News: Task force assists military supply mission
By Joint Logistics Task Force 1144th
Just about any Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom knows the area of operation has plenty of sand and some decent roads, but few precious railways. In order to get the "goods" to the warfighter, long-haul American military trucks and long-haul truckers must dominate the landscape.
That crucial mission is demanding enough that active Army units – as good as they may be – simply can't do it alone. So, enter the Joint Logistics Task Force 1144th, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait – including Army, Army National Guard, and Air Force transportation elements.
Wait ... Air Force transportation?
Wouldn't the blue-suiters rather fly than drive? Maybe so, but in terms of JLTF 1144th, "We are jointly performing the ground version of the Berlin Airlift," analogized Lt. Col. Kevin Sampels, commander of the 586th expeditiary logistical readiness squadron, deployed from Royal air force Lakenheath, United Kingdom.
A member of the Task Force since early OIF, the 586th ELRS regularly fills two Air Force detachments, roughly the size of an Army company, with long-haul truckers who complete the "in lieu of" taskings along the same main supply routes, and alternate supply routes as their Army counterparts.
The Air Force's 70th Medium Truck Detachment and 424th Medium Truck Detachment have joined with active Army and Army National Guard elements to form the latest version of the Joint Logistics Task Force. The twin Air Force detachments fill slots from a pool of about 2,000 qualified long-haul truckers from "2T1X1," the Air Force's equivalent to the Army's 88M military occupational specialty.
And though not often celebrated, long-haul trucking has been part of the Air Force mission for years.
"It's how we've always gotten aircraft engine parts around," explained Capt. Michael Wall, commander of the 424th MTD Spiral V. Prior to earning an Air Force commission, Wall, assigned to Dover AFB and a native of Dover, Del., had served eight years with the Army as an 88N, a movement specialist.
Still personnel in the flying business supporting OIF can't always seem to come to grips with the fact that Air Force members are "flying missions" on the ground.
At Camp Diamondback, "Our guys were sitting in (the dining facility in) their nomex fire resistant suits (which look like flight suits)," said Wall. "And the flight crew with an Army helicopter, assigned to fly security over the MSRs, had to be convinced that our guys were not members of a C-130 crew that had landed earlier that day."
Air Force truckers complete five weeks training, prior to a six-month OIF deployment, at Camp Anderson-Peters (named after two Air Force long-haul truckers killed during OIF), near San Antonio.
"Our training is always evolving, based upon the after-actions reports we submit," explained Master Sgt. Jody Mohler, 70th MTD assistant truck master, originally from Warner Robins, Ga. "And the training has become increasingly mission-focused, where our training closely resembles the actual mission."
The detachments activate truckers Air Force-wide, with 27 installations represented within the 424th MTD, and 31 installations represented within the 70th MTD.
After personnel have been deployed, they join units modeled after Army transportation companies. "We are part of an Army-operated battalion, and so from an operational perspective, we want to be as much like an Army unit as possible," Wall said.
The notification process features a 20-month schedule, split into 10 periods of two months each. Each airman is assigned a two-month period, or "bucket," within the 20 months. Airmen adjust personal plans accordingly to account for the possibility of being deployed.
"If you're in the bucket, you have to be ready," said Capt. Paul Morris, 70th MTD commander, deployed from Moody AFB, Ga, and native of the Atlanta area.
With four-month rotations, measured from the point of "validation" to run long-haul missions to and from Iraq, Air Force members re-deploy more quickly than their Army counterparts. The flipside is no leave is authorized for Air Force members. Shorter rotations mean blue-suiters must deploy back to OIF at a faster tempo than their Army brothers and sisters.
"This task force is truly joint, down to squad level. At any given time, a technical sergeant, leading a combat logistics patrol as a convoy commander, is responsible for his convoy team of Airmen, and also an Army or Army National Guard convoy escort team. I don't know any other organization that operates at that low a level, in a combat situation," said Lt. Col. Eric Murray, JLTF 1144th Task Force commander.
The majority of the Task Force's missions are now being met by three Army National Guard transportation companies from different states – California, Georgia, and Virginia.
And perhaps California's 1113th Transportation Company, based in San Jose, faced the greatest challenge, in terms of the run-up to its deployment to OIF.
When the 1113th TC got the word, it only had 22 soldiers.
"Basically, we had to build a company from scratch," explained 1st Sgt. Steven Howell, a native of San Jose.
The 1113th TC sponsored three local soldier readiness processing events between October 2006 and March 2007, adding more than 175 members to the company, for purposes of the deployment. The challenges faced by the 1113th TC included locating Soldiers, and qualifying them for the mission.
"Many of our people are in college, so they move a lot," explained Howell. "Plus, we recruit from urban areas, and often urban residents use public transportation, and do not ever really need a driver's license. There was a lot of effort putting this outfit together."
Roughly 75 company members – about half the company roster – received 88M training at either Fort Campbell, Ky., or Fort Hunter-Liggett near San Jose.
