore, when they received an immediate call for fire, the guns responded very quickly. Lieutenant Colonel Terry Ferrell remembered that the all-night fight through the ambushes "traumatized everyone." According to Ferrell, "We do own the night, but we also train to own the night with standoff. When you have the guys crawling up beside your tank and you are using the 9 mil (Beretta 9 mm pistol) or stepping off to draw an AK to shoot somebody, your average tank crew does not train to do that."52
Dodging RPGs
The operations M577 armored vehicle in the TOC, commanded by Captain Brett Bair, fought through one of the ambushes along [Ambush Alley]. Inside the M577, Major John Keith, the ground executive officer, and operations officer Captain Adam Beard controlled the squadron's fight through the multiple, simultaneous ambushes extended over 20 km. Suddenly, a large explosion twisted Bair completely around in the track commander's hatch. As he fell back into the track, Beard was dragging him down into the compartment. Beard breathed a sigh of relief as Bair glanced up at him; he had expected Bair's face to "not still exist." Bair offered a few choice words and climbed back up into the hatch. The RPG that was marked for their track had collided with a tree a few feet off the roadside, saving Bair and possibly the rest of the vehicle's occupants.
3-7 Cavalry Unit History

The fighting at RAMS, at the escarpment, and on the way to FLOYD demonstrated that the enemy would fight with courage, even dedication, but not with great skill. For one thing the enemy did not shoot accurately. They did, however, fill the air with bullets. The Iraqis literally attacked in waves against far-better-armed coalition units. On the other hand, the enemy reached sound conclusions on where to fight as at the escarpment. They also used other techniques suggesting more sophistication than some might credit them with, including turning city lights on and off to signal an ambush of the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment. Grimsley observed that at night, as the Americans approached towns, the lights went off, suggesting the Iraqis perceived they might have an advantage in fighting in the dark. By 23 March when Grimsley's brigade seized RAIDERS, a not unexpected, but more sinister phenomenon was revealed. Grimsley's troops captured the commander of a nearby Iraqi ammunition plan, who advised Grimsley that he knew the army commander in An Najaf and that he was not in charge, "others were." At An Najaf the paramilitary troops used a cemetery to stage attacks and ambushes from and used human shields to protect them as they did so. This enemy's soldiers may not have been well trained, but they were not unsophisticated.53
M88A1 Recovery Vehicles
The M88A1 fleet issued to 3-7 CAV could not perform as the unit's tank recovery unit. It was too slow and prone to breakdown to tow M1 tanks over desert terrain for anything more than a very short distance. [Doctrine for recovery requires units equipped with the M88A1 to use tandem towing vehicles to tow M1 tanks.] The unit performed like-vehicle towing of disabled equipment, with M1s towing M1s. . . .In the vicinity of An Najaf, one squadron unit had three M1 tanks mired after the shoulder of the road along a canal they were traveling on collapsed and mired the tanks in the canal. The unit could not free the tanks with like-vehicle recovery or the unit's M88s. I directed a D9 bulldozer operator from the engineer unit attached to the squadron to fill in the ditch,
Interview with Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rocky Yahn,
3-7 CAV Squadron Maintenance Officer

Countering Iraqi WMD And Ballistic Missile Strikes

While the coalition forces moved north, the Iraqis continued to exercise their only deep- strike capability--surface-to-surface missiles--with virtually no effect. After firing five missiles on the first day, the Iraqis launched an additional 12 missiles between 21 March and 3 April. The missiles included Ababil-100s, Al Samouds, and antiquated Soviet FROG-7 rockets. Of these 17, the Kuwaiti Patriots destroyed one, US Patriots destroyed seven, one was engaged simultaneously by US and Kuwaiti Patriots, and eight were not intercepted because they were not aimed at anything of value, fell well short of their targets, or blew up on launch. Aside from the four ineffective missiles, the Iraqis fired the remainder at Army and Marine staging camps within Kuwait and Camp DOHA, site of the CFLCC headquarters. Regardless of the Patriots' effectiveness, ground forces within a certain distance of the projected impact point continued to respond to the threat of a chemical weapons strike.54

The threat of chemical weapons attack was not limited to surface-to-surface missiles. The coalition believed that the Iraqis had an artillery-delivered chemical attack capability that presented a significant threat to coalition forces. US combat actions also could lead to a chemical threat. For example, south of Objective RAIDERS on 28 March, JSTARS identified 10 Iraqi tankers heading south from Baghdad. The Latifiyah Phosgene and solid propellant production facility was their suspected point of origin. The contents of the tankers were unconfirmed, but intelligence believed that they might be filled with Phosgene, a dual-purpose industrial product and confirmed chemical weapon (choking agent). The Air Force attacked and destroyed the tankers approximately 10 km north of Objective RAIDERS, where 1st BCT, 3rd ID was located. The brigade assumed full chemical protective posture due to the potential downwind hazard. Since the unit's organic chemical defense equipment could not detect Phosgene, the brigade had to wait for the chemical reconnaissance platoon of the 3rd ID's chemical company to arrive and complete its specialized tests before receiving the "all clear."55

Regardless of whether a missile or artillery attack triggered the chemical warning system, soldiers and marines donned their chemical protective equipment. Clearly, gaining control of the Iraqi'sWMDcapabilitywascriticaltoensuringcoalitioneffectiveness,aswellasmeetinganational objective. These operations were generally termed "sensitive-site exploitation" (SSE) operations.

Sensitive-Site Exploitation

As coalition forces moved north into the heart of Iraq, they continuously conducted SSEs to support the elimination of Iraqi WMD, regime change, and the destruction of terrorist networks. More specifically, SSE consisted of selectively seizing and searching facilities associated with Iraqi WMD programs and other points of interest. The purpose was to collect intelligence or WMD samples for analysis and, if necessary, secure sites until final disposition could be determined. Sensitive sites varied in size, scope, and composition. They included, but were not limited to, research and development (R&D) facilities, laboratories, weapons production facilities, and storage sites. Not all sites were strictly military. Some were dual-use facilities, such as fertilizer and pharmaceutical plants that were suspected of producing WMD. Other locations were associated with individuals or organizations involved in WMD programs.

Soldiers Caring for Soldiers
BACKGROUND NOTE: On 26 March, the M2 Bradley that Specialist Ryan Horner and Private First Class Anthony Jackson, both of 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 2-7 IN, were assigned to as dismounted infantrymen, had an electrical fire and was completely destroyed. When interviewed, they were wearing other soldiers' uniforms.

On 28 March 2003, the platoon was in a blocking position near the "Airfield." Both Horner and Jackson had just awakened and were eating MREs in the back of the company's cargo truck. The unit received artillery fire, and an adjacent chemical unit's alarms went off. It also received warning to don protective overgarments and masks immediately. As their masks had been destroyed [in the vehicle fire], their squad leader (Staff Sergeant Carver) had them run to the back of one of the M2s to have some protection. He also had them pull the hoods of the NBC suit as tightly as possible over their heads. By this time the entire company, as well as the chemical unit, was in MOPP 4. Staff Sergeant Carver then opened the rear personnel hatch and had a mask in his hand. At this point Private First Class Jackson stated "Give it to Horner, he has a wife and kids." Twenty minutes later all clear was sounded.

On two more occasions in the next three days they received indirect fire and went to MOPP 4. Every time, Jackson insisted that Horner use the mask. On the fourth day, the company gave Jackson a mask from a soldier who had been MEDEVACed.

Jackson's actions may sound trivial, but one must take into account that everyone thought that a chemical attack had just occurred. Jackson did not hesitate with his decision. When asked why he gave up the mask, Jackson replied, "[Specialist Horner] is my friend and he does have a wife and a little girl. . . . He is really a great guy and I know how much he loves his family. . . . I have a family but it is father, mother, you know, and that is not the same. . . . all I can say is that it was the right thing to do."

Of his friend, Specialist Horner said, "That was the most unselfish act I have ever seen in my life. . . Jackson did not even hesitate when the mask was placed in the vehicle. . . .I was absolutely stunned."

Interviews with Specialist Horner and Private First Class Jackson
conducted by Sergeant Major Victor LeGloahec, OIF Study Group
15 May 2003

Figure 93. The 101st Airborne Division chemical staff surveys a mobile laboratory

While most sensitive sites were associated with WMD, a significant number included known terrorist camps, universities, and government-sponsored commercial ventures, locations associated with individuals involved in terrorist activities, infrastructure that supported terrorist activities, presidential palaces, command centers, and headquarters. Other sites of interest, such as prisons and confinement sites suspected of holding personnel characterized as missing in action (MIA), hospitals believed to have treated MIAs, organizations associated with MIAs, and intelligence centers that could have held information regarding the existence, treatment, and location of MIAs, were searched. Intelligence identified more than 900 sites, not including a large number of sites that troops reported as suspicious.

To execute this task, the CFLCC used every available resource in the theater from the tactical to the national level. CFLCC employed maneuver units from the 3rd ID, 82nd Airborne Division, and the 101st Airborne Division and personnel from other government agencies as well. On a daily basis, the CFLCC approved or identified sensitive sites for exploitation based on current intelligence estimates and staff recommendations. The CFLCC C3 then tasked one of the major subordinate commands to seize and secure the approved sites. Once a maneuver unit secured a site, specialized teams of Army and other government agency personnel moved in to assess and exploit the sites.

Not only did seizing and securing sites divert combat power, most of these missions required combat support and combat service support from the divisions as well. Divisions provided NBC reconnaissance, decontamination teams, medical response, engineers, and military police. Furthermore, divisions provided force protection, life support, and transportation for the theater-level specialized teams.

Two specialized organizations exploited the sites: the site survey teams (SSTs) and the mobile exploitation teams (METs). SSTs focused primarily on conducting initial assessments of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) production locations, R&D facilities, storage sites, equipment, and other WMD infrastructure. Each SST, approximately 26 personnel, consisted of subject matter experts from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA); explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technicians; nuclear, biological, and chemical reconnaissance specialists; and a support element. Based on its initial assessments, an SST would recommend sites for further exploitation by the MET. The MET elements were much larger and could conduct sample collection, perform computer and document exploitation, interrogate captured personnel, render safe munitions, and evacuate samples and materials to a laboratory or collection center for further evaluation and exploitation.

Figure 94. NBC reconnaissance specialists assigned to SST 4

Despite the number of specialized teams in the theater, the number of sites, coupled with the velocity of the march north--exceeded the capacity of CFLCC to conduct SSE exclusively with specialized teams. To span the gap, divisions organized, trained, and conducted limited sensitive sight exploitation with assigned personnel and equipment. The majority of these newly formed teams came directly from each division's organic chemical company. Much like the SSTs, the divisional teams made initial assessments of suspected WMD sites, reported their findings to higher headquarters, and made recommendations on further exploitation.

Although finding and destroying Iraqi WMD capabilities was a major strategic objective, coalition forces had not found any by the conclusion of Phase III combat operations. Of course, during the combat operations, V Corps could not divert significant combat power to secure and exploit the overwhelming number of suspected sites. Troops continued to support SSE after the conclusion of major combat operations.

Communicating or Not

As the corps stretched out toward Baghdad, the corps and theater communications started to falter. The modernization undertaken in the 12 years since DESERT STORM had closed part of the gap, enabling the Army to build a force (Force XXI) that could fight digitally connected. The Army Battle Command System (ABCS) enabled commanders to pass orders, intelligence, real-time awareness of everything flying, logistics information, and many other bits of useful or vital information. However, even modernized communication systems proved inadequate to support the speed of advance attained over long distances.

Most of the ABCS information is passed over an aging component of the communication system called Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE). The key to understanding MSE is that the name is literal. The subscriber may be able to communicate on the move, but the equipment on which the system is based cannot. The MSE "backbone" is based on stationary nodes dependent on line-of-sight antennas. Although satellite linkage is available, subscribers reach it via ground-based nodes. Consequently, it is easier to sustain the backbone while defending than attacking. If an MSE-equipped unit is attacking, the nodes must bound forward to assure continued service. Signal units have no organic security forces, so the same soldiers who install, service, and man the signal nodes must also defend those nodes.

Figure 95. Chemical soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division investigate a research and development facility

The problem of keeping up with the fight and keeping MSE users happy fell to Colonel Jeff Smith, commander of the 22nd Signal Brigade. Smith's challenge was not unlike that which confronts his civilian counterparts who provide "wireless" service, except that Smith had no "roaming" capability. When a subscriber passed outside of Smith's coverage, there were no adjacent nodes to carry the signal. In OIF, that meant turning to FM radio or a combination of commercial and military satellite radios and phones.

Undismayed, Smith and his troops set to work to solve the problem. In addition to Smith's organic battalions, the theater assigned two more and placed a third under the 22nd's operational control. Armed with six battalions and the ability to analyze the terrain and the operational plan, Smith and his staff developed a system that would bound node centers forward and congregate enough resources at preplanned sites to support what they called "wide band belts." The 22nd developed a set of positions along the anticipated axis of advance, from which their nodes could link to satellites and thus back to Kuwait (or to anywhere else) and provide adequate bandwidth to support the operation.56

In the end, despite feverish efforts and signal units attempting to operate under fire, the 22nd proved unable to provide MSE support to the lowest levels. The 3rd ID, operating in the vanguard, fought the war "push to talk," using radios, satellite phones, and BFT delivered by satellite. V Corps `separate brigades and other units that relied on MSE and had fewer backup capabilities found themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. Major General Marks, the C2, described one outcome of the digital divide when he noted that, although he could acquire "oven-fresh imagery," he could not necessarily get it to the units advancing on Baghdad.57

National Guard and US Army Reserve Troops

As V Corps advanced north, it was far more than an active duty-only force. A true "Army of One," the corps included Army Reservists and National Guard soldiers who served throughout the combat zone. These soldiers were vital, indispensable members of the team and, unless asked, were wholly indistinguishable from active-duty solders. This marks a revolutionary change for the better toward achieving a fully integrated Army.

