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Graphic - Center for Army Lessons Learned

On Point

The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom

Chapter 8


In this Chapter:

Peace enforcement is wearing everybody out.... This is much harder [than combat].
Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Ingram, TF 2-70 AR

It is not uncommon to conclude this kind of effort with an epilogue, a postscript that attempts to bring closure to the threads that did not fit in the main work or to take note of developments between the conclusion of the work and its publication. An epilogue is neither possible nor appropriate to On Point since the story is not over. The chief of staff of the Army established the study group to examine combat operations as soon after their conclusion as possible and to publish the results quickly. The president of the United States declared major combat operations over on 1 May 2003, thus this study is limited to those operations occurring on or before 1 May 2003. On 15 August, when the first draft of this manuscript was completed, the Army was planning the next phase of study of OIF and how lessons might be gleaned from the effort to transition from combat operations to those activities that FM 3-0, Operations, attributes to conflict termination. Accordingly, this postscript to On Point is properly titled Transition


In his short remarks on swearing in as the 35th chief of staff of the Army, General Peter Schoomaker homed in on the single most important feature of the Army that enabled superb performance in OIF--soldiers. Schoomaker's remarks left no doubt about his view for the way ahead must assure the Army's essence--soldiers--remain on point for the nation. The chief made it clear that he will examine the Army's methods in training and leader development, how it organizes to include the mix between the Active and Reserve components, how the force is manned, and what the Army must do to remain flexible and adaptable. As he put it, "The American soldier remains indispensable. Our soldiers are paramount and will remain the centerpiece of our thinking, our systems and our combat formations."1

There were a number of reasons why combat operations in OIF succeeded with a minimum of loss of life on both sides and damage to Iraq's aging and fragile infrastructure. First-rate, innovative, adaptive soldiers lead that list. Schoomaker has announced his intention to focus on the heart of the Army--people. Effective leaders and sound training and leader development are the next two major reasons for success. The two are directly related and require joint involvement. Developing leaders who are able to function comfortably in the "three-block war," under the stress and ambiguity of close combat, is essential to the success of the Army and the joint team. Selecting the right soldiers and developing them as leaders requires intense effort in joint environments. On Point suggests the operational environment in OIF is more, not less, complex than that in which the services have traditionally assumed they would operate.

Although all of the services accept that the operational environment is more complex, none of them--and certainly not the Army--has entirely embraced the implications of those changes. Nor have they altered their systems and training to accommodate, and even anticipate, the dynamic conditions in which the services will continue to operate. Development of a joint national training capability led by the Joint Forces Command will form a key capability to enable the services to continue to produce the kind of leaders who performed superbly in OIF.

The services have important roles to play in assuring they provide leaders from private to general who are able to function in this environment. For the Army, that means examining and altering schools and training centers as appropriate. The Army's excellent training centers: the Battle Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, and the Combat Maneuver Training Center at Hohenfels, Germany, will continue to provide the venues for collective unit training for the Army, but they too will undergo examination and alteration.

Leader development is more than training. Although expensive and time consuming, the education of soldiers and leaders who are capable of critical thinking and perspective is absolutely indispensable if the Army is to develop what General Schoomaker calls "the George C. Marshalls for the new era."2 Leader education should seek to produce officers and senior noncommissioned officers who are able to solve complicated problems in joint and interagency contexts during operations from combat to conflict termination.

Combined arms and joint operations, the higher form of combined arms, were among the top five reasons for success in major combat operations. Combined arms organizations able to task-organize efficiently and rapidly proved essential to meeting the challenges posed in OIF. The inherent agility and flexibility disparate forces bring to the fight seem obvious now, but in recent years there have been bitter debates over exactly how to organize forces and whether units with differing mobility and combat power should even be combined. At the extreme end, one group argues for fixed units, organized at the brigade level. However, these would be difficult to "mix and match" to meet the explicit and transitory requirements of the contemporary environment. On the other extreme, there are those who argue not to change anything. Maintaining unit purity and task-organizing as required appeals to this group. This approach does not afford the "plug and play" modules that future expeditionary operations are likely to require.

