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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



Like the Soldiers in combat and combat support units, CSS Soldiers in the postinvasion phase of OIF faced unexpected and enduring challenges that required them to transition from normal procedures to an evolving and increasingly dangerous battlefield. The Army’s logistical shift to the distribution based system made these challenges more difficult. Of all the aspects of CSS, delivering supplies and services to Coalition units across hundreds of miles of Iraq while fighting off insurgent attacks was the single biggest problem for planners and operators.

The so-called “running start” to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 meant that combat operations began before the CSS system was fully in place, with many CSS units still en route to Kuwait and Iraq as the first shots were fired. The integration of Active Duty CSS units in V Corps and 3d ID, along with Reserve units in the 377th TSC and elsewhere, was hampered due to mobilization timelines, equipment disparities, and lack of prewar training and planning. The lightning speed of the US advance toward Baghdad and the rapid fall of the Saddam regime meant the CSS system did not have time to fully develop before the immense requirements of full spectrum operations and Iraqi reconstruction began. The Iraqi insurgency then threatened the ability of CSS operators to transport supplies and services to the widely dispersed Coalition and Iraqi forces. Training and equipping CSS units with survivable vehicles and systems during major operations was itself a huge undertaking. The inability of the national industrial base to ramp up production of existing equipment and to develop and build new equipment exacerbated the overall ability of the CSS system to respond to the requirements of all Soldiers in Iraq.

Most of the criticism of Army CSS operations by “end users” is directed at the theory and practice of DBL. In a 2005 paper Major Guy Jones, an Army officer who had participated in OIF I, argued that the whole concept of DBL was flawed. Jones contended, “The entire transformative process ongoing in the US Army’s logistic infrastructure does not effectively fix the problem of the last 1,000 yards of the battlefield, getting the required supplies or resources to the end user.”139 He further suggested that in protracted wars such as OIF, logistics requirements will grow over time. Based on his experience with DB CSS, Jones looked ahead, asserting, “Surely, the next conflict can not be won on a reduced logistical footprint.”140

Others in the CSS ranks supported his analysis. Reflecting on the Army’s reduced military logistical capability, smaller logistics footprint, and reliance on contractor support in Iraq, Brigadier General West stated: “Whoever first had the idea of replacing the military logistics capability with a commercial-contracted application has not been to Iraq. Negotiating the long competitive lines of communication and facing an asymmetric threat in hostile urban terrain are inherently combat functions. This battlefield is the domain of warriors, not business personnel.”141

After action reports gathered by the Army’s Center for Lessons Learned (CALL) from the 1st ID, 1st AD, 3d ID, 4th ID, and numerous separate units during 2003 and 2004 rendered a mixed verdict on the effectiveness of the DB CSS concept as it affected division and smaller units. The Soldiers in these units did not reject the concept out of hand, but emphasized that its implementation did not live up to the theory. Comments generally praised the effectiveness of RFID tags, the Movement Tracking System, and various tactical satellite communication devices—but too few units were fully equipped with the latter in 2003 and 2004. Other units expressed great disappointment with the relative inability of networks and automation programs to integrate commodity-specific systems to portray the real-time status of unit needs and theater stocks. This point was particularly biting given that distributed logistics was founded on the basic premise that logisticians would have the ability to see a unit’s real-time status and its needs. Too many systems were incompatible and too many units lacked sufficient communication devices. Without an accurate picture of requirements and assets, both users and logisticians were unable to make sound, prioritized decisions about the allocation of resources.142

These reports also expressed the belief that combat units needed greater internal capacity to sustain themselves in all areas of logistics, both in the initial period of operations before the complete CSS infrastructure was in place and during periods when enemy action disrupted the fragile logistical system. The partially transformed Army logistical structure in 2003 could not sustain the rapid deployment of units and the “running start” of OIF. Further, the extended supply lines in Iraq were vulnerable to interdiction in 2003 and 2004. Because of this concern, the 1st Marine Division created a large supply base on the outskirts of Fallujah in preparation for the Coalition assault on insurgent forces in the city in November 2004. Put simply, most units in combat wanted their “mini-iron mountains” nearby and under their control to deal with the unpredictable nature of the battlefield.

The Army’s Logistics Whitepapers published since 2003 generally acknowledged these conclusions and directed further changes in four areas to make DB CSS work. The recommendations are grouped into four categories: network communications, supply chain management, force reception, and theater-level distribution.143 The DOD initiated its own logistics assessment to examine the performance of national and joint logistics in OIF. It reached similar conclusions about the need for greater communications and network capabilities to generate an accurate logistical “picture” and the need to better integrate multiservice support.144

The major logistical role played by contractors in OIF has also been questioned. Tens of thousands of contractors (estimates range from 75,000 to 125,000), a force composed of US citizens, Iraqis, and third party nationals, have replaced at least an equal number of Soldiers in OIF—a major factor in the Army’s ability to sustain its forces over the long duration of the operation. Outside LOGCAP, thousands of additional contractors have provided security to US, Coalition, and international organizations in Kuwait and Iraq. Unquestionably, they have performed their roles with great skill and often with bravery on the complex and dangerous noncontiguous battlefield in Iraq. Their somewhat unclear legal status on the battlefield under international law and their ability to replace military logistical support in combat have raised questions about whether the Army has come to rely too much on contracted support. Estimates vary widely, but more than 100 US contractors have been killed and many more have been wounded in Iraq since March 2003.145 The support systems for contractors wounded or killed in Iraq are far less robust than those provided to Soldiers and are now the subject of legal action in the United States.146 Contractors are paid substantially more than CSS Soldiers performing the same work, a fact that causes morale and related recruiting and retention challenges for the Army. These and other issues are still being debated in and outside of the Army.

DB CSS in 2003 and 2004 during OIF was a work in progress. Just before his redeployment to Germany in February 2005, Brigadier General Charles Fletcher, the 3d COSCOM Commander, commented on the effectiveness of the reality of in-transit and total asset visibility concepts in 2003 and 2004, stating, “It wasn’t what we wanted it to be, but it was phenomenally better than anything the Army had ever done.”147 The goal of providing efficient CSS that was also effective in all situations on a complex battlefield remained an unattained objective. Efficiencies of cost, force structure, and time at the national and theater levels were of little interest to the Soldier in combat in need of vehicle parts, water, or ammunition. For combat units, effectiveness trumped efficiency—as it always will. It remains to be seen whether changes brought about by the continued transformation of Army logistics and the Army’s modular structure will prove successful in the long run.

Yet it would be wrong to label the Army’s CSS efforts in OIF a failure. In fact, the record of US Army logisticians’ must be judged an overall success. Despite the many challenges of CSS operations in OIF, Brigadier General West made a simple but critical assertion: “Nothing failed due to logistics.”148 It is not perhaps the greatest of praise for the Army’s CSS operations during this period of OIF, but it is a qualified victory for the many Army professionals who, to paraphrase the aphorism, have diligently studied logistics.


Chapter 12. Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations

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