Operation DESERT STORM and the subsequent demobilization of the Cold War Army produced a divide between the Active and Reserve Components that seemed to many too wide to bridge. Acrimonious debates over the size of the reduction of each of the components eventually forced Congress to get involved. At first, congressional mandates and internal Army agreements pleased none of the components, but the Army--all of it--weathered the storm. Thanks to the energy of the leadership, all three components--Active, US Army Reserve (USAR), and US Army National Guard (ARNG)--reached a point during recent years when the Army could honestly describe itself as "the" Army--meaning everyone who wore the uniform or served as a civilian in any of the three components.

The tempo of operations driven by commitments in the Balkans, the Sinai, and elsewhere forced unprecedented deployments of reserve troops. Guard and reserve military police, civil affairs, and PSYOP units deployed at previously unheard-of rates.ARNG infantry units deployed routinely to secure Patriot units rotating in and out of the CENTCOM area of responsibility. Post-9/11 deployments increased astronomically to support everything from combat operations to providing security at housing areas near Army installations in Germany. On 9 June 2003, 143,000 reservists were on active duty. In short, by the time of OIF, saying the Army could not go to war without the Guard and Reserve was demonstrably not merely a slogan.58

For the first time since the Korean War, ARNG infantry units went to war as units. Seven ARNG infantry units deployed in support of OIF. All were intended to secure sensitive sites, including Patriot units, theater support units, and air and seaports. Generally, because CFLCC expected to use them in local security roles, these battalions deployed in pieces and parts. Only one of them, 1-293 IN, Indiana Army National Guard, deployed as a whole battalion. Most deployed one or two companies, and others deployed with their headquarters but without their heavy weapons, a fact most came to regret. One unit, the 92nd Separate Infantry Brigade of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard, provided some 1,400 troops as on-board security to both commercial and Military Sea Lift Command vessels.59

In fact, all of the ARNG infantry battalions that deployed were light infantry. Light infantry's distinguishing characteristic that makes them "light" is that they have almost no vehicles--in short, they are foot-mobile. Moreover, none of these battalions deployed with their parent brigades so they came without their organic support and, some might argue, without an advocate. The experience of the 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment, is emblematic of all of them. From a broader perspective, it is emblematic, in many ways, of the experiences of the "orphan" active Army battalions, including the 2 -70 AR, 1-41 IN, and the 2-14 IN. In overcoming the difficulties of being "orphaned," these units demonstrated the flexibility and initiative of American soldiers.

The 1-293 IN, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Denton, mobilized at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. During their mobilization process, the soldiers worked through every holiday in the winter of 2002-2003. Mobilized on Veterans Day, they were "federalized" or brought on active federal service at Fort Knox, Kentucky, during Thanksgiving week, and the advance party deployed to Kuwait on New Year's Day. The battalion closed on the theater over the next couple of weeks, with the last unit (D Company) arriving on 20 January 2003. B Company arrived on 2 January and began conducting rear area security missions the next day. Supporting the 377th TSC, the battalion found itself spread all over Kuwait securing port facilities, Camp UDAIRI on the Iraqi frontier, the military side of the Kuwait International Airport, and convoys across the entire country.60

But the battalion's real challenge came on 25 March 2003. CLFCC planned to establish a LSA south of Tallil Air Base (Objective FIREBIRD). Brigadier General Jack Stultz, commanding the theater transportation command, arrived at the air base on the heels of 3rd ID and immediately began setting up logistics support and working to return the airfield to service in support of coalition operations. On the 25th, Stultz learned that the Active Army infantry battalion task force, TF 1-41 IN, which had been defending the air base and assuring that any bad actors in Tallil remained in Tallil, would be moving north. TF 1-41 IN deployed from Fort Riley, Kansas, as part of the solution to the dilemma posed when V Corps learned 1st AD would not be flowed in time to secure the LOCs as planned. Now they had to move on to perform the same role farther up the LOC. Stultz needed infantry to relieve the TF 1-41 IN, and he needed them fast. Major General Kratzer, commanding the 377th TSC, had only one complete infantry battalion, the "Hoosiers" of the 1-293 IN.61

That evening, Kratzer ordered Lieutenant Colonel Denton to move his battalion to Tallil as soon as possible. Because all three infantry companies were out on missions, Denton ordered his support platoon to issue tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) antitank missiles to his antitank company, Delta Company, 1-293 IN. He then ordered Delta Company to depart Camp UDAIRI for Tallil Air Base as soon as it completed loading its TOW missiles.62

Lieutenant Colonel Denton, with a small command post, his mortar platoon, one scout team, and two rifle platoons, departed Camp ARIFJAN at 0600 on the 26th. Delta Company trailed Denton by 2 hours, departing Camp UDAIRI at 0800. Denton linked up at Convoy Support Center (CSC) CEDAR, located south of the air base near Highway 8. There, the CSC commander claimed that the battalion's mission was to secure CEDAR and not Tallil Air Base. Denton did not believe that to be the case, but he left his operations officer and most of the troops at CEDAR and went on to Tallil Air Base with an antitank section and scout team where he reported to Brigadier General Stultz. Stultz confirmed the mission to relieve TF 1-41 IN in-place. After talking with Stultz, Denton concluded that he could relieve TF 1-41 IN and secure the CSC with the resources on hand. Out of radio range, Denton could not talk to his operations officer down at CEDAR. Accordingly, he sent a written order, delivered by his scout team, which directed his operations officer to move out smartly and to leave the two rifle platoons to secure CEDAR.63

The following morning, Delta Company, the scout team, and mortars did the necessary reconnaissance and handoff with TF 1-41 IN. Lieutenant Colonel Denton did his own reconnaissance and conferred with the commander of TF 1-41 IN as well. The remainder of his battalion arrived on the 28th. At 1600 that day, 1-293 IN assumed the mission, thus becoming the first ARNG infantry battalion since Korea to enter combat as a unit. It was not the last. Ultimately all but one of the seven ARNG infantry battalions deployed into Iraq.64 Conclusion

At the end of the march up-country, the corps had reached positions from which to launch north through the Karbala Gap and begin the isolation of Baghdad. The LSA at Objective RAMS was well on the way to achieving full operational capability, and the CFLCC had freed up the 82nd Airborne Division and the 2nd ACR (L) to start cleaning up the threat along the lengthening LOCs.

Although many perceived the war as "in a pause," V Corps and I MEF did not cease operations. V Corps continued to fight in several directions, from As Samawah to An Najaf and elsewhere to defeat the mix of paramilitaries and conventional forces to set the conditions required to attack to Baghdad. I MEF was doing much of the same within its zone, and both corps were busily transitioning their support structures forward to support future operations to the north. The fighting to protect the LOC revealed the real nature of the Iraqi defense. Corps units adapted their fighting techniques to match. Immediately behind the fighting, soldiers quickly transitioned to stability and humanitarian relief operations while they tried to stabilize the liberated areas. The 11th AHR, which conducted the first Army aviation deep strike of the war, learned that its tactics were inappropriate and helped lead the effort to adapt appropriately. And finally, a sandstorm of biblical proportions swept through the theater, shutting down most aviation and inhibiting ground maneuver.

Elsewhere in the theater, JSOTF-North supported Kurdish attacks toward Kirkuk, Irbil, and the vital oil facilities in the region. In the west, the JSOTF-West searched for surface-to- surface missiles and WMD while denying the Iraqis the use of the entire western desert. SOF troops in JSOTF-West or in TF 20 seized a key dam and several airfields. Taking the dam protected V Corps and I MEF from a deliberate inundation, while seizing the airfields extended JSOTF-West's reach across the barren desert regions. Finally, the CFACC transitioned from its initial strategic air focus to concentrate on destroying the Iraqi ground forces. With a level of air-ground integration not seen before, the CAS and air interdiction operations destroyed threatening Iraqis and enabled ground maneuver.

During the march up-country, the implications of the scope and scale of the campaign became apparent. Reaching operational ranges greater than anything the US Army had executed since World War II, the speed and distance started to tell on the Army's logistics and combat support systems. While never out of fuel, ammunition, or food and water, the systems designed to deliver repair parts, tactical communications, and tactical intelligence support faltered under the strain. Moreover, after the initial coalition surge up-country, the enemy actions influenced events and to some extent forced the CFLCC to adjust. Soldiers, of course, immediately adapted and continued toward their objectives. Behind and beside them, the logistics troops demonstrated that they too could get the job done under difficult conditions. While never perfect, the Army and entire coalition force carried on despite the enemy and miserable conditions.

Back to Top

Army Attack Aviation
The 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment and 101st Attack Aviation

The 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment's deep strike of 23 March remains one of the key components of the "darkest day." On the night of 23-24 March, the Army sent its most powerful deep-attack system, the AH-64D Apache attack helicopter, to destroy Medina Division armor and artillery before they could affect the maneuvering ground forces. However, the regiment returned with 31 of 32 aircraft damaged, one downed in enemy territory, and two pilots captured, without decisively engaging the Medina. While marines eventually rescued the pilots, and the aviators repaired many of the damaged aircraft rapidly, it took 30 days to restore the regiment to full capability. The mission cast a shadow over deep-attack operations throughout the duration of major combat operations. In fact the Army only attempted one other deep attack. Moreover, the incident placed in question the efficacy and utility of attack helicopters in Army doctrine. Soon after the sandstorm cleared, the 101st Airborne Division successfully executed a deep attack. On that mission, two aircraft crashed in brownout conditions on takeoff, marring even this achievement.

But the mission is significant and important for other reasons, chief among which is that 11th AHR quickly assessed what went wrong and shared their assessment with the 101st and others. More important, all of the attack aviation units in theater learned lessons from the unsuccessful mission and applied them to great effect. A close review of the attack suggests the failed mission suffered from a classic "first-battle" dynamic. Specifically, Apaches ravaged Iraq formations during DESERT STORM. As a consequence, the Iraqis adjusted and prepared a defense specifically against attack helicopters going deep. No one detected their dispositions, with the result they achieved surprise and defeated one of the best-trained attack aviation units in the world. The aviators flew against these defenses using tactics, techniques, and procedures inappropriate to the combat environment. It took the hard lessons of the night of 23 March to change these tactics.

To be sure, the 11th AHR did not fail solely because of inappropriate tactics. As with most failures, there was a chain of events--a "failure chain"--that led to the ultimate outcome. In this case, the failure chain links the inevitable fog and friction of combat with a series of individual and collective decisions and the human ego in war. From delayed convoys to confusing terrain management to an indomitable warrior spirit to get into the fight, a variety of dynamics contributed to the unsuccessful mission. Yet even with the loss and damage of equipment, the capture of two aviators, and an unmolested enemy, the mission triggered an amazing revision of tactics and procedures that is a testimony to the integrity, flexibility, and perhaps most important, persistence of Army aviators.

The 11th AHR Attack

The 11th AHR, commanded by Colonel Bill Wolf and composed of two attack helicopter squadrons--2-6 CAV and 6-6 CAV--began planning for OIF in October 2002. At that time, 2-6 CAV was already in Kuwait supporting Operation DESERT SPRING, and the aircrews and planners were comfortable with conducting operations in the desert environment. By the time the rest of the regiment arrived in Kuwait, 2-6 CAV had flown some 4,000 hours training in the Kuwaiti desert. In January 2003, the rest of the regiment alerted to deploy to Kuwait and learned that it would receive attachment of the 1-227 Attack Helicopter Battalion (AHB). The 1-227 AHB, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Dan Ball, an AH-64D Longbow-equipped attack helicopter squadron joined from Fort Hood, Texas.65 Thus, the regiment would consist of three attack squadrons fitted with the most advanced attack helicopters in the world.

The AHR aborted its first planned deep-attack mission against the Iraqi 11th ID in the vicinity of Tallil Air Base due to haze, dust, and poor visibility. The mission would have been a "JV [junior varsity] fight," preparing the 11th AHR for the "varsity fight" with the Medina Division.66 Frustration over aborting their first mission was palpable within the staff and aircrews. In particular, the 2-6 CAV aviators felt tremendous frustration. Not assigned to fly that night, they harbored the idea, with their longer experience in the desert that they might have been able to execute the mission had they flown. Second, the running start option reduced the number of ground combat units available to V Corps so the regiment, as Major John Lindsay, the operations offer put it, "felt significant obligation to alleviate as much pressure as we could on the 3rd ID."67 But, when the regiment received the mission to destroy the Republican Guard Medina Division's artillery and armored maneuver units, it was determined to succeed.68

The Plan

The 11th AHR planned to move forward to Objective RAMS immediately after 2nd BCT had cleared it. The initial quartering party and command post would fly into the assembly area, followed by the regiment's support units bringing fuel and ammunition forward. The attack helicopters would arrive last. Moving would position the corps' deep-attack capability well forward, extending their reach ahead of the rapidly advancing ground forces. Moreover, it would enable the corps to continue combat operations unabated while the ground forces refitted from their 200-km dash north from the border.

