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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


April 2004: A Transportation Turning Point

The simmering insurgency that opposed Coalition rule and the Iraqi Governing Council erupted into open combat in April 2004. That month stands out for Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, CJTF-7 Commander, and his subordinate commanders as a turning point in OIF, clearly signaling that insurgents were determined to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to a new Iraqi Government in June of that year. The events of 31 March 2004 set an ominous tone that foreshadowed the turn of events in the following weeks. A small convoy of four civilian security guards in two vehicles, employed by the Blackwater Security Consulting firm, came under attack on entering the city of Fallujah. The contractors were killed, their bodies desecrated and hung suspended from a bridge girder over the Euphrates River.61 Shortly after the incident, violence spread to other regions in the Sunni Triangle. Six days later, the Marines from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) launched Operation VIGILANT RESOLVE to destroy insurgent forces in Fallujah—the most intense combat operation since April 2003.

According to Major General Peter W. Chiarelli, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division (1st CAV) and Multi-National Division–Baghdad (MND-B) during OIF II, “Everything changed on the 4th of April” as OIF I units were literally conducting transfer of responsibilities ceremonies with their replacements in OIF II.62 US Army Transportation Corps historian Richard Killblane has argued persuasively that this period was also a “tipping point” in the logistical support of OIF. Things were about to become significantly more dangerous in theater, especially where convoy security was concerned.63 One day in mid-April during the Shia uprising in southern Iraq, all 122 Coalition convoys traveling the roads in Iraq were attacked.64 Worse was the fact that for a short period in April, CJTF-7’s supply lines were shut down, including MSR Tampa—the main supply route from Kuwait to Iraq.

Insurgent ambushes launched against supply convoys on Good Friday, 9 April 2004, were especially significant and notable since that date was the first anniversary of Saddam’s downfall. Near Abu Ghraib, insurgents attacked a convoy from the 724th Transportation Company (POL) that was escorting civilian trucks driven by KBR contractors on an emergency fuel run from LSA Anaconda to Camp Webster, near Al Asad.65 The convoy included 19 military tractors, 17 of which hauled fuel, as well as two contingency bobtails that were reserved to accommodate vehicles that became disabled during the trip. The 724th had provided two gun trucks for security. At that time in OIF, any vehicle with a crew-served weapon, such as a machinegun or grenade launcher, was considered a gun truck. As Kilblane noted in his study, “There was [as yet] no requirement for armor [on gun trucks].”66

A Whole Different Attitude
The Transportation Corps in Full Spectrum Operations

Arguably, the realities of the full spectrum campaign had the most dramatic effect on those Soldiers involved in providing combat service support (CSS) to Coalition forces. In previous campaigns, CSS operations occurred in rear areas that were relatively protected from enemy action. In OIF, the nature of CSS operations combined with an insurgent enemy led to an overall situation in which transportation units were especially likely to be attacked. Leaders in transportation companies that specialized in trucking various classes of supplies across the country had to adapt and prepare their Soldiers for combat operations.

Realizing this, in 2004 the leaders of the 233d Transportation Company began to train their Soldiers to meet the enemy. The company first sergeant, Master Sergeant Alan Upchurch, who had served as a tank crewman earlier in his military career, found that the truck drivers were essentially unprepared for this aspect of their mission. Upchurch recalled the company’s early actions against the enemy, “when trucks would be in a line and somebody took fire, people would just shoot. I said, ‘Look, you are firing up at this bridge. But when it goes over the bridge, it is landing in your own convoy. You can’t do that.’ They had never been taught how to fix the enemy just by small-arms fire from a HET [heavy equipment transporter].” Upchurch retrained the unit to take the fight to the enemy by taking advantage of their mobility and firepower, “I taught the 5-tons [trucks] and the HMMWVs how to break contact, maneuver up the side of the vehicles, and actually engage the enemy like that. I taught them how to turn their vehicle straight to the enemy. In tanks we use frontal armor as our best asset. I taught them to use the front of their vehicle and then we had MK19s that were very effective. Just those few pieces and tidbits and not treating them as they say as ‘a pogue that just sits in the back and drives a truck,’ treating them as a Soldier that fights, that gave them a whole different attitude.”

Upchurch made sure that his Soldiers were trained on multiple weapons systems and armed his convoys with fragmentation grenades, AT-4 antitank weapons, and extra ammunition. His company also required tank crews to ride inside their tanks while being transported by the company’s HETs so that they could fire their weapons if the enemy attacked the convoy. In 2004, the 233d Transportation Company completed 260 missions, driving almost 2.5 million miles in the process, and suffered no combat casualties.

Contemporary Operations Study Team interview
with MSG Alan Upchurch, 26 January 2006.