At the tactical level in the JSOTFs and at the operational level in the conventional forces, joint operations were the rule, not the exception. I MEF and V Corps demonstrated the closest tactical cooperation between the Army and the Marine Corps since the Pacific campaigns of World War II. The air component's units moved and fought at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels and performed brilliantly at all levels. Rapid and precise attacks on time- sensitive targets at all three levels demonstrated the inherent flexibility of the air arm. Air interdiction and CAS had been a bone of contention between the Army and the Air Force, in particular. In this campaign, thanks in part to personal efforts on the part of senior leaders, but also as a consequence of the maturation of joint doctrine and joint operations, that seam practically disappeared. As Lieutenant General Wallace put it, "We've gotten more close air support and more availability of CAS and more access to CAS than I can ever remember. I go back to Vietnam, and we didn't have that kind of CAS in Vietnam."3 CAS proved decisive in assuring tactical victory and, on more than one occasion, decisive in preventing tactical defeat. Perhaps just as important, CAS provided a strong boost to troops on the ground, who were profoundly grateful to the airmen who flew those missions. What had been a source of irritation has become a source of satisfaction and admiration.

On Point has not been able to deliver authoritatively on the importance of special operations forces (SOF) and the effectiveness of integrating SOF with conventional operations. Due mostly to continued classification of these operations, that story remains to be told. Anecdotes abound among the conventional units that attribute the best intelligence and combat information to that developed by SOF units. JSOTF-North operations appear to have fixed some of Iraqi units that manned the Green Line. JSTOF-West denied sanctuary to Iraqi units, particularly to Iraqi missile units. The heroic actions of the special operations troopers in the south stood out every day because of their close integration into V Corps and I MEF operations.

The contributions of the civil affairs and PSYOP components of SOF, while included, are difficult to assess this early. Civil affairs troops absolutely reduced human suffering and enabled the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and they are at the center of the continuing operations in Iraq. PSYOP, as part of information operations (IO), achieved some success as alluded to in On Point, but telling the whole story must wait because assessment of IO is perhaps the most difficult of tasks and requires details not yet available.

After World War II, the Army debriefed enemy field commanders in considerable detail to determine what they had intended, to learn how they fought and what they perceived about Allied actions. The documents and studies that emerged obviously are essential to understanding both what happened and why. Sixty years later, historians and soldiers continue to learn from that effort. As On Point went to the publisher, some early results of a similar effort emerged. On Point does not have the benefit of those early results for a number of good reasons, including sensitivity and the fact that the analysis of that data is ongoing. When that data becomes available, the relationship of enemy and coalition actions will be better understood. That understanding is essential to writing the authoritative history of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

In title and in themes, this study unabashedly claims the Army served On Point for the joint team and the nation in OIF. OIF was essentially a land campaign brought to decision in ground combat by the Army, Marine Corps, coalition ground forces and SOF. That does not mean that the ground forces achieved decision alone--they did not. The Army also provided essential services to the other members of the joint team and contributed essential C2 systems, including BFT. However mundane, both supporting theater logistics and providing C2 components are essential to sustaining joint campaigns.

In other campaigns, the Army will not be on point. Ground operations may sometimes be merely precursors to set conditions for decisive operations from the air. In Kosovo, the air campaign proved sufficient to bring Slobodan Milosevic to the table. The Army entered Kosovo as part of a coalition force to enforce the agreement won by coalition airmen. At Iwo Jima, marines paid for a B-29 base with their blood. These facts neither diminish the role of the Army in Kosovo nor that of the Marine Corps at Iwo Jima. They do emphasize the importance of joint operations in the past and their continued relevance in the future. They also suggest that each of the services must be able to lead as well as support operations. Equally important, each of the services is liable to provide the "core" of joint force headquarters. The implications of this possibility are far reaching.

In staking out the position that the Army was on point in OIF, the study group also felt bound to suggest that the Army should also be on point in supporting and leading joint transformation.

If the Army is, as asserted here, essential and on point for the joint team, it must embrace the journey to transformation. Of all the services, the Army is most dependent on the others and therefore must assume the risks inherent in working within the joint team to lead change. This may require painful choices and risks, but it is consistent with going on point. It is consistent also with General Schoomaker's assertion that "the Army must remain relevant and ready."4

On Point accepts the risks inherent in working rapidly and with a narrow focus. These risks are many and may include errors in fact, in interpretation, and that the whole story is not told. The risks assumed in On Point seem worthwhile for one overarching reason--the study of war is essential to the profession of soldiering. This study aimed primarily at soldiers who perhaps experienced the war only through what they read, saw on television, or heard. It also sought to illuminate for soldiers who were there how their efforts contributed to the outcome. The story of OIF is dramatic, ongoing, and provocative. Others will complete the record; the goal here is to provoke recollection and discussion of the events of the spring of 2003 and how they fit in the context of events since Operation DESERT STORM. Perhaps the most lasting contribution of this effort is the archive containing interviews, records, and photographs. Ultimately, the archive will reside both in the Combined Arms Research Library and in the Center of Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The intent is to provide the data required to complete the record.