Intelligence on how the Medina's three maneuver brigades and its artillery were arrayed for battle was incomplete and led to debate between corps and the regimental staff officers. Intelligence estimates reported the Medina brigades in the vicinity of their home garrisons but their actual disposition for battle was unclear.69 Although corps intelligence painted a fairly clear picture for the 10th AR Brigade of the Medina, the corps directed the regiment to attack the Medina's 2nd AR Brigade because it appeared to be astride the avenue of approach north of Karbala that 3rd ID planned to use.70 Unfortunately, the corps could not accurately locate the units assigned to the 2nd AR Brigade

The original mission, purpose, and endstate were:
    On order, 11th AHR attacks to destroy the artillery and armor of the Medina Division to facilitate 3rd ID freedom of maneuver through the Karbala Gap and seizure of Objective SAINTS.

    The purpose is to shape the Corps' battlespace and thereby provide the 3rd ID freedom to maneuver in the Karbala area by destroying the artillery and armor forces of the 14th, 2nd, and 10th Brigades of the Medina Division.

    The endstate is the destruction of the Artillery and Armor of the 14th, 2nd, and 10th Brigades, 3rd ID freedom of maneuver maintained, and 11th AHR postured to conduct shaping attacks against the Republican Guard's Hammurabi Division in support of V Corps establishment of the inner cordon [around Baghdad].71

Click here for higher resolution image (473 KB)
Figure 96. 11th AHR attack scheme for 23 March 2003

The 11th AHR estimated that the destruction of the Medina would take two nights of deep attacks, employing three battalions each night.72 Planning, already contentious because of inexact intelligence, became more contentious on the matter of routes. Regimental planners repeatedly requested to attack into their objectives from the west, avoiding the urban areas to the north and east of RAMS.

The western avenue of approach crossed Milh Lake north of Karbala, followed by a sparsely populated Iraqi army maneuver training area. Because the 101st's division boundary was to the west, the 11th AHR had to request these routes through the corps. V Corps denied the western avenues because to use them would have required establishing a FARP near Milh Lake to refuel the attack helicopters. This FARP would have been well forward of the advancing 3rd ID's forward line of troops and thus vulnerable. The corps had already received multiple reports of Iraqi forces maneuvering in the area where the FARP would have to go and did not believe the risk was acceptable. Even if the corps had approved the western approach and the forward FARP, it is clear that 11th AHR could not have executed such a plan. As it turned out, the regiment only got enough fuel to RAMS to refuel part of two battalions. On 23 March they had no means to establish a FARP north of RAMS, let alone as far north as they imagined prior to departing Kuwait. As it was, attacking the Iraqi 2nd Armored Brigade required a south-to- north approach, directly over the Iraqi equivalent of urban sprawl.73

Click here for higher resolution image (621 KB)
Figure 97. Overview of 11th AHR planned routes

In any case, a route near the lake may not have solved the problem. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Troy Templeton recalled that "we templated all this ADA expecting us to come up the lakes."74 Templeton believed that the 1-227 AHB routes reflected concern about possible ADA that could engage units attempting to use the lake to reach targets. In short, the enemy may well have anticipated that attack helicopter units would use the lake as a means to avoid ADA and so placed ADA where they thought the aviators would have to come to use the lake on their approach to the Medina. Templeton liked the idea of avoiding the ADA at the lake. As he put it, "They (the routes) were fine with me. We didn't start getting shot until we were right over the city--and what is a good way to enter a city?"75

Still, the regiment planned routes that avoided the towns and villages along the way to the target. To do this they used FalconView, which enables route planning and rehearsal using high- resolution imagery. FalconView is first-class software that essentially supports a "magic carpet ride" over the terrain. Of course the utility of the tools is entirely dependent on the imagery. The relatively open areas the regiment planned to fly were not devoid of habitation. As Wolf put it, "We avoided any idea of a village at all. I will tell you once you cross the Euphrates everything is lit up. Every farm has a light and every farmhouse has a brick wall around it. Everything became a hiding place for whoever wanted to be there."76

Captain Karen Hobart, the regimental intelligence officer, understood the threat urban terrain posed to the aircraft. In her intelligence estimate for OPLAN 1003, she explicitly described the threat to rotary-wing aircraft operating over the Iraqi urban terrain. Her intelligence summary described how Iraq's air defense systems enjoyed advantage in urban areas. Iraqi guns had the advantages of high rates of fire and high gun elevations, and they were light and easy to deploy and move on civilian vehicles.

In general terms, the regimental intelligence summary also addressed how smaller-caliber weapon systems, such as antiaircraft artillery, could be placed on rooftops and on mobile trucks for hit-and-run operations. Moreover, the summary assessed that the air defense assets could be placed around schools, mosques, and hospitals, indicating Iraq's awareness of coalition attempts to avoid collateral damage. Finally, Hobart described Iraq's air defense ambush techniques along friendly routes, to include massing small-arms fires on low-flying and hovering aircraft. At the final rehearsal for the mission, Wolf highlighted the small-arms threat, noting that he told his aviators that small arms "would ruin their day." But after the fact he recalled, "nobody in their right mind would have envisioned what we ended up facing."77 In fact the Iraqis had perhaps as many as a dozen air defense teams deployed along possible routes. The teams included light air defense artillery cannon and shoulder-launched surface-to- air missiles.78

The coalition intent to avoid destroying the Iraqi power grids also concerned Hobart. City lights could silhouette aircraft against the night sky and hinder the pilots' use of their night vision goggles. Thus placing their air defense artillery in the well-lit population centers reduced one of the Iraqi's major weaknesses--the lack of night-capable air defense artillery. What Captain Hobart and others did not know was that the Iraqis planned to use city lights as an early-warning system, turning an entire town's lights off and on to signal the approach of helicopters.79

All aviators and intelligence personnel "knew" of the theoretical risk of small arms in an air defense role. But with the exception of Somalia in 1993, the Army had no contemporary experiences to weigh the actual risk, and very few of the aviators who flew that night had flown in Vietnam, where ground fire took an awful toll on helicopters. So the 11th AHR--and its supporting intelligence soldiers--seriously underestimated the small-arms and light ADA cannon threat to attack aviation operations. The commanders, pilots, and planners generally tried to avoid flying over urban terrain where possible, but after years of training on benign live- fire ranges and in computer simulations that do not adequately represent the small-arms threat, no one really understood that small-arms and light ADA cannon could be showstoppers.

Coordinating deep artillery fire for suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) along the routes is a critical element of any deep strike. SEAD missions are historically among the most complex and challenging to execute, as ideally the artillery hits suspected air defense sites along the planned route only minutes before the aircraft traverse the area. Timing and accuracy are critical, made all the more difficult by typically imperfect knowledge of exactly where the air defense systems are. For this mission, the corps planned to fire 32 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles.80 The corps also panned joint SEAD, primarily coming from electronic warfare aircraft and air strikes on suspected air defenses.81

The Preparation

Based on the pace of 3rd ID's advance, the corps ordered the regiment to attack the Medina a day earlier than originally planned. Adding to the sense of urgency, a severe sandstorm was bearing down on the region, expected to hit on the 24th. Many in the regiment felt that if the attack didn't occur on the 23rd, the 11th AHR might not get into the war in a meaningful way.82

Figure 98. ATACMS missile fires in support of combat operations

The regiment failed to meet several of the doctrinal conditions for the attack. First, it operated from an unsecured assembly area on Objective RAMS. Some Iraqis appear to have driven around the flight line during mission preparation.83 Second, the MSE Small Extension Node (SEN) that would have provided high-bandwidth digital communications for the TAC could not be sling-loaded forward due to weight and atmospheric conditions. Finally, less than half of the regiment's refueling and rearming capability made it to RAMS in time for the mission preparation. The rest of the fuel and ammunition handlers crossed the berm on 21 March and were still making their way north.84 Nonetheless, against the pressure of the looming sandstorm and despite a shortage of fuel, communications, and security, the regiment prepared to execute.

Aircraft started landing at 1400. As the regiment assembled into a mile-long line of aircraft, the implications of the lack of security were quickly apparent. Pilots watched as one group of Iraqi civilians traveled throughout the area in a pickup truck. This scene repeated itself several times as Iraqi civilians moved about unimpeded and in plain view of the assembled attack helicopters. This raised concerns that the regiment's impending attack would be reported to Iraqi combatants in the surrounding villages and along the attack routes.85

Powdery dust, distance, and lack of fuel also started to affect operations. Refueling operations took an exceptionally long time as the fuelers traveled down the long line of aircraft. Moreover, with less than half of the planned fuel trucks on hand, the regiment could not refuel all of the attack helicopters, the command and control aircraft, or for that matter the CH-47s that needed fuel for their return trip south.86 Although only two battalions were scheduled to go, getting the right amount of fuel in the right place proved difficult. The regiment had enough fuel to refuel fully 1-227 AHB, but could only partially refuel 6-6 CAV. With 31 aircraft refueled the regiment leadership believed they had adequate resources to attack the Iraqi 2nd Armored Brigade.
A Failure of Imagination
We could have highlighted the small-arms threat [to the 11th AHR], but it would have been a failure of imagination for people to understand the magnitude.
Captain Karen E. Hobart,
S2, 11th AHR,
commenting on the small-arms
threat to the deep attack

The GO/NO GO Decision

Doctrinally the first step in the decision to launch is to confirm that there is a target to strike. Forward at RAMS and without the mobile subscriber digital communications, Captain Hobart could not contact her staff at the main regimental command post in Kuwait. She used her only communications means, a satellite telephone, to contact Captain Bret Woolcock, her liaison officer, whom she had embedded with the V Corps Fires and Effects Coordination Cell. Once in contact, Hobart, Colonel Wolf, the operations officer, and a few others stood around the satellite telephone out in the open, intently listening to receive the latest intelligence verbally. Woolcock could only provide 1,000 square meter estimates of the center of mass of company- size units. Exacerbating the problem, the Hunter UAV, the V Corps' only dedicated UAV, was not available. It was currently moving by air and ground convoy up to Objective RAMS and would not support the deep attack. The theater's Predator UAV was also unavailable, as it was still busy flying for the Air Force.87 Taking Woolcock's report, Hobart believed she had a 75- percent picture on the enemy disposition. She so advised Colonel Wolf.88

Surprisingly, Woolcock also passed three Iraqi communications intercepts. Until now, the Iraqis had made infrequent use of their communications to avoid detection. Subsequent to the attack, Hobart thought that the increased communications might have been related to the regiment's pending attack, which she believed the Iraqis were expecting. While the Iraqis did not know the timing or the targets, they did know American tactics. The US Air Force had been attacking Iraqi forces for days, and 3rd ID was pressing the Iraqi army and paramilitary forces hard in the west. The enemy knew that the US almost always leads ground forces with the Air Force, followed by attack aviation.89

At this point, Wolf and the 11th AHR had a partial intelligence picture, some fuel, and were postured at Objective RAMS, secure or not. At 2200, Wolf assembled his battalion commanders to present the final GO/NO GO analysis to the V Corps chief of staff via the tactical satellite radio.90 Wolf, with grids to "20 or 25" targets generated from signals intelligence and updated imagery, believed he had enough to find and attack the 2nd Armored Brigade, but only by "search and attack techniques."91 The go-no go briefing included Wolf, Brigadier General Dan Hahn, the corps chief of staff, G3, G2, effects, and air support representatives. Despite fuel problems, delayed liftoff, and uncertainty about the precise location of the enemy, there was no dissent.92
They Would Not Be Denied
But with all the problems, they felt they could get the job done. Everyone was past the point of "can't." It did not matter; every ounce of energy was devoted to making the mission work.
Major Kevin Christensen
S3, 6-6 CAV
Interview with Major Jonathan Gass

The Execution

Delayed 2 hours and 15 minutes as the troops sorted out who got fuel, helicopters began lifting off at 0115 on 24 March.93 From the start things did not go well. Colonel Wolf returned to his command and control aircraft to find that he lacked the fuel to make the mission. He waited an additional 45 minutes to get more fuel. He was not the only one having problems. Some crews swapped aircraft to assure that key leaders boarded aircraft that had fuel. In the end, only 30 of the 31 Apaches left the assembly area, as one crashed on takeoff due to severe brownout conditions caused by the "moon dust." 94

Poor communications plagued the regiment throughout the mission with obvious effects on execution. When Colonel Wolf delayed the launch by 2 hours and 15 minutes, the regiment could not alert supporting fixed-wing units. The ground SEAD fired at the adjusted time and in accordance with the corps standard of 30 minutes before the helicopters' time on target. Even this success proved a mixed blessing since many of the pilots considered 30 minutes too early and wondered if it acted more as a warning to the Iraqis than a suppression. Worse still, the fighters assigned to support the mission never received the adjusted mission time and departed as originally scheduled, which meant they were not on station during the actual attack. The corps Fire Effects Coordination Cell and air liaison officer did obtain some help. For example, B-52s dropped 26 JDAM bombs in support of the effort to rescue the pilots of the lone downed aircraft. Reportedly, some ground-attack aircraft engaged targets in a supporting kill box, but there are no specifics available.95 Whatever problems the regiment experienced with the SEAD and CAS execution, the Iraqi air defense "system" was arguably not vulnerable to traditional SEAD operations--26 ATACMS and 26 JDAMS could not realistically suppress several hundred Iraqis distributed throughout a densely populated urban area firing small arms and light air defense artillery.96 Fundamentally, the attack helicopters attacked alone and effectively unsupported.

