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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 V


Chapter 14


Combat Service and Soldier Support

The record of insights from this area, now called “sustainment” in emerging doctrine, are a mix of positives and negatives. The Army deserves credit for improvements to casualty care made before and during OIF. Those improvements include success in training, equipment, and doctrine. Soldiers and medics at the point of injury have access to new blood clotting agents and bandages, tourniquets, and pain drugs. Every Soldier now undergoes more and better training for first-line treatment of casualties. The combat support hospital (CSH) concept has proved itself a life-saving measure. Forward surgical teams and aero medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) from the point of injury to the CSH via the HH-60 Blackhawk has brought better trauma care much closer to the front lines than at any point in history. Combined with the rapid out-of-theater evacuation policy, wounded Soldiers in OIF have a far better chance of surviving their injuries than ever before.

The Army has already recognized the shortfalls in its Combat Service Support Control System (CSSCS)—a suite of communications and automation devices to process and track logistics requirements. Too few combat service support (CSS) units had the GPS-enabled systems needed to provide the total asset visibility required to make distribution-based logistics work. These shortfalls were most evident during the rapid move from Kuwait to Baghdad and beyond, but they persisted. Since the transition to Phase IV, CSS operations have functioned better using the forward operating base system, hub-and-spoke distribution road network, and improved convoy processes. However, the potential benefits of distribution-based logistics have not been fully realized.

Another insight that seems clear is that supplying and transporting the goods on the full-spectrum battlefield is itself a combat operation. CSS units need better communications and automation systems to keep pace with the advances made in battle command and to support units on the full-spectrum battlefield. Without the earlier division of ground operations into the front lines and the rear echelon, logistics units need the ability to plan and conduct combat operations on their own. This requires more survivable equipment, more radios, more GPS enabled C4I systems in more robust headquarters, more armament, and more redundancy in each of those areas. CSS units will have to spend more time training to use this equipment and on their combat tasks than ever before. This will put increased strain on CSS units, which have been made fewer and smaller since the start of the Army transformation efforts in 1999. Combat units also need greater self-sustainment capabilities during rapid mobile operations characteristic of Phase III, and even in less maneuver intensive stability operations.

The Army has made extensive use of contractors in OIF during, and after, the period under study in this book. The sheer size and complexity of the contractor force makes it impossible to give an accurate number of US contractors in Qatar, Kuwait, and Iraq, a problem that is one of the sources of attacks leveled against their use. However, it would not be an exaggeration to state that without civilian contract firms and their workers, the Army could not have conducted OIF. Their roles in preparing equipment for use prior to deployments; in maintaining equipment; in delivering supplies; in operating some command, control, and communications and automation equipment; and even in advising the ISF have allowed the Army to keep its military force levels lower than would otherwise be the case. (Some have even argued that the use of contractors makes is easier for the United States to go to war because it lessens the need to call up even larger numbers of Active and Reserve units.) There is little doubt that the tens of thousands of contract workers, many of them retired military personnel, have performed superbly in OIF. Despite the loss of life and operating with far less support for their families, contractors continue to serve very effectively in the most dangerous assignments.

Among the issues raised by this heavy reliance on contractors is cost (including the potential for waste, fraud, and abuse). The Congress and its investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), have launched numerous investigations into charges of waste, fraud, and abuse connected with private contractors. Some Army contracting officers have been charged with abusing their positions to steer contracts toward specific firms. Some critics have also challenged the use of armed security contractors, primarily used by the CPA and Department of State, on grounds of effectiveness, control, and law of war principles. Iraqis make little distinction between the conduct of US military personnel and private security forces whose actions may not be conducted in accordance with stated military objectives, greatly complicating Coalition efforts to preserve unity of effort. The concept of the military as an exclusive profession has been called into doubt in light of the widespread use of contractors on the battlefield. Large salaries offered by contract firms have lured military personnel out of uniform. The impact of all these factors on morale and retention for Soldiers working alongside contractors performing the same or related duties for vastly greater salaries is hard to measure, but real nonetheless.

The amount of effort and resources devoted to the morale and welfare of the Army’s Soldiers in Iraq is considerable. Tours that last 12 months or more take a huge toll on physical fitness, mental health, and personal and family morale. The combat actions in OIF may lack some of the intensity of the Army’s more famous battles; but the constant danger, the nature of combat against unseen foes not fighting in accord with the rules of war, and the difficulty of measuring progress place demands on today’s Soldiers at least as heavy as if not heavier than those born by their predecessors. However, the mid-tour morale leave program has proven to be a success in sustaining Soldier morale and effectiveness, and the many amenities provided by well-equipped forward operating bases (FOBs) provide some relief from the constant strain and danger.

These large FOBs, despised by some Iraqis as American oases in a troubled Iraq, may run counter to operations and counterinsurgency doctrine, which calls for extended interaction with local inhabitants and security forces. Another potential drawback to the immense support provided to American Soldiers is the ever lower “tooth-to-tail ratio” that it causes. The number of Soldiers who operate outside the bases in Kuwait and outside the FOBs in Iraq is much smaller than total deployed force levels would indicate. While the force protection and cultural sensitivity benefits of large FOBs are advantageous, they may well be counterproductive to the overall campaign. (Changes to US basing and operating methods in 2007 may present the opportunity to better evaluate this issue.) The Army must carefully weigh the benefits accrued from its extensive support to Soldiers’ living conditions against the potential loss of effectiveness in these types of operations.

Chapter 14. Implications

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