On Point has sought to highlight, when possible, the excellence of American soldiers. They revealed themselves as courageous, adaptable, and compassionate. Most of the soldiers named in this publication are heroes--thousands of other heroes are not named. Soldiers retained their sense of humor during the darkest hours and attempted to treat even their enemies with dignity and respect. They behaved as American soldiers have traditionally toward children and civilians--to them they were generous, courteous, and sensitive. To one another, they demonstrated fidelity and often gave the ultimate gift--their lives.

American soldiers are not without their flaws, but taken as a whole, they demonstrate the best in all of us. All were touched in some way by their experiences. As Lieutenant Colonel Rick Schwartz put it after Thunder Run 1, "...we were better, but never okay."5 American soldiers for the most part became "hardened" but never gave up their humanity. That quality, combined with their adaptability, will sustain them--as it did the 100 soldiers who reenlisted in one of Saddam's palaces in Baghdad on the 4th of July 2003. In the often-maligned "Army of One" recruiting campaign, the Army ran a television commercial that is done in sepia tones. Antique photography juxtaposes old photos of young men with their current photos as old veterans. The narrator intones that each generation has its heroes. Then the advertisement cuts to serving soldiers, concluding this one has its heroes too. The troops in OIF and those who remain on point in Afghanistan, in Kuwait, and in Iraq illustrate the fundamental truth in that advertisement--this generation has its heroes.

The story of OIF is not over. Just how it will turn out is difficult to predict. But, soldiers on point are prepared to carry on as required. Having won the battle to remove Saddam, they are embarked on winning the peace with no idea how long that will take. They continue to get hurt or killed, but so far they retain their compassion for each other and for the Iraqi people. They believe in what they are doing and they clearly believe that they are making a difference. This study justly concludes with a story from one of those citizen-soldiers willing to sacrifice all for the nation.

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I Guess I Made an Impression

This final story came from a National Guardsman. He tells his story with candor and in a manner that clearly conveys the human aspect of battle. Moreover, he exemplifies the new reality about America's Reserve and National Guard soldiers--he is not a "weekend warrior," but rather an experienced soldier who received his first Purple Heart in Beirut, Lebanon, and has served in Saudi Arabia and Germany since. He offers his story but insists that his name be withheld because he does not feel his experience is exceptional--or even noteworthy.

He was wounded while performing convoy duty as a .50-caliber machine gunner on a gun truck (a truck with a .50-caliber machine gun on a swiveling ring-mount). His vehicle was the last in a convoy that was ambushed south of Baghdad on 11 July 2003. The Iraqis' target was a fuel truck, two vehicles ahead of his truck. The first RPG skidded under the tanker. A second RPG hit a concrete bridge support just as his gun truck approached. A jagged softball-size piece of concrete struck him in the lower right abdominal area, just below the edge of his flak jacket. The concrete penetrated and stuck. He begins his story just after being struck:

While it is fresh on my mind, I would like to see if I can put this down before it slips away and I start to forget. Pain is accompanied by and met with a very wide spectrum of senses and feelings condensed into a very compact space of time: The physical injury manifested itself between a solid hit and a stabbing/burning sensation. Then I couldn't catch my breath. I brushed off whatever it was with the back of my right hand. Then a numbness covered me like a cloud. The truck swerved slightly, the shadow of the [highway] overpass flicked past. I started breathing again. I located the dust trail and opened up [with my machine gun]. Back to business for about 2 minutes. Then the ache started to grow. The wrecker was pulling away. We pulled up hard left, facing the dust trail. When the [.50-caliber machine] gun was empty, I looked down for the extra ammo. My feet were covered in brass casings, links, and broken glass. There was a large chunk of concrete lying up against the door. I said something to the driver or he said something to me. I don't remember. I started to bend down to get the extra can and that was the wrong answer. I was very aware that I was going to start hurting in a very big way. My M-16 was clipped to my LBV with a D-ring by the sling and was hanging straight down. I pulled it up and emptied it. [Firing] all seven magazines.

The MPs had crossed the median and came up the other side of the highway. I emptied out [my M-16] as [the MPs] came into my sight picture. The MP gunner took over. It was awesome. The sand people started running. The [MPs'] Hummer hit the berm they were behind and leaped up and into them like a cat pouncing. The dust trail from the Hummer then floated up and I lost sight of what was going on. The truck [ours] had died and the shooting stopped. I could hear the MPs yelling something in Arabic.