As they traveled up the route, although the lead troop of 6-6 CAV had no contact, 1-227 AHB was already reporting enemy fire. En route to the target, when B/6-6 CAV oriented west at approximately 0100, all of the lights in the area, to include the cities of Al Haswah and Al Iskandariyah, blinked out for approximately 2 seconds.97 Immediately thereafter, the sky erupted with all manner of ground fire, which was apparent by the red, yellow, and white tracers. Initially unaimed, the fusillade of fire created a "wall" between the aircraft and their objectives. Although the Apaches were running with lights out, the lights from farms and town silhouetted the attack helicopters against the night sky. Crews reported damage to their aircraft and difficulty maneuvering due to the volume of enemy fire.98

In the Apache, one of the two crewmen flies wearing helmet-mounted night vision goggles to see things thermals do not, including, for example, wires and tracers. The second crewman flies with thermals and the 30mm chain gun slaved to his head-up display. When the sky "lit" up with tracers, the aviator with goggles could see them, but the aviator who had immediate control of the gun could not. Therefore, to add to their problems, one crewman had to talk the other on to the source of fire to suppress it.

Figure 99. Apache attack helicopter in dust-created brownout at FARP SHELL

The following account drawn form the battle summary of 6-6 CAV details how difficult this mission became and conveys a sense of what flying that mission was like for one crew.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 John Tomblin and First Lieutenant Jason King were in the second aircraft to depart for the Medina fight, and when they finally took off to the north, the aircraft shuddered from the weight of the ammunition. Vehicle traffic trying to refuel the regiment's aircraft had created 6 inches of talcum powder dust--making it very difficult for everyone trying to depart the assembly area. The crew was not surprised when it monitored radio traffic that an A Troop aircraft had crashed on takeoff. Along the 53-nautical mile route, Palerider 16 received very little small-arms fire but noticed heavy tracer fire to the west in the vicinity of its sister battalion, 1-227 AHB. As they began to turn west into the objective area, Tomblin and King noticed how bright the lights were in the nearby town; it seemed odd considering it was midnight [unit reports suggest time was actually 0100]. As they climbed to clear a set of 200-foot wires, the lights went out for about 2 seconds. When the lights came back on, they started receiving aimed AAA fire at the aircraft. It had been a coordinated ambush directed at taking out the Apache aircraft. Palerider 16 conducted evasive maneuvers and returned fire. Tomblin stated "fire was coming from all directions." He could tell the aircraft had been hit when he smelled electrical equipment burning. Looking down, Tomblin saw a man with a rifle shooting at the aircraft. He engaged with the 30mm, killing the man and hitting a nearby fuel tanker. There was a tremendous explosion that lit up the sky.

As Tomblin maneuvered the aircraft, King was calling in [a] report that they had taken fire. In the middle of his report, a bullet entered the cockpit and went through his throat. His transmission stopped and Tomblin asked, "Sir are you ok?" There was no response. King's throat had filled with blood, and although he could hear everything that was going on, he was unable to answer. Tomblin turned the aircraft to the south and reported that his front-seater had been hit, condition unknown. Ahead of them was the 53-nm route they had just come up, with other aircraft trying to reach their objective area.

By now the air defense ambush was waiting, and the aircraft continued to receive heavy fire. The flight controls seemed sluggish and uncontrollable. Major Christensen (6-6 CAV S3) was in a C2 aircraft several miles to the south. The plan was to link with the Black Hawk at a designated location and transload King for a flight to the nearest field surgeon team. Tomblin continued to ask First Lieutenant King if he was OK--still no answer, although he could hear him breathing. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Duffney and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Neal served as their wingman. Tomblin pulled in behind them and noticed a tremendous amount of smoke coming from one of Duffney's engines. A hydraulic line on Duffney's aircraft had been severed and fluid was flowing into the engine. This same hydraulic system controlled the weapons on his aircraft; Duffney was unable to return fire. Tomblin pulled back and, as Duffney's aircraft received fire, he laid down suppressive fire in the enemy's direction.

Earlier, before the flight, King had taken his pressure bandage out of his load- bearing equipment and placed it on the dash of the aircraft. Usually this would be placed in the rear storage bay of the aircraft, unreachable by its owner. Now he was applying pressure to the wound and was finally able to speak. "I am ok, I am ok, you're taking fire from the right." King could see tracer fire through his night vision goggles and continued to direct fire for his back-seater and other aircraft. Together the two aircraft continued down the route, receiving heavy fire. The plan to link up and land with the Black Hawk had been changed. They would fly back to the assembly area and load King into a waiting vehicle that would take him to a MEDEVAC aircraft. As they approached the assembly area, the small-arms fire stopped. Now they had to land the crippled aircraft at an assembly area that had several other damaged aircraft attempting to land. Both aircraft flew past the assembly area and allowed landing aircraft to touch down while locating the awaiting transport vehicle. While they were waiting, numerous reports from other aircraft could be heard on the radio. One from their sister battalion was transmitting on the emergency guard frequency; this aircraft was badly damaged and lost all navigation and night vision equipment. [Airborne Warning and Control System] was vectoring the aircraft to the south; the crew was noticeably shaken up.

Once on the ground, King was loaded into the waiting vehicle and was moved to the MEDEVAC aircraft. Knowing other pilots may have been shot, King would not allow the MEDEVAC to leave. Finally, the pilots of the MEDEVAC told King, "Sir, we need to go now!" This was the last thing King would remember; he later woke up in the aid station. After receiving initial treatment, he was transported to the rear, where the surgeon told him he was very lucky. The bullet had just missed his windpipe and trachea, and he very easily could have permanently lost his voice or bled to death. King's wife was notified that her husband had been shot and was in critical condition. As King's condition improved, he was to be transported to Germany, where his wife would meet him. Instead of flying home, he convinced a sergeant major to coordinate a ride for him back to his unit. When he rejoined the unit, the soldiers could not believe their eyes. King continued to fly security missions in support of OIF north of Baghdad.99

The 6-6 CAV reached its objective but had to abort before engaging any ground targets due to the heavy fires. The 1-227 AHB made it to its objective and engaged some targets but eventually had to break off and return for fuel. They never found the 30 T-72 tanks they hoped to find. One of 1-227 AHB's helicopters made an emergency landing after taking serious damage. Lieutenant Colonel Dan Ball attempted to provide support to the crew as it sought to evade capture, but he took heavy fire that set a weapons pod alight. Ball finally had to jettison the pod and return home, unable to rescue his crew.100

Returning shot up and in some cases with wounded aboard, the Apaches had to land on the same plowed ground that had dried to dust, which the pilots found vexing even during daylight the afternoon before. Having positioned himself at the center of the flight line, the operations officer, Major John Lindsay had a ringside seat as aircraft returned alone or in small groups, turned into the wind and did their best to avoid mid-air collisions and wrecking their aircraft as they sought the ground in a haze of blinding dust. The pilots executed running landings to give themselves some hope of staying just ahead of the dust cloud they generated. Lindsay recalled that it was terrifying to watch as aircraft rolled "100, 200, 300 feet right toward us," attracted to light and heat sources generated by Lindsay's little command post group.101

Of the 30 aircraft that departed Objective RAMS for the mission, 29 returned with small- arms and some antiaircraft artillery damage. One aircraft force-landed due to ground fire and was subsequently destroyed to prevent compromise. The Iraqis captured both pilots. On average, 1-227 AHB aircraft returned sporting 15-20 bullet holes each, and one had a total of 29 holes. The unit performed an average of 70 small-arms damage repairs per day until all damaged areas were repaired in accordance with applicable aircraft technical manuals. A typical repair of damage incurred from small-arms fire is portrayed in Figure 100. If nothing else, the Apache demonstrated how tough an aircraft it is. As one pilot put it, "that airplane is resilient. It is amazing! We got back and looked at all the airplanes and it is incredible that we were able to fly those things home. It is an amazing aircraft."102 On the other hand, no one was claiming a victory that night.

Enemy Battle Damage

Assessing battle damage is always difficult, but fundamentally aside from killing some air defense systems, a few gun trucks, and a number of enemy firing small arms, the regiment achieved very little.

Repairing the Apaches

That all but one of the Apaches returned to RAMS is a testimony to the aircraft's durability and survivability. The pilots owed their lives to engineers who designed the Apache and to those who built and maintained them.

Despite significant damage, all of the aircraft were repaired well forward in the field and returned to service. On 24 March three CH 47s came forward, bringing the regiment's executive officer, maintenance officer, and others. The aircraft also brought spare parts carried as sling loads. Enroute Iraqis engaged the CH 47s. Two of the helicopters jettisoned their loads, including all of 1-227's spare parts.103 Despite that latest bit of bad news, mechanics returned two aircraft to service within 24 hours, 12 of 17 within 96 hours, 15 of 17 within a week, and the remaining two within 30 days.104 The 2-6 CAV, which had not flown the mission due to the fuel shortage, remained fully mission capable. The corps assigned 2-6 to support 3rd ID.105 The 11th AHR flew its first battalion-size mission only nine days after the ill-fated attack.
Making the Abort Decision
The first 10 minutes of the flight were okay, but Lieutenant Colonel Barbee [Commander, 6-6 CAV] noted the amount of lights that came from the built-up areas. . . .Then they started to receive tracer fire; at first not aimed, but then as they flew north it became more focused. . .The Alpha Troop commander radioed him and asked if they should abort the mission. Barbee said no, given that aircraft were dispersed all along the route. He ordered the squadron to fly east of the assigned route, away from the built-up areas.

But Barbee could not make radio contact with the Bravo Troop commander and Colonel Wolf , the regimental commander, was still not on the radio. Many calls from other Alpha Troop aircraft began to come in reporting that they were "taking heavy fire" as they entered the objective area.

Barbee had to get Bravo Troop out of the area; he was in contact with some of the crews. He called mission abort, but now they had to fly back through the gauntlet again. He ordered the troops to fly as far east as possible. But due to the [adjacent] CAS maneuver box and the I MEF's boundary, their freedom of maneuver was limited.

Lieutenant Colonel Mike Barbee
Commander, 6-6

Figure 100. Photograph of repaired small-arms damage


Following the attack, Army aviators took a collective step back to assess what had happened and to determine the causes and develop solutions. To be sure, the Iraqi air defense technique clearly proved effective in countering the helicopters as they were employed. After 12 years of experience with the Americans targeting their air defense systems, Iraqis had adapted. They developed a simple, yet sophisticated air defense "system" virtually impossible to detect and suppress.

Because US forces are very effective at destroying air defense radars that radiate and missile/gun systems, the Iraqis avoided using these as cornerstones in their network. Rather than using radar, the Iraqis appear to have relied on ground observers who reported on cellular phones and low-power radios. Finally, flickering the city lights warned the shooters to be prepared to engage. Rather than relying on easily targetable missile or gun systems, the Iraqis' main weapon systems were the small arms widely distributed among the general population.

At the time of the 11th AHR's attack, the Iraqis in the area had not been subjected to any coalition ground or air actions. As a result, shooting up into the sky at the American helicopters could be viewed as a no-risk proposition, even for the most reluctant armed Iraqi civilian. With rudimentary training on where to shoot (at the apex over power lines), even paramilitary troops could contribute to an air defense engagement area. Moreover, with no visible concentration of air defense equipment prior to mission, SEAD was ineffective. Once the fight started, the fires were so dispersed and distributed among populated areas that they were virtually impossible to suppress. The American pilots' restraint in returning fire into the urban areas to avoid civilian casualties also hampered their response. For Colonel Wolf this point loomed as particularly important. His crews needed to identify a target before returning fire, "because there were people out there we did not want to kill."106 They could not, as he put it, "spray indiscriminately."107

Consequently, the Iraqis executed an air defense operation in which the early warning and tracking systems operated below the US ability to detect and destroy; equally important, the Iraqis distributed their air defense weapons so widely that they could not be tracked or suppressed; and they decentralized their command and control so that it could not be effectively disrupted. The Iraqis, in this instance at least, used the decade between the wars to develop tactics that produced a highly survivable and effective air defense capability that, in turn, forced adaptation in Army aviation tactics.

In addition to reviewing the enemy's actions, Army aviators reviewed mission planning, tactics, techniques, and procedures to determine what they could learn from this. The next day while maintenance crews repaired the aircraft, the command group conducted a conference call with the 101st Airborne Division aviators to share lessons learned and discuss countermeasures. 11th AHR presented its assessment in 11 major areas ranging from internal security while airborne to the rules of engagement (ROE). The ROE in effect prevented the aviators from using rockets to suppress targets given the possible proximity of civilians. On another topic, the 11th advised its colleagues that go/no go briefings focused on target fidelity inadequately accounted for en route air defenses--doctrine requires an assessment of en route air defense, and the 11th attempted to do that, but the defenses it faced were outside the model they anticipated.

This deliberate effort to learn from the first deep attack of the war paid off, as evidenced by the successful 101st Aviation Brigade, deep attack on 28 March, after the sandstorm cleared. Whatever else the aviators learned, they were reminded that small arms and light cannon are effective against attack helicopters. After the fact, the decision to go seems incomprehensible on the basis of inadequate fidelity in target locations. On the other hand, even with absolute accuracy on the 2nd Armored Brigade it is hard to see how the regiment could have overcome the fierce resistance it encountered. As more information on the enemy in OIF becomes available, the Army will need to consider under what conditions flying attack helicopters deep will produce the kind of benefits that warrant the potential risk.