The ambush near Abu Ghraib on Good Friday was just one of many ambushes that day, but none of the convoys took as bad a beating as the 724th Transportation Company. Several convoys on that same route turned around and headed back. Never before had any convoy in Iraq encountered an ambush this large or intense. The enemy had taken advantage of the inexperience of many of the new units that had just arrived. Previous insurgent attacks usually consisted of a few mines, mortar rounds, or small arms fire that quickly disappeared after being launched. This time insurgents conducted sophisticated ambushes and sustained fire against the convoys.

In the ambush of the 724th’s convoy, insurgents killed one Soldier, Private First Class Gregory R. Goodrich, and five KBR contract drivers and wounded eight Soldiers and four KBR drivers. Seven fuel tankers and one HMMWV, more than one-third of the vehicles in the convoy, were destroyed in the kill zone. Insurgents captured three KBR drivers—Tommy Hamill, William Bradley, and Timothy Bell, and two Soldiers—Sergeant Elmer C. Krause and Specialist Keith “Matt” Maupin.67 After 27 days of captivity, one of the KBR drivers escaped when he heard the voices of US Soldiers outside the building where he was being held hostage. He bravely snuck away from his guards and ran nearly a half mile yelling “I am an American POW”; he was rescued by a passing New York National Guard unit. KBR drivers Bradley and Bell are still missing.68 Unfortunately, Sergeant Krause and Specialist Maupin were killed by their abductors.§

CSS units fought back against a number of other ambushes during this period. The “Ambush at Iskandariyah” is one example.69 On 17 April 2004 a heavy equipment transporter convoy of the 175th and the 2123d Transportation Companies was hauling Bradleys and tanks belonging to the 2d Battalion, 37th Armor of the 1st Armored Division (1st AD) from Al Kut to An Najaf, cities that were key sites of the Shia uprising that month. Near Diwaniyah, while swerving to avoid an overturned trailer, the convoy came under attack from 50 or more insurgents firing RPGs and small arms. A platoon leader of the 2123d, 1st Lieutenant Robert Henderson II, though mortally wounded, situated his HMMWV between the enemy and the convoy “while the tanks fired up their engines, broke their chains and rolled off the trailers to engage the enemy” besieging the transportation units. The ensuing fight lasted for roughly an hour in which the Americans killed approximately 30 of their attackers and suffered the loss of two American Soldiers. Henderson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.70

The insurgent threat forced Coalition leaders to commit combat forces to ensure the MSR and ASRs remained safe. D Company, 2d Battalion, 108th Infantry, from the New York Army National Guard, was one such unit. Attached to the 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 1st Infantry Division (1st ID), this unit worked out of FOB O’Ryan, in Salah ad Din province between March and December 2004. Delta Company was tasked with maintaining clearance of the MSR and ASRs in the battalion AO, including route clearance, convoy security, hasty raids, outer cordon’s for battalion-size operations, and traffic control points. They also conducted missions to detect and destroy IEDs.71

For D Company, typical platoon patrols ranged from 8 to 10 hours and were conducted round-the-clock. The platoon would begin by conducting preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS) on their vehicles and weapons systems some 2 hours before crossing the line of departure (LD). Platoon leaders issued their operations orders (OPORDs) and platoons practiced React to Contact and React to IED battle drills. The platoon leader would report to the battalion tactical operations center (TOC) and turn in his “Trip Ticket”—a listing of all Soldiers participating in the patrol, along with the identification numbers of their respective vehicles—before departing the FOB for their mission. Daily, the company commander committed one platoon to FOB Security at the main entrance gate and on observation posts around the perimeter.72 D Company used HMMWVs armed with the MK-19 grenade launcher or the .50-caliber machinegun for security. Also attached to the company were a platoon of Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs) and two M1A1 Abrams tanks. The commander of Delta Company, Captain John-Michael Insetta, stated that he and his Soldiers understood the importance of the mission: “The level of danger was high throughout the entire tour. The supply convoys were the focus of the insurgent’s interest. They used these attacks to loot the trucks and to try to break our spirit. It was definitely palpable.”73

Many Soldiers did not trust the concepts behind DBL in spite of the heroic work of CSS units and Soldiers to deliver the goods and units like Delta Company to protect the transporters. They felt vulnerable and uncertain about their ability to conduct operations without ownership of their own supply “mountains” and more direct control over the process. One company commander in the 2d Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment, 3d ID summed up those feelings: “As an Army, we created a system designed to save money in the short term by delivering precisely what the trooper on the line needs just as he runs out of that item. This system forces us to live day-to-day, even during combat and stability operations.”74

§Sergeant Elmer C. Krause’s remains were found in late April 2004, just weeks after being abducted. The Army did not find and identify Specialist Keith Maupin’s remains until 2008; until then, the Army listed Maupin as missing in action.

Chapter 12. Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations

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