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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part IV

Sustaining the Campaign

Chapter 12
Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations


Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: The War of Movement Transitions to Full Spectrum Operations

The initial invasion of Iraq during OIF was the first test of the Army’s DB CSS system during intense combat over long distances. Its performance during the invasion of Iraq in March and April 2003 was checkered. The tempo of advance maintained by US and Coalition troops from Kuwait to Baghdad was unprecedented, covering a distance of over 350 miles in less than 14 days of combat. The “running start” to combat operations dramatically altered the RSOI sequence and process. Many logistical units were not in place prior to the start of combat operations and some units, such as the 101st Airborne Division (101st ABN), began operations while still unloading units and equipment at the ports in Kuwait.

An initial historical analysis of the invasion of Iraq published in 2004 concluded, “Logistically, OIF tested the Army. The size of the theater, tempo of operations, . . . terrain, . . . paucity of logistics forces, and requirements to support other services proved daunting. Despite these difficulties, Army CSS troops turned in a heroic performance by providing ‘just enough’ to sustain the fight.”28 Some Army units suffered from shortages of different classes of supply such as POL; package products; repair parts; and certain types of ammunition at key points during the advance. Others had not completed uploading the prescribed 5 full days of supplies when the ground attack was kicked off 1 day early; Class I (food and water) had to be cross-leveled on day 3 as a result.29 None of the shortages, however, significantly affected combat operations. As a historical comparison, in distance, it is further from the Kuwaiti ports to Mosul in northern Iraq than it is from the beaches of Normandy to Berlin. Armies have outrun their supply lines since biblical times. For many of these forces in the past, that error was fatal; for the US Army during March and April 2003, Soldiers quickly overcame potential mistakes with improvisation and courage.

The combat in this phase of OIF was less intense than expected as once again Saddam Hussein proved to be one of the most incompetent military commanders in history. Many Iraqi units removed themselves from the fight after they were encouraged by Coalition information operations to surrender, disband, or remain in their barracks. Iraqis did stage some attacks on vulnerable CSS units struggling to keep up with the pace of advance, and US supply convoys came under attack from both conventional and irregular Iraqi forces exposing the unguarded US lines of communication (LOCs).30 Much as today, the LOCs were not garrisoned at every point. The 3d Corps Support Command (COSCOM), the main Army logistical unit supporting the advance to Baghdad, embedded its CSS units with maneuver formations whenever possible, only committing unescorted convoys for critical missions and only if the unit had trained in convoy live fire operations.31 The 101st ABN fought pitched battles to destroy Iraqi forces attacking the LOCs, and the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (2d ACR) quickly deployed to Iraq to do the same. But the rapid collapse of Saddam’s regime in early April 2003 meant that Army units quickly transitioned from a war of rapid movement to full spectrum operations by late April 2003.

Three different units shared CSS responsibilities in support of Coalition military forces in Iraq between February 2003 and January 2005. 3d COSCOM, stationed in Europe in support of V Corps, led CSS operations for CJTF-7 during 2003, to include the deployment, invasion of Iraq, and the first 7 months of operations through January 2004. The 13th COSCOM, III Corps’ associated CSS command from Fort Hood, Texas, assumed responsibility for OIF logistics on 31 January 2004 in support of Multi-National Corps–Iraq (MNC-I). The 13th COSCOM in turn handed over responsibility to the 1st COSCOM from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on 12 December 2004 as XVIII Airborne Corps assumed duties as MNC-I.

In peacetime, the 3d COSCOM consisted of two corps support groups, the 7th and 16th, and three separate battalions. The 3d COSCOM, commanded by Brigadier General Charles Fletcher, controlled about 4,000 Soldiers in three support battalions, a transportation battalion, an aviation maintenance battalion, a movement control battalion, and a special troops battalion. In February 2003 Fletcher expressed two major concerns to the V Corps Historian, Dr. Charles Kirkpatrick, before leaving Germany for Iraq in February 2003—convoy security and humanitarian aid requirements. He was concerned about congestion and security for his logistical convoys along the major roads and desert trails leading from Kuwait to Baghdad. He also was concerned about the Corps’ ability to logistically deal with displaced Iraqis.32 While the refugee crisis failed to emerge in 2003, Fletcher’s comments proved eerily prescient in other ways.

Between February 2003 and the start of the war in late March, 3d COSCOM grew to include two more corps support groups, two more separate battalions, and a number of separate transportation companies. The 371st Corps Support Group of the Ohio Army National Guard also joined 3d COSCOM and took over the base camps in Kuwait when 3d COSCOM moved its units forward to Camp Anaconda in April.33 By mid-summer of 2003 the COSCOM quadrupled its size to 17,000 Soldiers in six corps support groups, five separate battalions, and a rear operations control center. Significantly, Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers made up between 40 and 45 percent of the COSCOM’s ranks.34 After a direct appeal from the V Corps commander, Lieutenant General William S. Wallace, to General John (Jack) Keane, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, many of those Reserve Component Soldiers flew directly to Germany for training, bypassing their stateside mobilization process.35 Nearly every battalion and higher unit in the 3d COSCOM was made up of a mix of Active and Reserve Soldiers.

“Crossing the berm” on 21 March 2003 just behind the lead elements of the 3d ID, the 3d COSCOM possessed only 20 percent of the transportation assets it required to be fully ready to conduct operations.36 Other units were still deploying to Kuwait or assembling in their attack positions when ground operations began. Fletcher used four command posts to control the COSCOM’s operations during the invasion: a stay-behind element in Wiesbaden; some 150 Soldiers from the materiel management and movement control teams embedded with the 377th TSC at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait; a rear command post (CP) collocated with the V Corps rear CP at Camp Virginia in Kuwait; and an assault CP that would move forward with the lead elements of the corps.37

Between 21 March and 18 April 2003, the 3d COSCOM moved forward with the combat units of V Corps. The COSCOM established four separate logistical hubs or bases as it leapfrogged its assets forward to keep pace with the speed of combat operations. The distance traveled by the COSCOM from its start point in Kuwait to its northernmost base in Mosul, Iraq, in 4 weeks was 828 miles; by comparison, the 756 miles from Normandy to Berlin took 48 weeks to cover in World War II.38 While the enemy situation was fundamentally different and historical comparisons are never perfectly accurate, the contrast in rates of movement is astonishing.

On 19 April 2003 the assault CP of the 3d COSCOM and lead elements of the 24th Corps Support Battalion occupied an old Iraqi airfield and base near the city of Balad, some 45 miles north of Baghdad, and established Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda. LSA Anaconda became the logistical hub for operations in Iraq. This event marked the transition between conventional offensive operations and full spectrum operations for the Soldiers of 3d COSCOM.39

From its base at Anaconda, the 3d COSCOM, and later the 13th and 1st COSCOMs, would provide all of the CSS functions needed by the Coalition over a network of ground supply routes and air cargo deliveries. They drew on support provided by the 377th TSC at Arifjan, Kuwait, and some support directly from Europe and the United States. LSA Anaconda became a city in its own right, providing support to 13,000 Soldiers in more than 200 buildings surrounded by 13 miles of fences and 49 observation towers for base defense. The base included fuel farms, ammo bunkers, an airfield, a water treatment plant, and an asphalt plant among many other fixed facilities. The COSCOM after action report stated, “If you eat it, drive it, shoot it, move it, drink it, fly it, or wear it, it comes from LSA Anaconda.”40 Average daily deliveries made by the Soldiers of 3d COSCOM were remarkable.

Chapter 12. Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations

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