The 101st Goes Deep

When OIF commenced, 101st Aviation Brigade's first planned mission was to destroy the 14th Mechanized Infantry Brigade of the Medina Division, projected to occur on 24 March. The mission would complement the 11th AHR's attack on the rest of the Medina. However, the division postponed the mission when the sandstorm grounded all Army aviation. Moreover, after the 11th AHR's experience, the corps leadership debated whether to attempt the mission at all.

By the time the weather cleared, the 101st Aviation Brigade had done its homework on the 11th AHR's experience.108 That experience suggested that the enemy was using observers linked by cell phones to provide early warning to a dispersed air defense. Pilots, planners, and commanders had a frank and detailed exchange to share insights, observations, and recommended changes in tactics and procedures.109 With the lessons disseminated, chief among which was to avoid the built-up areas, and the enemy still able to menace the 3rd ID's advance through the Karbala Gap, Lieutenant General Wallace authorized the 101st's attack. Thus, on 28 March, the 101st Attack Brigade conducted the operation's second deep attack--this time against the 14th Brigade of the Medina Division.

Figure 101. Using oil for dust abatement at FARP SHELL


The planned 101st attack against the Medina division was one of the few missions that survived each evolution of the base plan. This attack required the early entry of the 101st force package on the TPFDL. The scheme of maneuver, refined in Grafenwoehr, Germany, during the corps' preparatory exercise, VICTORY SCRIMMAGE, required the division to establish an additional forward operating base (FOB 5) or FARP southwest of Karbala to assure the Apaches could remain on station long enough to accomplish their mission.

Based on the discussion with the 11th AHR, Major Bill Gayler, the 101st Aviation Brigade S3, devised a plan that combined CAS, artillery, and direct fires from helicopters within the formation in support of the brigade's maneuver. Gayler planned to use artillery and CAS to prepare the battlefield prior to the attack. Once the aircraft were en route, ATACMS would fire 4 minutes in front of the aircraft, while CAS remained on station to suppress any enemy encountered. The brigade relied heavily on its air liaison officer, who in turn requested an airborne forward air controller (AFAC) on the mission to ensure CAS could be coordinated directly between fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.

The Apache crews planned constant movement, with variations in airspeed and altitude to increase their survivability by decreasing the enemy's ability to track and engage them. Additionally, the lead/wingman concept would be used to provide supporting fires in and around the more populated urban areas or areas where they expected enemy contact. Crews intended to suppress immediately any ground fire with direct fires, develop the situation and then engage with CAS as needed. Based on the 11th Regiment's comments, they decided to fly using these techniques from the moment they lifted off. In short, they assumed they would have to fight all the way to their objective.

The brigade S3, along with Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brendan Kelly, the brigade tactical operations officer, felt development of the routes was as important as the engagement areas. They focused a great deal of time accounting for fuel efficiency, enemy locations, and deception. For example, based on threat assessment, several routes were developed with frequent heading changes over known or suspected enemy observers. This technique aimed to confuse observers as to the actual direction of travel. Aviators are trained to fly to the least-lit areas. The enemy knew this and focused air defenses on those areas. In response, the pilots thought that flying over populated villages might not be a bad idea. The pilots and staff used both FalconView and Topscene flight visualization tools in planning and rehearsals. Once the brigade developed the plan, aircrews came to the brigade TOC to "fly" the mission in Topscene, allowing them to refine and adjust the routes.110 Both tools enabled rehearsal over terrain generated from imagery. Of FalconView, one pilot observed, "The only thing that I did not see in FalconView that I saw in the gun tapes afterward was the amount of palm trees.111


Two battalions executed the attack on 28 March. The 1-101st Aviation (AVN) attacked to the north as the main effort, while 2-101st AVN feinted to the south. The brigade Commander, Colonel Greg Gass, commanded from a command and control Black Hawk supported by his brigade fire support officer and air liaison officer.112 Gass positioned himself near 1-101st, the main effort. As it turned out, 1-101st encountered very little enemy contact, while 2-101st found what they sought.113

Click here for higher resolution image (541 KB)
Figure 102. 101st Attack Aviation scheme of maneuver against the 14th Brigade

The 1-101st departed from FARP SHELL at 2145, following a route north, then east across the Karbala Lake and maneuvering out into the Karbala Basin. At 100 km in length, the route to the objective area was long, requiring a flight time of 40 minutes. As the battalion aviators flew the route, communications problems prevented them from calling for the fires to suppress enemy air defenses. Upon arrival at the objective, B/1-101st conducted a movement to contact to locate the Iraqi 14th Brigade, with no luck. Alpha and Charlie companies departed 30 minutes after B/1-101 to complete the planned destruction. After handing off the empty engagement area to Alpha and Charlie companies, B/1-101 returned to base. Alpha and Charlie companies continued the search for targets and returned after 30 minutes on station with no contact. Apparently, the 14th Brigade had already departed the objective area.114

While maneuvering through the objective area, all three companies took ground fire. The Iraqis acted as described in 11th AHR's "lessons learned"--civilian vehicles tried to maneuver along routes of flight to engage the aircraft, and dismounted Iraqis fired small arms and RPGs. Dedicating aircraft to security succeeded. With an aircraft maneuvering around the rear of the flight and one on either flank, the remaining aircraft focused on target detection and engagement. The battalion destroyed five pickup trucks, four of which had heavy machine guns mounted in the back. The battalion estimated it killed 15 armed people on the ground.115

The 2-101st intended to attack the southernmost two battalions of the 14th Brigade. The concept of operation assigned two companies in continuous attack with a third company as the battalion reserve, ready to continue the attack or to suppress the enemy in support of a self-extraction of any downed aviators. Their routes took them literally to the edge of Karbala. Alpha and Bravo companies conducted the mission, with Charlie Company in reserve. A/2- 101st led, followed by the battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Smith, and trailed by B/2-101st.116

Alpha Company departed FARP SHELL at 2204 on the 28th. After some initial confusion when one aircraft turned left instead of right, the battalion re-formed and headed for the objective. As the flight approached the line of departure, Smith took up an overwatch position behind the company. On the way to the target, the lights in Karbala went off and then came back on, just as the 11th AHR had reported. About this time Alpha Company acquired targets along Highway 9 southeast of the city of Karbala. As planned, the pilots passed the target grids to Smith, who in turn tried unsuccessfully to contact the brigade's air liaison officer in the command and control aircraft. After making several attempts, Smith, tried to contact the F/A- 18s and AWACS directly. Finally, he transmitted on the emergency frequency and contacted Gospel 01, a pair of F/A-18s, and passed the target information. Gospel 01 then contacted the lead Apaches, which conducted a target handover, leading to several CAS runs on the targets. Handover went smoothly because A/2-101st had already started engaging the armor forces on Highway 9 using the running-fire techniques. Of course, a linear road with burning tanks presents a good mark for fixed-wing aircraft.117

Lieutenant Colonel Smith remembered, "The rest of the night was amazing."118 Smith watched tracers coming up, saw fighters dropping 500-pound bombs and listened to one pilot report that people were waving to him from a rooftop. According to Smith a second pilot corrected this misapprehension, saying, "Dude, they ain't waving."119Despite receiving ground fire, the Apaches continued to attack tanks and other fighting vehicles along Highway 9 and antiaircraft artillery in the open terrain west of the highway. Gun camera tapes verified that the crews engaged the enemy, running in from 8 to 5 km. As one aircraft ran in toward the target, his wingman provided overwatch and suppressive fires. Once the lead aircraft completed the engagement, the wingman would then begin his run-in toward the target. The fight continued as the attack aviation alternated with CAS to destroy the forces along the highway.

Army, Air Force, and Navy pilots destroyed six armored personnel carriers, four tanks, five trucks, and a fiber-optic facility. They also killed approximately 20 troops. Although not a high count by "exercise standards," the attack marked an effective use of deep-strike Army attack aviation against a highly adaptive enemy. Moreover, it illustrates how quickly Army and fixed- wing aviators adapted to an enemy that had caused significant damage to the pervious deep strike.

Back to Top

The Battle of An Najaf: 25-28 March 2003

Like As Samawah, An Najaf is located along the Euphrates River with several key bridges across the river. Highway 9 parallels the river and runs directly through the town. Highway 28 also parallels the river but runs several kilometers to the west of the town. Any Iraqi forces in the town, conventional or paramilitary, could interdict travel along both highways and disrupt the corps' planned attack through Karbala.

Figure 103. Destroyed Iraqi tank on Highway 9

The Iraqis defending from An Najaf included paramilitary and some regular troops. As had their colleagues in As Samawah, they forfeited the relative security and defensive advantages within the built-up areas to come out and attack the approaching 3rd ID soldiers. Learning from the two previous fights in An Nasiriyah and As Samawah, the 3rd ID decided rather than simply blocking and bypassing the town, it would contain An Najaf from the southwest and northwest and isolate from the north and east. This would prevent enemy paramilitary forces from interdicting logistics operations in Objective RAMS and position the division to prevent other enemy forces from reinforcing An Najaf.

The division aimed to secure the two key bridges on the north and south sides of An Najaf and then place forces on the eastern and western sides, effectively isolating the city from all directions. The division designated the northern bridge at Al Kifl as Objective JENKINS and the southern bridge Objective FLOYD. 3rd ID assigned JENKINS and FLOYD to 1st BCT and 3-7 CAV, respectively. Complicating execution, the sandstorm took helicopters out of the equation. The 3-7 CAV lost the use of its OH-58D Kiowa Warriors eyes and weapons. En route and looking for a safe place to land, the Kiowas saw other helicopters on the ground below and landed. The helicopters turned out to be the 11th AHR, recovering from their deep attack. Rotary-wing aviation would not contribute to the upcoming fight.120

Setting the Cordon--1st BCT in the North at Objective JENKINS

Late on 24 March 2003, while consolidating his brigade in Objective RAIDERS, Colonel Will Grimsley received an order from Brigadier General Lloyd Austin, the assistant division commander for maneuver, to seize Objective JENKINS, a bridge over the Euphrates River at the town of Al Kifl. The division had designated every class-70 bridge (rated at 70 tons capacity) as an objective to enable a quick orientation of the force if the division required the bridge as a crossing site and to orient forces on possible threats to the division's flank as it advanced. But intelligence had gathered information suggesting that the enemy was using the highway that ran south from Al Hillah to An Najaf to reinforce Najaf and points south. Austin wanted Grimsley to seize the bridge and interdict the highway to prevent reinforcements from getting south. Seizing JENKINS would isolate An Najaf from the north while the 3-7 CAV completed isolating the town at FLOYD from the south and from the east by crossing the river and advancing north.121

Figure 104. 101st Airborne Division estimate of paramilitary forces in An Najaf
(PAX refers to the estimated number of paramilitary troops assigned)

Click here for higher resolution image (536 KB)
Figure 105. An Najaf paramilitary infiltration/exfiltration routes, developed by 101st Airborne Division soldiers

Figure 106. Bridges at Objectives JENKINS and FLOYD

But Grimsley had no one readily at hand to execute the mission. He had troops spread from RAIDERS all the way back to An Nasiriyah. He assigned the mission to Captain Charles Branson and his Alpha Battery 1-3 ADA, the brigade's air defense battery equipped with the LINEBACKER missile system.122 Grimsley augmented the battery with a combat observation lasing team (COLT) and a section from the brigade reconnaissance troop. Branson assembled his troops and gave a quick order supported by back brief. The troops moved out about midnight. Grimsley also tasked Lieutenant Colonel Marcone and TF 3-69 AR to provide a quick-reaction force in the event Branson got in trouble.123 About 0200, as Branson's team approached the bridge, it ran into heavy contact, primarily from paramilitary troops. Along Highway 9 west of the bridge, Branson encountered dug-in troops armed with what Grimsley described as the "whole works."124 Over the course of the night, Branson's troops fought their way forward, but as they reached the west bank of the Euphrates they encountered more enemy. Branson whistled for help. Grimsley called on Marcone to commit the quick-reaction force just before sunup.125

Click here for higher resolution image (978 KB)
Figure 107. 3rd ID's scheme to encircle An Najaf

Captain Benton's Team B 3-7 IN, composed of two mechanized infantry platoons and one tank platoon, moved out just before 0600 heading for the bridge some 17 kilometers away. Like Branson before him, Benton met opposition as he reached highway 9. Major Mike Oliver, Marcone's operations officer, followed Benton by about 1 hour to assume command of the two-company operation. Oliver caught up with Branson just before 0800. Branson had thrown a track in rough terrain near the road leading into Al Kifl. Oliver took a quick update from Branson and continued on, now traveling east, where he met Captain Benton about 0830. Benton's company was fighting to clear the route into Al Kifl. Oliver ordered the ADA battery to orient to the south along the road to prevent the enemy from reinforcing the outlying buildings in Al Kifl.126
True Combined Arms Forces
An air defense battery commander leading a Bradley and tank company team in an attack is unprecedented. Just after midnight on March 25th, Captain Branson's company team reached the service road leading to the [Al Kifl] bridge and immediately started receiving heavy RPG, small-arms, and mortar fire from enemy positions well established in prepared defensive positions on the near side of the bridge. Captain Branson pulled his forces back. . . and called in artillery fire to suppress the enemy fire. . . .For the next eight hours, Captain Branson maintained the momentum of the attack, calling for artillery fires on three separate occasions. . . [until B/3-7 IN arrived].
Award citation narrative
for Captain Charles Branson

