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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

There is an aphorism among military professionals that states, “Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics.”* Perhaps no other army in the world has studied logistics more than the US Army. Certainly no fighting force in history has been as effective at providing its fighting Soldiers with the resources for modern warfare as the US Army. In 2003, no army in the world could dream of conducting and sustaining two military campaigns in some of the world’s most remote and inhospitable regions, more than 10,000 miles from their home territory. US Army logisticians are, in this sense, without peer.

Yet, despite their undeniable skill, Army logisticians faced widespread difficulties in supporting Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF). Like other parts of the Army, which were making the transition to full spectrum operations after April 2003, Army logisticians went through their own transition during OIF. The most dramatic change was mental in nature and driven by incorrect assumptions about a post-Saddam Iraq. The prewar expectations of Brigadier General Scott G. West, an experienced Quartermaster Corps officer who became the principal Combined Joint Task Force–7 (CJTF-7) Logistics staff officer (CJ4) in the summer of 2003, are representative of widely held assumptions among American logisticians:

I expected an increasingly safe or permissive SASO [stability and support operation], with an emphasis on consolidating and reducing the logistics footprint in theater. I suspected that my biggest challenges would be in the areas of distribution and base camp development, with heavy participation by government contractors. I figured that it would not take more than about six months to get to ‘steady-state’ logistics. How far wrong could this Quartermaster have been?1

While making the required shift to long-term combat service support (CSS) operations in what would become an increasingly nonpermissive environment, West and other Army logisticians simultaneously introduced a new logistics doctrine called distribution-based combat service support (DB CSS). The implementation of this new system, a method that differed fundamentally from that used by the US military since World War II, had a significant effect on CSS organizations and the units they supported. This chapter focuses on CSS operations in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 to examine how Army logisticians adapted to the difficult and dangerous operational environment, to explain the effects of the new doctrine on CSS operations, and to describe how these critical operations shaped the larger campaign in Iraq.

To understand the Army’s CSS operations in OIF in 2003 and 2004, it is necessary to understand the basic framework of CSS doctrine. Army doctrine divides CSS operations into 11 self-explanatory subcategories: Supply, Field Services (such as food preparation, laundry, and hygiene), Transportation, Maintenance, Ordnance and Explosive Ordnance Demolition Support, Financial Management, Legal Support, Band Support, Human Resources, Religious Support, and Health Services Support. Tied to these 11 areas, but not technically a logistics function, is engineering support to logistics, which included real estate management, contracting, construction, and repair of infrastructure such as roads, ports, and bases to support US operations.

Even before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Army’s CSS branches and organizations were making fundamental changes in the way they operated.† Operations in areas of Afghanistan and Iraq took place during this transformation, a fact that added even greater complications to the Army’s already challenging logistical missions. The transition from conventional offensive operations to full spectrum operations after April 2003 took place on many levels—doctrinal, organizational, and operational to name a few. Most importantly, CSS Soldiers made the transition from providing support from a relatively safe rear area to constantly operating in a war zone.

Unlike conventional military operations in which most combat takes place along relatively well-defined front lines and logistical operations are conducted in relatively safe zones behind those lines, the combat and logistics aspects of postinvasion operations in Iraq took place in an environment that had no front or rear areas. Full spectrum operations occurred with noncontiguous front lines and in a nonpermissive environment where insurgent attacks were common but almost entirely unpredictable. Delivering logistical support to units was itself often a combat operation as CSS units were forced to deal with ambushes against convoys and attacks on their logistical bases. During the invasion of March and April 2003, the primary challenge of the CSS system was to keep up with the pace of advance. As CJTF-7 transitioned to full spectrum operations, the challenge became the long-term sustainment of operations across a country the size of California that had very poor infrastructure and in an environment where insurgents acted to impede supply lines.

The speed of the deployment of US forces to the Middle East in 2003 and their brilliant campaign of maneuver in March and April could not have been accomplished by any other army in the world. No military operation is without flaws, however, and the Army has harshly judged several aspects of its logistical performance during that part of OIF, focusing on materiel management and unit communications in particular. Since the transition to full spectrum operations in May 2003, the Army has experienced other difficulties in the field of CSS. The ability to provide personal and vehicle survivability equipment suitable for the 360-degree environment of full spectrum and counterinsurgency operations was slow to develop. More fundamentally, the basic premises underlying the Army’s logistics transformation underway during OIF have also been questioned. Nonetheless, the CSS community’s accomplishments in operating a supply and service chain that stretches halfway across the globe have been remarkable. To understand the CSS aspect of OIF, one first needs a basic overview of the CSS system that was the legacy of the Cold War era and the transformation that sought to revamp that system in the early years of the 21st century.

*There is much dispute as to who uttered this military maxim. It has been attributed to General Omar Bradley and US Marine Corps Commandant General Robert H. Barrow. In various other forms, it has also been attributed to Napoleon, Helmuth von Moltke, and Carl von Clausewitz. For the purposes of this study, its origin is far less important than its message.

Chapter 12. Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations

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