I started checking myself to see where and how bad [I had been injured]. The hand was a scratch. The boot was torn, but not a very big cut in the leather. I opened the door with my foot and slid out of the ring and onto the ground. Out from under the LBV, then the vest. Not much blood yet. Open the blouse. Pull up the T-shirt and uh-oh. A hole about the size of a half-dollar. The skin was kind of torn back in shreds. A nice glimpse of internal organs, and a dusting of concrete fragments and small bits of gravel. Then the sinking feeling. Sitting down and a real sense of ache. Nausea. Then the usual way of solving that. The urge to lie down was overwhelming. Then the urge to sit up. The pavement was too hot. Somebody helped me limp over to the shade of the overpass, where I laid down. Then I rolled over on my side and the need to pull my legs up and curl in a ball took over. Then slightly rocking back and forth. I started to get angry. This pain was nothing I couldn't just gut my way through. I was joking with the guy trying to help me.

Then things didn't seem funny anymore. I met something very ugly in the way of pain in my side. I put my hand over it and pushed down on the dressing. Wrong answer. I could feel my upper lip starting to sweat that cool moist sweat like a fever. My mouth got dry. I start clinching my teeth. It was like I was getting a good grip of something to hang on to. And down this dark tunnel. I started seeing zigzag lines in my peripheral vision and kind of a dark circle around everything. I wasn't mad anymore. Everything seemed to be way off. I was scared of where this pain was going to go. I was bleeding pretty good. The pressure dressing hurt, but I covered it up and slowed down the [blood] flow. I was holding my breath, more and more, and pressuring up to ride out the pangs. I would pant between them. People were talking to me and I have no idea what they said.

The aircrew was there in 17 minutes. It felt like 17 days. I saw them fly as they cleared the bridge coming in. I could see the bottom of the chopper. They landed right on the road just past the truck. Dark green with a Red Cross. The door was open. What a sight. I was way beyond being able to fight it off and I knew I was hurt. My eyes leaked a few tears just before I started trembling. Then I wanted, really wanted it all to stop. I knew I was safe. I saw them running up, but didn't hear them. Everything was muffled. [It] took two sticks to get the IV in. I saw him fill the needle and watched the little stream of fluid fly out of it against the clear blue sky. I could feel the hands all around holding me down. The last words I heard were "You're going to sleep now, you'll be OK. . . 3, 2, . . ." And then I don't remember much of anything for two days. When I woke up, they had laid the Battle Flag across my feet. And nobody said a word about it. The pictures of my boys were on the stand next to my bed, and somebody had given me three little desert Beanie Bears. I still didn't know what day it was. I was down for almost five days.

When I finally stood up, they told me that I could go down and see the prisoners if I wanted. They even gave me a camera to borrow and a roll of film. The interpreter told me that they had been asking about me. Apparently, our convoy was the first one they had seen that had two gun trucks, and mine was a complete surprise. They had tried to shoot the fueler and missed. Then I showed up. I guess I made an impression.6

On a more positive note, on Sunday, 14 December 2003, Lieutenant General Rick Sanchez and Ambassador Paul Bremer announced that SOF troops and soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division had captured Saddam Hussein. The troops captured Hussein without a fight, denying him the opportunity to honor his claim that he would be a martyr, but never a captive. Hussein, without his retinue and sporting nearly six months of beard, emerged from a hole in the ground just large enough for him to lie in. Appearing haggard and disheveled, the dictator had only two retainers and a drug dealer's horde of $100 bills. No one believes that capturing Hussein means the end is in sight. But it was surely good news. One of the great truths of this campaign is that combat operations alone will not attain the desired end state. Operations ongoing now will be decisive, not those that the troops concluded in downtown Baghdad.

On Point has attempted to deliver on the mission assigned the OIF Study Group in April of 2003. All that remains is to suggest work that others might do to develop a more complete study of the Army in OIF than we have been able to achieve. There are a number of areas On Point has not covered that deserve further study, or areas that were addressed but could not fully examine with the evidence at hand or were discussed without access to all of the evidence.

US Transportation Command's So Many, So Much, So Far, So Fast is arguably one of the best official histories of DESERT STORM. This little book has not been read by many of those who wrote about DESERT STORM or disparaged the deployment to Saudi Arabia in 1990 as ponderous. TRANSCOM's history argues rightly that the deployment to DESERT STORM in 1990 was a tremendous achievement. On the other hand, it is meticulous in noting problems. TRANSCOM and the service components of that specified command worked hard to solve the problems identified in DESERT STORM. Hopefully, TRANSCOM will produce as careful and thoughtful a history of the deployment to Kuwait and elsewhere in support of OIF. The record of this most recent effort is essential to determining the right course for the future and affects all of the armed forces.