Oliver planned to attack across the river and control the eastern bank from high ground near what the map showed as a second bridge. But first Benton's troops had to clear the way. The company engaged numerous dismounted Iraqis armed with small arms and RPGs and supported by mortars. Infantrymen cleared buildings along the way. At one point the infantry could not gain access so the tank platoon blew a hole in the offending building, enabling the infantry to enter. The opposition included both uniformed troops and paramilitary in civilian clothes. Oliver assessed the enemy defending the near side or west bank as a reinforced platoon supported by mortars. The company team stopped at the bridge and destroyed several targets on the far side while the infantry cleared nearby buildings. Benton's troops completed clearing the west bank at 1030.127

Now Oliver ordered the section from the brigade's reconnaissance troop forward to determine whether the ground would support his plan to defend the bridge from the high ground on the east bank. Oliver specifically ordered the scouts not to cross the bridge just yet. Meanwhile, Captain Branson rejoined and began moving his battery into position to prevent the enemy from reinforcing from An Najaf. Shortly thereafter, the scouts reported that there was only one bridge, not two as indicated by the map, supporting a similar assertion made by Branson. The scouts also reported they had killed several enemy infantrymen on the bridge and on the east bank. About 1100 the ADA battery reported the north-south road on the west bank clear, so Oliver ordered Benton to assault across the bridge.128

At about 1100 Benton attacked with the tank platoon leading while the Bradleys provided overwatch. The four tanks of Second Lieutenant John Rowold's platoon (the 1/A/3-69 AR, attached to B/3-7 IN) approached the bridge in a staggered column.129 Private First Class Alfeiri, driving A13, used his mine plow to clear several destroyed trucks from the bridge. Tank A14 followed. The third tank, Lieutenant Rowold's A11, driven by Specialist Price, was on the bridge when the Iraqi defenders detonated explosives rigged along the span. Price increased his speed, clearing the damaged section by maintaining the tank's momentum. As the dust from the explosion cleared, the soldiers saw that the bridge section had pancaked straight down, with three tanks isolated on the eastern bank.130 Oliver recalled, "Temporarily stunned by the blast, it took us a few seconds to realize what had happened. The first thought that flashed through my mind was, how far was the bridge over the water, then how deep was the river; and finally, could they survive the fall from the bridge into the water."131 Lieutenant Rowold reported that they were alright, with three tanks on the east bank and no one injured. Oliver reported to Marcone what had happened and that he would assess the condition of the bridge.

Thoroughly alarmed and not realizing the entire span had not gone in the river, both Grimsley and Marcone moved out traveling separately. Grimsley had his engineer battalion commander bring their tele-engineering rig, planning to look for a good place to get an assault bridge across the river, because "I've got a Black Hawk Down scenario here. I have American soldiers on tanks on the far side with no way to get back."132 Major Oliver ordered engineers supporting Benton to determine whether the partially destroyed span was safe to cross. The scout section drove a HMMWV across with no problems, so at least wheeled vehicles could cross. The scouts could see wires on the bridge that presumably led to explosives to blow up the rest of the span. When told to cut the wires, the scouts demurred although after some discussion they did cut the wires and moved to the river's edge to prevent the enemy from regaining access to the explosives still on the bridge.133

When Lieutenant Colonel Marcone arrived, he went immediately to the bridge. He could see no damage, so he asked one of the brigade scouts where the enemy blew the bridge. The scout replied, "right here." Marcone said, "You've got to be kidding me, this little indentation," so Marcone ran down the stairs at the side of the bridge and looked underneath, concluding it would hold a tank134 Marcone walked out to the mid point of the bridge and called his own tank across, expecting the tank to pick him up on the way, but the tank crew drove on past him. Crossing was one thing, but hanging around to pick up the boss was another. While the bridge span sank a bit, it held the weight. Following Marcone's example, Rowold's fourth tank and Benton's Bradleys crossed the bridge to reinforce the tanks on the east bank.135

The Iraqi defenders continued to engage the tanks on the eastern bank while the task force assessed the bridge status. Once on the far side, Lieutenant Colonel Marcone participated in securing the bridgehead, shooting and capturing one enemy soldier, and disarming another in hand-to-hand combat. As Marcone shoved a weapon away from a wounded paramilitary trooper who lay near a low wall, a man in civilian clothes brandishing a weapon stood up on the other side of the wall. Marcone wrestled away the man's AK-47 and used the rifle like a bat on his still-struggling opponent. The man dropped and Marcone's medics treated him and his wounded colleague and took them away.136

Figure 108. From left to right, Lieutenant Colonel Marcone, Lieutenant General Wallace, and Colonel Grimsley

Unwilling to give up the bridge, the Iraqis charged the armored vehicles on the far side in pickup trucks and vans. Grimsley crossed the bridge on foot and joined Marcone. "There are firefights going on all over the place around us and that is when the vehicles start coming, driving down the highway trying to ram the Bradleys. Vehicles (trucks) with explosives and knuckleheads in them. Rock, Tom Smith (Commander, 11th Engineer Battalion), and I are standing in the intersection (just east of Al Kifl) watching this go on over and over again."137Marcone's infantry expanded the bridgehead and began engaging enemy on the highway to the east of Al Kifl with artillery. As the weather worsened, the sand blew so hard it became difficult to see the traffic on the highway. But Marcone's fire support officer registered the guns on two linear targets on the highway, enabling him to fire concentrations on the highway as required.138

As Marcone's troops organized their positions, the Iraqis also began shelling them with mortars. At about sunset while Marcone was walking his positions, a mortar round struck nearby knocking him unconscious for about 45 minutes. Once he recovered and resumed control of the fight, he ordered the tanks to withdraw back across the bridge due to the limited fields of fire on the far side. The tanks withdrew to the west bank and provided overwatch for the two Bradley platoons that had crossed and remained on the far side. Team B/3-7 IN established a strongpoint and continued to defend against suicidal Iraqi attacks, supported by artillery and by the Air Force in the person of Technical Sergeant Crosby, who called in CAS throughout the defense. The enemy technique was both simple and suicidal. Mike Oliver recalled that they attacked by coming south from Al Hillah in pickup trucks carrying 8-10 people. Benton's Bradleys would destroy the trucks, but the survivors continued forward, using buildings for cover. Generally poor visibility enabled at least some of them to close to 10-15 meters, where they fired RPGs and assault rifles until Benton's troops killed them. Benton's troops fought nearly continuously until relieved by TF 2-69 at 1900 on 26 March.139 By controlling the bridge at JENKINS, 1st BCT prevented Iraqi paramilitary reinforcements from entering An Najaf from the north, successfully closing the top of the cordon.

Setting the Cordon--3-7 CAV in the East

The division assigned 3-7 CAV the mission to isolate An Najaf from the south and east. 3-7 CAV moved straight from its "march" up from As Samawah into the attack. At As Samawah, the division elected to block the exits from the town, but at An Najaf, Blount needed to interdict traffic flowing south from Baghdad reinforcing An Najaf and possibly points farther south. The airborne JSTARS indicated heavy movement south along Highway 8 /80. Crossing the Euphrates south of An Najaf at Objective FLOYD and attacking north would isolate An Najaf from the south and east, and with TF 3-69 AR crossing at JENKINS, the division could interdict enemy movement along the Euphrates.140

B/3-7 CAV, "Bone" Troop, led 3-7 CAV to the bridge on Objective FLOYD at 0600 on 25 March, at about the same time Captains Branson and Benton linked up at JENKINS. The storm had reduced visibility to 25 meters or less, so the cavalrymen relied on their night vision and thermal sights to provide some limited ability to see and respond to the Iraqis' continuous small-arms, RPG, and suicidal attacks. At 1043, Bone secured the western side of the bridge, and engineers determined it was not prepared for destruction, although they had discovered almost 10,000 pounds of plastic explosives cached on the far side.141

Hunter-Killer Teams
The hunter-killer team concept works fantastic!. . . The M1/M3 combination is outstanding. What you get when they work together is lots and lots of dead folks.
Sergeant First Class Jason Christner
Charlie Troop, 3-7 Cavalry

At 1100, Bone crossed the Euphrates and attacked north. While Bone halted east of An Najaf, Apache Troop (A/3-7 CAV) attacked due north to secure a concrete dam and large bridge over the river. En route, they encountered several hundred dismounts and roads choked with technical vehicles and all types of military equipment. The fight up the east side of the town was intense. The sandstorm reduced visibility, allowing the Iraqis to approach to within a few feet before they could be identified. Consequently, the fighting was very close. Hundreds of paramilitary fighters in technical vehicles or on foot attacked in waves, using small arms, RPGs, and mortars.142

Crazy Horse Troop (C/3-7 CAV), provided security for the remainder of the squadron. Placed in the rear to give it a respite following its intense fight at As Samawah, Crazy Horse positioned one platoon on the bridge at FLOYD and the other two at a key intersection 3 km to the north along Highway 9. Ironically, Crazy Horse would end up in yet another fierce fight, never getting the intended break. At this point, the squadron was spread over 30 km. Consequently, Crazy Horse was out of FM radio range. Filling the gap, the Air Force cleared the CAS radio net, and the Air Force liaisons assigned to each troop used their organic tactical satellite radios to provide communications support to the squadron.143

The cavalry's attack continued through the night against increasingly fierce resistance. The intensity of the sandstorm prevented the air cavalry troops from supporting, so the ground troops fought through on their own with help from the air component, which could still drop precision munitions from above the sand. After seizing the bridge, B Troop continued east then north to a position just east of An Najaf, periodically fending off attacks from Iraqis either trying to ram them or firing on them from civilian vehicles or from the side of the road, generally at point-blank range as blowing sand reduced visibility to a few feet.144

Figure 109. A/3-69 AR defending bridge at Objective JENKINS during sandstorm

Click here for higher resolution image (486 KB)
Figure 110. Force disposition around An Najaf, 25 March 2003

3-7 CAV Fighting in An Najaf
As the [C/3-7 CAV] troop set up a traffic control point, cars began to charge up the highway toward the position. Some charged just because they could not see the combat vehicles due to the weather, but some others had different intentions. The tank and Bradley crews manning the northern TCP were the first in contact. They fired warning shots indicating for the traffic to turn around. Many turned and "ran" the other direction, while others paused, then jumped out of the cars and trucks, engaging the soldiers with small-arms fire. Quickly, the threat was neutralized. Still other vehicles began suicide- charging the combat vehicles. They were eliminated as well. But due to the mass of the onslaught, a few others made it up to the tanks and Bradleys. Usually they only made it that far because of the momentum of their automobile, since the drivers and passengers were already dead from the massive amounts of fire delivered by Crazy Horse.

The scout [platoon sergeant], Sergeant First Class Jason Christner, watched as his platoon leader, First Lieutenant McAdams, fired his 9mm at a charging bus that rammed his vehicle, knocking the fighting vehicle back a few feet while almost knocking the crew unconscious. The enemies in the bus were already dead. The driver of the bus was expelled out the side door while still on his seat, as a Bradley main gun round pierced the windshield. Even a fuel tanker rammed the TCPs. It was destroyed and burned brightly, helping to illuminate Crazy Horse's fields of fire through the storm, the oncoming night hours and then the following two days' storms as well.

The fight escalated to the point that Crazy Horse called in artillery and CAS strikes from B-1 bombers using GPS-guided JDAMs [the B1 flew above the sandstorm and was able to provide support]. The artillery and CAS destroyed two T-72 tanks and a variety of other targets.

Extracted from 3-7 Unit History

As B Troop moved north it was ambushed. Two 2nd Platoon tanks took hits to the turrets that started fires involving ammunition. In both cases, the blow-off panels worked as designed, venting the flames from ammunition propellant upward and out of the crew compartment. Stunned tankers abandoned their tanks. The 3rd Platoon stopped to recover the crews and secure the site. Sergeant First Class Anderson, tank commander of tank B24 and platoon sergeant of 2nd Platoon, recalled, "I thought the 23 crew (the other tank that was hit) was killed, and that was the worst thing that could happen. After my tank first got hit, my vehicle didn't have power. I made the call to evacuate the tank as we were still taking hits. I didn't know what I was hit by. I couldn't call anybody, as I didn't have power to transmit. There was fire coming out of the TC's hatch. I got out and drew my nine (9 MM pistol.)"145 But things were worse than Anderson yet knew.146 Bravo 23's driver could not get his hatch open far enough to exit the tank. Sergeant First Class Javier Camacho, platoon sergeant of B Troop's 4th platoon, put it this way, "All hell broke loose. We were the trail platoon so all we could see was tracers hitting the middle of the troop. That is where two tanks were destroyed." Camacho now found three crewmen from B23, " We could see tracers going over their heads. We brought them to the low ground and Sergeant Median (tank commander of B 23) said, `Could you get my driver out, as he is in the tank alive?'147 Camacho and his gunner now undertook to rescue the driver of the stricken tank under fire. Camacho recalled hearing rounds strike the ground and the tank and he could hear "the zinging of the bullets (going) over my head."148 After expending six fire extinguishers gathered from three vehicles, all while under fire, Camacho and his gunner reduced the fire to the point they could pry away the obstruction that kept the driver in his tank. They took the dazed and nearly asphyxiated driver to a nearby vehicle and mounted their own tank to find that Iraqis were crawling around the two burning tanks. According to Camacho, "We fired them up."149 Eventually, B Troop did reach its blocking position, as did A Troop, but they all fought hard to get in position and harder still to stay.

TeleEngineering provides soldiers and commanders access to solutions and subject matter experts to help them solve complex problems. The TeleEngineering Kit (TEK) provides a reach-back to experts in the US who can access information and develop solutions to be transmitted back to the field for implementation. The US Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), located in Vicksburg, Mississippi, developed a deployable communications system that supports a wide range of voice, data, and video teleconferencing services. Compact and highly mobile, the system combines a suitcase-size satellite terminal with a laptop, camcorder, and roll-around secure videoconferencing unit.

Figure 111. The damaged pier at the bridge site north of An Najaf

The 54th Engineer Battalion, "Jungle Cats," sported a TEK. With the TEK in hand, the battalion had the task to assess and make recommendations for both hasty and permanent repairs to damaged bridge sites that could impact the mobility of the 1st BCT, 3rd ID, and all follow-on forces. The TEK was put to the test on 27 March 2003. In the advance to isolate An Najaf, 1st BCT pushed a platoon across the Euphrates River, at Objective JENKINS. Iraqi defenders detonated explosives at one of the bridge piers, drop- ping two sections on top of the damaged pier and cutting off the platoon on the far side.

Lieutenant Colonel Marcone determined that the damaged bridge could support his immediate requirements, but he needed to know how long the bridge would support the heavy, sustained traffic of the following corps.

To meet this requirement, the Jungle Cats conducted a complete technical evaluation of the damage using the TEK. They sent the information back to the TeleEngineering Operations Center in Vicksburg, which, in under 4 hours, provided technical advice on how and where to add wooden cribbing to the failing support. After additional video teleconferences that evening, the operations center recommended further, permanent repairs using sections from a medium girder bridge. However, the scope of work was beyond the Jungle Cats' resources and current mission.

While the Jungle Cats had to move north with the advancing 1st BCT and did not conduct the repairs, the bridge held for all of 3rd ID's missions at JENKINS, under the Jungle Cats' strict control measures. Moreover, the TEK brought virtually limitless technical engineering expertise to the battlefield and greatly enhanced engineer support to the combined arms team. The TEK and TeleEngineering were validated as a powerful resource to draw on engineer knowledge outside of the battlefield and were employed elsewhere with exceptional results.

Extracted from "TeleEngineering"
by Debbie Quimby, ERDC PAO
and 54th Engineer Unit History

Relieving 3-7 CAV

Nearly from the moment C Troop occupied its positions at FLOYD and north of FLOYD on Highway 9, it came under intense attack from all points of the compass. At 1824 on 25 March, 3-7 CAV reported that C Troop, under heavy counterattack, needed reinforcement. Shortly after this call the Division ordered 2 BCT to send help to C Troop. Colonel Perkins ordered Lieutenant Colonel Rick Schwartz's TF 1-64 AR to assist C Troop. The task force moved out at sunset, relieving C Troop after dark, crossing the Euphrates and continuing throughout the night to reaching B Troop the next day. Fierce fighting continued on the 26th, although by nightfall the TF felt it had the situation in hand, but as the unit history reported, "That night, nobody slept."150

Click here for higher resolution image (530 KB)
Figure 112. Relief in place of 3-7 CAV around An Najaf, 26-27 March 2003

Iraqis attacked at JENKINS and everywhere there were Americans east of the Euphrates throughout 26 March. At sunset that day, Lieutenant Colonel J. R. Sanderson's TF 2-69 AR relieved Dave Benton's Team B 3-7 IN at Jenkins. Sanderson's task force had been reassigned to Grimsley's 1st Brigade since the remainder of his own brigade remained in action at As Samawah. Sanderson had just closed on JENKINS when Grimsley ordered him to mount a limited objective attack from JENKINS south to relieve pressure on Apache Troop, 3-7 CAV. Captain Stu James, accompanied by Major Ken Duxbury, the task force operations officer, leading a tank company team based on his A/2-69 AR, attacked after dark south toward Apache Troop. That did the trick for the moment. With the situation stabilized but still dangerous, 3rd ID elected to leave 3-7 CAV in place until 27 March. That morning Grimsley assigned Sanderson an area of responsibility east of the river called Area of Operations PANTHER. Grimsley ordered Sanderson to operate in this 10 kilometer by 10 kilometer box extending south from JENKINS on the east side of the river to allow no penetration of the area of operations to prevent movement between Al Hillah and An Najaf, as well as to deny movement through JENKINS toward the Karbala Gap to the west.151 Sanderson and his battalion now assumed the chief responsibility for preventing enemy reinforcement of An Najaf and endured what he described as 60 hours of hard fighting.152

Negative Illumination
We initiated the attack [into An Najaf] in "negative illumination"; it was worse than zero illumination. It was a mud storm--a thick cloud of dust in the sky, blowing sand, and then it started to rain and the rain would run through the mud and cover everything in mud. You couldn't read a map, you couldn't wear glasses, couldn't use your [night vision goggles]. It was the worst weather I ever saw.
Lieutenant Colonel Eric "Rick" Schwartz,
Commander, 1-64 AR,
commenting on the sandstorm

Colonel Dave Perkins' 2nd BCT completed clearing the routes south and east of An Najaf to effect the relief of 3-7 CAV, using TF 1-64 AR and TF 2-70 AR on the afternoon of 26 March against what the division described as "nonstop suicide attacks."153 At noon on 27 March, 3-7 CAV withdrew after nearly 120 hours of continuous fighting. The division expended considerable effort using the best part of four battalions to effect the actual isolation of An Najaf rather than merely containing the enemy as they had at As Samawah. Artillery had supported throughout, including 12 danger-close rocket missions, but CAS had provided the lion's share of support with 182 sorties. In intense fighting the enemy managed to destroy two tanks and one Bradley. The division reported an estimated 2,000 Fedayeen killed and 100 "technical" vehicles destroyed. More important, they captured an Iraqi brigadier who commanded the southernmost of three military districts in An Najaf. He reported he had lost most of his 1,500 fighters, but claimed 800 more remained in the other districts. In any case, the division had reduced the flow of Fedayeen south, and the fighting tapered off on 27 March.154

Click here for higher resolution image (541 KB)
Figure 113. Force disposition near An Najaf, 28 March 2003

101st and 82nd relieve 3rd ID, 29-30 March

Although Lieutenant General Wallace had hoped to avoid fighting in towns such as An Najaf along the Euphrates, he had anticipated the possibility. He "reasoned that the enemy would have Al Quds, Fedayeen, and Ba'ath Party militia in the towns in a defensive set." What he had not anticipated was their "tenacity and fanaticism."155 Wallace had also hoped to avoid a fight in An Najaf, in particular, due to "cultural, religious, and historical" considerations. Containing, among other things, the Tomb of Ali, An Najaf is a significant holy site to the Shiite Muslims.

However, the constant stream of attacks that threatened the logistics at RAMS required that the corps continue to contain An Najaf. Similarly, attacks all along the LOC, and from As Samawah in particular, required the corps to contain or isolate the towns. So far, two-thirds of the 3rd ID was consumed in containing the threat between these two towns. Locked into this fight, the division could not disengage and prepare to lead the corps into Baghdad. The corps situation reports effectively mark the change in view concerning the Fedayeen. Until 23 March, the enemy situation began with a review of what the corps knew about conventional units. On 23 March, the tone changed, with the situation report noting that Fedayeen and "loyal security forces...seem to be offering the most resistance."156 V Corps needed to solve this problem. Ultimately, Wallace asked for and received the CFLCC's 82nd Airborne Division. He also employed his 101st Airborne Division to relieve the 3rd ID. The 82nd relieved 3rd BCT at As Samawah; the 101st relieved the 1st and 2nd BCTs at An Najaf.

Lieutenant General McKiernan's decision to release the 82nd stemmed from the larger strategic decision to apply combat power to finally--and fully--secure the LOCs and enable the corps to move decisively on Baghdad. The combination of the 3rd BCT's continuing operations farther south, the intensity of the fight in and around An Najaf, and the challenge of consistently and securely running logistics convoys all pointed to a need to deliberately secure the corps' area south to Kuwait. Secure LOCs were a fundamental precondition for the corps to launch its attack on Baghdad. The decision to focus combat power on the LOCs was critical--arguably the decision of the ground campaign--and deserves a detailed discussion.

Back to Top

Securing the Lines of Communication

There was no discrete set of attacks on specific dates by which to neatly describe the fight to secure the LOCs. Moreover, no one at any echelon of command really viewed the LOC fight as a separate mission. Rather, it was viewed as part of the efforts to concentrate the force for the coming attacks to isolate Baghdad, to assure the LOCs remained open, and finally, to deal with several cities that the 3rd ID had bypassed in the march up-country.

Decisive FRAGO
"82 ABN DIV (-): EFFECTIVE 260001Z
CFLCC FRAGO 102 to OPORD 03-32
262200Z [260100L] March 03

As the V Corps and I MEF fights in An Nasiriyah, As Samawah, and An Najaf progressed, Lieutenant General McKiernan reached the same assessment that Lieutenant General Wallace had--it was time to slow down and shift gears from the rapid move north to securing the areas already taken. McKiernan had already done what he could to provide the logistics resources and to ensure that his two major tactical formations--V Corps and I MEF--had adequate maneuver room. McKiernan and his C3, Major General J. D. Thurman, now refocused their efforts on ensuring that the I MEF and V Corps had the resources to control what they owned, particularly the LOCs. I MEF, although confronted with serious problems of its own, actually had more combat troops available than V Corps at this point. McKiernan had one remaining tool--the 82nd Airborne and its one brigade of three airborne infantry battalions--to add to the fight. The 82nd's planning priority was to reinforce early success by conducting airborne operations into Baghdad should the Saddam regime collapse in the opening days of the war. By this time, it was clear that contingency no longer applied. Accordingly, McKiernan released the 82nd to V Corps early on 26 March.157 He also asked CENTCOM to accelerate the planned deployment of one squadron of the 2nd ACR. In retrospect, McKiernan believed that giving V Corps the 82nd was the most important decision that he made during the war. Wallace, McKiernan, and Thurman independently reached the same conclusion. Thurman recalled that it was crucial that they "took the time to deal with the threat against their rear area."158

Led by Major General Chuck Swannack, Jr., the storied 82nd Airborne would give Lieutenant General Wallace a combat-ready brigade with a division headquarters that could control additional units as required. Having Swannack and his headquarters was as important to Wallace as having the troops that came with them. Wallace would assign them to the now-very long LOC. With Swannack dealing with the LOC issues, the corps could focus on offensive operations across a growing and increasingly complex area of operations. General Swannack understood this as well. As early as 23 March, when it became clear that the regime would not immediately collapse, Swannack contacted Wallace to see if the 82nd could contribute to the corps' fight. This discussion set the corps and division planners into motion so that if, and when, the CFLCC released the division, it would know exactly where to go in the fight.159 Ultimately, the 82nd freed the corps to focus on continuing the attack. When the 2nd ACR arrived and joined the 82nd, the "All American Division" assumed responsibility for even more ground and began clearing and opening additional LOCs.

In addition to the 82nd Airborne and the in-bound 2nd ACR, Wallace had additional internal resources to apply to the problem--the 101st Airborne Division's maneuver brigades had closed in Kuwait and remained uncommitted. Originally, he had planned to apply the 101st's unique air assault capabilities as a key element in isolating Baghdad, while the 1st Armored Division would secure the LOCs and start transition operations. However, at this point in the fight, with 1st AD unavailable and with much of 3rd ID committed to securing the LOCs rather than attacking north, it was unclear if the corps would be able to bring enough combat power to bear on Karbala and Baghdad. The 101st would be of little value if the corps could not get its heavy forces into the fight. Thus, while the CFLCC commander considered releasing the 82nd, Wallace was already adjusting plan for the 101st.

Leaning Forward

Figure 114. Lieutenant General Wallace's order to Major General Swannack

Major Degen and the V Corps planners started working on a course of action based on Lieutenant General Wallace's directive on 24 March. They exploited their relationships with the planners at the 82nd and 101st, most of them classmates or fellow graduates of SAMS, to keep the divisions informed of future planning requirements. Before receiving the CFLCC fragmentary order to release the 82nd, the corps and divisions had collectively conducted a mission analysis, developed a course of action, and wargamed it against the threat. CFLCC released the 82nd at midnight on 26 March, and Wallace approved the plan for employment early that same morning.160

The corps issued the FRAGO that day, and the divisions started executing. The 101st was already favorably positioned at FARP SHELL to execute its mission around An Najaf, with one brigade on site and another closing while the third completed its deployment into the theater. As soon as its brigades closed, the 101st could relieve 3rd ID. The 82nd, on the other hand, was not favorably postured or located, but the paratroopers moved with fierce determination to get into the fight sooner rather than later. Apparently, to meet the mission timelines, the 82nd initiated the preparatory actions to move north even before the CFLCC released the order.161 The division derigged equipment that had been prepared for an airborne drop and moved by ground assault convoy (GAC) and C-130 aircraft. The paratroopers sent everyone with a driver's license to Camp ARIFIJAN, where they drew a menagerie of trucks ranging from cargo to dump trucks to haul the troops. Meanwhile they started moving, using two C 130s that were available to make quick turns between Kuwait and Tallil Air Base. Using this combination, the last units of the brigade reached As Samawah on 29 March.162

Click here for higher resolution image (167 KB)
Figure 115. V Corps' scheme to consolidate 3rd ID forward

All of this activity occurred during the so-called pause, but it constituted exactly the kind of activity consistent with a pause designed to build combat power and prepare for future operations. In any case, an operational pause does not mean ceasing operations, but rather focuses on those operations required to transition a large formation from one phase of an operation to another. In this case, the V Corps and I MEF transitioned from an approach march to setting the stage to isolate Baghdad.