Colonel Rick Swain's Lucky War: Third Army in Desert Storm is another first-class official history that illuminated important issues from the perspective of the Army service component command in that war. Third Army morphed from a service component command to a functional component command in OIF. A similar history is urgently needed now since it may help shape how the Army and the Marine Corps approach the problem of fielding a coalition and joint functional land component command. How the CFLCC organized, how it functioned, and how it operated and collaborated with the other components needs to be assessed and reported.

On Point provided only an overview of operational and tactical logistics. The story of getting fuel forward and the heroic efforts of logisticians from the depots to Logistics Support Area Adder is a rich and interesting tale that needs to be told. The story of the Army's Materiel Command (AMC) also needs to be told. In this tale, the role of civilians, both civil service and contractors will be illuminated. AMC civilians and contractors served in tactical units in combat and kept things running long after parts ran out. AMC's civilian workforce produced everything from bombs to bullets, without which OIF could not have been fought. There are a host of compelling soldier stories that need to be told which ran the gamut from the harrowing convoys hauling supplies forward during the mother of all sandstorms to the misery of repairing engines under tarpaulins, using flashlights and fluorescent chemical lights.

Army hospital units saved coalition and Iraqi lives under dangerous and difficult conditions. They did so under difficult and dangerous conditions. At one point during operations at Objective RAMS, the 212th MASH had every trooper that could not wield a scalpel on the perimeter wielding a rifle. At Objective CURLY, the medics hunkered down, prepared to fight to protect the wounded. Medics and medical evacuation crews performed what some might describe as miracles and did it with precision and compassion. Medical support troops foraged for supplies, kept generators running, and did a host of other mundane but daunting tasks under severe conditions. They too deserve to have their story told.

Although On Point has been able to survey the tactical-level fighting in narrative form, it has not accounted for all of the tactical fights. For example, On Point reviewed the 82nd Airborne's operations at As Samawah but did not discuss their subsequent operations. The 82nd fought important engagements aimed at securing the lines of communication and reducing Ad Diwaniyah after As Samawah that are not covered here but warrant examination. Similarly, there are numerous tactical engagements that deserve further investigation and more thorough accounting than possible in On Point. To complete the story, junior officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers need to tell their stories. Junior officers and noncommissioned officers and their troops carried the tactical fights that produced success. They have a contribution to make to the body of knowledge regarding combat operations--their accounts will inform the way we train and educate soldiers and their leaders.

On Point tantalizes, but does not deliver on the many and varied tactical actions of special operations forces. Their story clearly needs telling. The sheer diversity of special operations forces will make their story complex, but to understand really what happened in OIF their account is absolutely essential. Similarly, joint and Army intelligence efforts could not be examined fully here--that effort must come later. As it becomes possible to do so, assessing the success of intelligence efforts needs to be done.

At some point it will be possible to develop a reasonably clear sense of what the Ba'athist regime's leadership intended and how it directed execution. That accounting and the thinking and efforts of the Iraqi military leadership will enrich understanding of US vulnerabilities and successes. Determining the composition and intent of the paramilitary forces that operated in OIF will probably be more difficult. The effort to understand their motivation and operations will be essential to understanding the campaign from the perspective of the Iraqi military and paramilitary alike. More important, such an effort will help the services consider implications of the campaign that may apply elsewhere.

Finally, there are two important general accounts that should be undertaken from the Army point of view. On Point will need to be revised once Iraq operations are better understood, when units that fought major combat operations return from Iraq and are able to update their own histories, and when participants are more readily available for follow-up interviews. The second effort is more important--that is the history of operations since 1 May. Collection of data for that effort is under way by the Center of Military History, but that work cannot be completed and the story cannot be written until operations against the insurgency are concluded.

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  1. General Peter J. Schoomaker, chief of staff, US Army, 1 August 2003.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Lieutenant General William Wallace, commander, V Corps, summary transcription of interview with Colonel French Maclean, US Army, Retired, 15 April 2003.
  4. Schoomaker.
  5. Lieutenant Colonel Eric "Rick" Schwartz, commander, TF 1-64 AR, 2nd BCT, 3rd ID, interview by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Manning, undated.
  6. Personal account of [name withheld], "The full range of emotion," 23 July 2003.

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[ Contents ] [ Foreword ] [ Preface ] [ Acknowledgments ] [ Introduction ]
[ Ch 1 ] [ Ch 2 ] [ Ch 3 ] [ Photos ] [ Ch 4 ] [ Ch 5 ] [ Ch 6 ] [ Ch 7 ] [ Ch 8 ]
[ OIF-SG Team ] [ Order of Battle ] [ Glossary ] [ Bibliography ]

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