For the American logistics and combat troops alike, there was no time-out. From their perspective, the pace slowed from outrageous to merely brutal. The only aspect of the pause that caused concern in the corps was whether the Iraqis might be able to take advantage of the shift in momentum and the reduction in the pace of the operation. In the end, the Iraqi army did not take wholesale advantage of the slowing advance--and perhaps did not detect it. They did, however, use the sandstorm to reposition some units, including two brigades of the Adnan Republican Guard Armored Division into the Karbala Gap and astride Highway 6 southeast of Baghdad.

The 82nd Airborne Division Isolates As Samawah

The Will to Get Into the Fight
The success of the 82nd Airborne Division getting into the fight was not attributable to the plan so much as the 82nd's execution--their will to get into the fight.
V Corps Planners
Interview by Lieutenant Colonel (retired) William Connor
8-9 May 2003

By releasing the 82nd Airborne to V Corps on 26 March, Lieutenant General McKiernan provided Lieutenant General Wallace the key enabler he required to concentrate the 3rd ID south of Karbala. The 82nd could assume the mission at As Samawah that had consumed the 3rd ID's 3rd BCT. The 82nd responded to the change of mission with alacrity. Because the paratroopers planned to conduct an airborne assault, the units had begun to rig their equipment and vehicles for a heavy drop.163 However, on 26 March, V Corps ordered the division to As Samawah. The 82nd also was told that it would be reinforced with TF 1-41 IN, a mechanized infantry unit originally from the 1st AD but currently located at Tallil Air Base, and a lift helicopter company, A/9-101 of the 159 Aviation Brigade, from the 101st Airborne Division.164 This would give the brigade greater combat capability and mobility for the projected fight in and around As Samawah. The paratroopers derigged their equipment in record time and departed Camp CHAMPION on 27 March in three large ground convoys for the long, dusty drive to Tallil Air Base. Simultaneously, the Air Force began to move the brigade's troops by C-130 to the Air Base, an operation that took 24 hours.165 The 2nd Brigade, commanded by Colonel Arnold "Arnie" Bray, reached As Samawah on the 28th and closed on the 29th to relieve the 3rd BCT.

A career paratrooper, Bray and his soldiers were eager to get into the fight and glad to have the tank and Bradley troopers of the 1-41 IN with them. Together, paratroopers, tankers, and mechanized infantry provide commanders the agility, armor, firepower, and endurance that produce synergy career soldiers refer to as "combined arms." Bray's team had firepower, attitude, and the tactical mobility to protect the LOCs and take the fight to the enemy. They soon had the opportunity to do both.

Based on V Corps' order, the 82nd Airborne Division assumed responsibility for isolating As Samawah and for protecting the LOCs from the V Corps rear area to Phase Line (PL) OAKLAND (see Figure 116). Colonel Bray intended to locate and destroy the enemy paramilitary force in As Samawah; secure the ground supply routes in his sector; identify pro- coalition supporters within his sector; and conduct vigilant force protection operations. He saw the end state as friendly forces able to move unhindered along the ground LOCs and the paramilitary forces destroyed, unable to either conduct organized operations or to influence friendly operations on the MSR. He also wanted to have his unit positioned to conduct additional operations outside of the town.166

TF 1-41 IN moved north first to meet the 3rd BCT. The two units linked up on the evening of 28 March. On 29 March, TF 1-41 IN officially relieved TF 1-30 IN at the town.167 3rd BCT, happy to be done with As Samawah, promptly moved north to RAMS and began preparing for offensive operations near Karbala.168

Prior to departing, Colonel Allyn and his staff provided Colonel Bray their assessment of the enemy. Essentially the mechanized troopers advised the paratroopers that, although the enemy force was large, it was neither well trained nor well led. Allyn's intelligence staff estimated that the Iraqis had a company of Republican Guards, some local Fedayeen (estimated at approximately 300 to 350), about 200 to 250 Ba'ath Party militia, and approximately 100 to 150 Al Quds.169 There were other enemy forces, however, that the 3rd BCT had not discovered. Hundreds of Arab volunteers had entered Iraq from Syria and Jordan in recent weeks. US troops would soon be fighting non-Iraqi Arab fighters in several districts. According to eyewitness reports, 40 to 50 volunteer fighters from Syria had joined the forces battling US troops in As Samawah. These Syrians entered the city on 3 April, taking up positions in a residential area.170

Click here for higher resolution image (654 KB)
Figure 116. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions areas of operations along LOCs

Adding to its intelligence picture, the 2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne took over Colonel Allyn's contact with SOF in an around As Samawah. A SOF representative attended the brigade's daily staff meetings. This greatly aided in targeting the enemy command and control structure. The paratroopers quickly learned that the Iraqis in As Samawah were using schools, mosques, and hospitals as headquarters and logistic sites. They did not use radios to direct operations but instead used runners to issue orders and coordinate combat actions.171

Colonel Bray and his troops knew that the enemy was equipped with mortars, light and heavy machine guns, and RPGs. . . lots of RPGs. After the AK-47, the RPG was the most ubiquitous weapon of the war. Based on the SOF and 3rd ID experience, the "All Americans" thought the Iraqis would operate in 3- or 4-man groups, often using civilian pickup trucks fitted with automatic weapons.172 Armed with information passed by 3rd Brigade, 3rd ID, and the SOF, the paratroopers immediately started probing As Samawah. TF 1-41 made the first enemy contact at As Samawah late in the day on 27 March, before it had officially assumed control of the area. TF 1-41 IN maintained continuous contact from then on. Generally, TF 1-41 dealt with small groups of Iraqis making forays against the US blocking positions, often in taxis or civilian cars. TF 1-41 IN and other units in the brigade killed about 50 paramilitary fighters in similar attacks each day that they occupied the triangular crossroads southeast of the city.173

On the night of 29 March, 3-325 IN and TF 1-41 IN mounted the first probes into the town from the southwest. In the process, the airborne and mechanized infantry developed familiarity with each other and practiced light-heavy integration while gleaning information about the enemy and taking the fight to the Iraqis. Quickly, Colonel Bray's paratroopers and mechanized troops shifted their effort from terrain-focused attacks to enemy-focused attacks. The brigade's operations evolved into raids against specific enemy positions where the paramilitaries were congregating. This kept the defenders off balance and unable to interfere with logistics traffic. From 29-30 March, the 82nd conducted probing attacks to gain information about enemy locations, dispositions, and intentions. By maintaining contact over time, Bray's troops began discerning enemy patterns of operation and developing "actionable" intelligence. These operations also set the conditions for their attack to clear the town on 31 March, as part of the V Corps' five simultaneous attacks.174

101st Airborne Division Contains An Najaf

The 101st Airborne Division was also on the move. Unique among all the infantry in the Army and in the Marine Corps, the infantry troops assigned to the 101st are exclusively air assault. The concept of vertical envelopment by helicopter, first experimented with by the Marines in Korea and later amplified by the Army in the early 1960s, became the mainstay of operations in Vietnam. The 101st mastered the art of air-assault operations in Vietnam and transitioned to air-assault infantry in the 1970s.

The heliborne 101st enjoys tremendous operational mobility, able to move battalions very long distances rapidly. Almost everything in the division can be carried to the fight by air if need be. Once on the ground, the paratroopers fight as light infantry. The potential of the air- assault division--first demonstrated by the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam--was achieved during DESERT STORM when the 101st moved from Saudi Arabia to the Euphrates Valley in two bounds, covering more than 300 km and enabling it to cut Highway 8. Now the 101st had returned to the Euphrates Valley prepared to show its other great capability: the ability to mount an attack from several directions at once using helicopters to envelope the enemy.

Major General Dave Petraeus, commanding the 101st, planned to advance by stages, establishing refueling points along the way to sustain the 250 helicopters that provided the chief tactical and operational mobility to the division. By this time, the division had completed the moves north, establishing RRP EXXON and FARP SHELL near An Najaf. The main body of Petraeus' infantry arrived on 28 March, having been on the road for 42 hours.175

The decision to commit the 101st to contain and eventually clear An Najaf caused a flurry of activity within the 101st planning section. The size of the newly assigned area of operations to contain An Najaf and tie in with the 82d ABN north of As Samawah required committing both remaining infantry brigades, 1st and 2nd BCTs. 3rd BCT remained committed to securing EXXON and SHELL while maintaining a battalion prepared to seize a northern forward operating base near Karbala in support of continued deep attacks against the Medina and Hammurabi Divisions.

Clearing operations are inherently manpower intensive, and with significant threats from the north and east, putting a force on the ground to clear An Najaf would quickly consume the 101st's two BCTs. With the two BCTs in An Najaf, Petraeus and Wallace would not have an uncommitted force to respond to unforeseen requirements. The planners developed contingency plans to extricate forces from An Najaf as required, building them around the 3rd BCT's headquarters. As the 101st division staff monitored 3rd ID's progress in resupplying its brigades, the need to find ways for the 101st to support the corps' maneuver through the Karbala Gap became more and more pressing.176

Figure 117. The 2nd BCT, 101st Airborne Division prepares to conduct a ground assault convoy

Although the division assault command post arrived by helicopter into SHELL on the 24th, the sandstorm precluded moving the rest of the division's combat forces until the 28th, when 24 Black Hawks started moving the remainder up. The original plan had assigned the "Screaming Eagles" the task of supporting the isolation of Baghdad. The flow of events and conditions on the LOCs led Lieutenant General Wallace to change his plan.

By 28 March, the weather improved, and so did V Corps' posture vis-à-vis the enemy and the security of its LOCs. With the arrival of the 82nd and 101st at As Samawah and FARP SHELL, Wallace now had adequate forces not only to secure his LOCs, but also to start cleaning up the bypassed towns. Accordingly, with the 82nd engaging in As Samawah, he ordered the 101st to contain and later to clear An Najaf. Clearing An Najaf would not only reduce the threat to the LOCs, but also would open the highway for follow-on operations, to include clearing Al Hillah, north of An Najaf. Clearing Al Hillah would also support isolating Baghdad from the south. Wallace's orders to the 101st thus achieved LOC security and also shaped the battlespace to meet his ultimate operational objective in Baghdad.

The 101st troopers are big on panache and dash. Regardless of their style, Petraeus' division plans meticulously. It is partly air-assault culture; people who fly lots of troops inside hundreds of helicopters and expect to do it in the dark are not casual about planning. Beyond air-assault culture, the 101st developed detailed plans because Petraeus believed, quite rightly, that detailed planning saves lives. Although committed to detailed planning, the 101st is also able to plan quickly. The division reduced many of its planning procedures to drills to facilitate rapid planning. This approach to planning enabled the division to transition rapidly from isolating An Najaf to clearing, using combined arms forces attacking from multiple directions.

In developing the scheme of maneuver, the 101st planners developed estimates of exfiltration routes that the Iraqis were using to exit An Najaf and attack US units and LOCs from the south (see Figure 105). Their analysis also included determining the routes into An Najaf from the north. Using imagery, combat information generated by 3rd ID, and SOF information, the division developed a plan that envisaged using two brigades to relieve the 3rd ID. Petraeus and his planners anticipated follow-on missions after An Najaf and wanted to retain the two brigades and the flexibility they provided. This enabled the division to sustain the cordon initially set by 3rd ID and eventually to enter and clear An Najaf, if that became necessary.177

Figure 118. 101st Airborne Division soldiers in the attack

Figure 119. Major General Petraeus, 101st Airborne Division commander, and Brigadier General Ben Freakley, assistant division Commander for Operation

There is no doubt that the coalition forces had not estimated enemy intentions and capabilities in An Najaf accurately. But on 28 March, when the lead elements of the 101st moved into the town, everyone had a much better picture. To assist in the operation, 3rd ID handed off TF 2-70 AR (Thunderbolts) to Petraeus. The Thunderbolts, who had relieved TF 1-64 AR on Objective RAMS on 26 March, had been in the area for several days. Alpha Company, 2-70 AR, as part of the effort to relive 3-7 CAV, had assumed responsibility for a blocking position at the southeastern edge of An Najaf known as "Checkpoint Charlie" on 26 March. Petraeus assigned the Thunderbolts to 2nd BCT, commanded by Colonel Joseph Anderson. The Thunderbolts, one of two "orphan" battalions of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, now went to work for their second division in the war.178

Click here for higher resolution image (147 KB)
Figure 120. 101st Airborne Division air assault into An Najaf

Brigadier General Ben Freakley briefed Colonel Ben Hodges, commanding the 1st BCT, and Colonel Joe Anderson, commanding 2nd BCT, on their mission at FARP SHELL mid-morning