As for Virginia's Company E, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, out of Roanoke, somewhere between 50 and 75 soldiers had been 88M-qualified leading up to the unit being deployed, according to Sgt. 1st Class Frank Mitchell, a platoon sergeant.
Meanwhile, the 1230th Transportation Company, from Bainbridge, Ga, had been prepared to send a smaller number of soldiers to 88M training, but ultimately chose to deploy all soldiers together in June 2007. Those without 88M qualification may attend 88M training soon after re-deployment, explained Staff Sgt. Robert J. Grieco, company truckmaster.
All three Guard companies agree pre-deployment training at Camp Atterbury had been generally useful. For example, intense first-aid training was vital. But units also agree training at Camp Atterbury could have been more focused toward the long-haul mission.
Of three field training exercises at Camp Atterbury, only one – "FOB Nighthawk" – directly related to the mission.
"Nighthawk needs to be longer, and one of the other exercises should be shortened," said Grieco, a 14-year veteran of the active Air Force.
"We understand the basic intent of First Army to stress combat skills," explained Howell, "but more of the training should have been mission-specific."
"We all had ourselves convinced we were going to be switched from long-haul over to the gun-truck mission," said Mitchell.
In terms of the internal operation of their respective companies, the various Guard members also agreed that a two-platoon system would be vastly superior to the traditional three-platoon arrangement.
Consistent with the truism that often "less is more," the belief among the Guard companies appears to be that the presence of one fewer platoon would make each remaining platoons easier to manage, in terms of maintaining team integrity for long-haul missions.
"Between leave schedules, profiles, and emergency leaves," explained Grieco, a trucker for Wal-Mart in civilian life, and a resident of Unadilla, Ga., "keeping the teams together has been a management nightmare. Two platoons would be much better. And I've suggested that to the next unit that will replace us."
With two larger-than-normal platoons, each would have a deeper "bench." Team integrity, or at least platoon integrity, would get a boost.
"The more you enhance team integrity, the more you enhance team spirit and cohesion," explained Mitchell.
Despite above-referenced management challenges, the Task Force has piled up some impressive statistics. Since the outset of the current version of the Joint Task Force, July 2007, the unit has completed more than 1,200 missions, and racked up nearly 30 million flatbed miles, counting all Task Force members with their civilian contractor counterparts. That averages out to nearly 110,000 flatbed miles each day. When one adds in the miles driven by the Joint Logistics Task Force gun truck escorts, that easily adds another 10,000 miles per day.
In terms of the nature of cargo being delivered, JLTF 1144th elements have moved equipment required for deployment and re-deployment of seven sustainment brigades, 25 brigade combat teams, eight Marine command elements and regimental combat teams, as well as 10 enabler brigades, said Capt. Darren L. Horton, one of the three battle captains for the JLTF 1144th.
No task force mission could deliver anything without gun truck support. Currently, security is being jointly operated by an active Army transportation company, along with an infantry unit from the Alabama Army National Guard.
Based in Cullman, Ala., members of Company C, 1st of the 167th Infantry, admitted they had been uncertain what their mission would be when they received a mobilization warning order in November 2006.
"We had been originally assigned to Fort Dix, N. J., for regular infantry training," said Sgt. 1st Class Tony Klump, readiness NCO. "Then we got re-routed to Camp Shelby, Miss., for the gun truck mission."
Forced to gradually blend into the existing training schedule at Camp Shelby "after-the-fact," the Alabama company needed 106 days to complete pre-deployment training.
The largest of all Task Force elements, the Alabama Company brought 196 members to OIF, of the 210 members that had been activated. Even with four platoons, and three teams (or "chalks") per platoon, there have been times when virtually all company members have been on missions to and from Iraq at the same time.
"During the surge we were all very busy in the Task Force," explained Klump. "And we were no exception."
Dispatched by Europe-based 21st Sustainment Command, the 109th Transportation Company, deployed to the Task Force last year from Mannheim, Germany. Prior to its 15-month tour, the unit trained in Germany on convoy simulators and "Blue Force Tracker" in Heidelberg. The 109th TC also conducted live fire at Hohenfels, and "rollover" training at Grafenwoehr.
Like their counterparts from C Company, members of the 109th TC admitted to having been slightly surprised to be pulling security for Air Force truckers.
"I'd say we were surprised that the Air Force was part of the Task Force," admitted 1st Sgt. James Harris. "But they do the job, and they do it very, very well."
All Army and Army National Guard, elements credit Air Force detachments with providing valuable information about the mission.
"The Air Force has been here more than anybody," said Sgt. First Class Mitchell. "Due to their rapid rotations, just about all of them have been here three or four times. We have to learn from them, because this mission is too big for one branch of the service."
"Army, Air Force and Army Guard warriors all bring unique qualities to the task force. The Army is doctrinally strong, the Air Force brings a lot of rotational experience, and the Guard brings a lot of civilian skill sets. They all bring professionalism, dedication and they all embrace the Warrior Ethos," explained Lt. Col. Eric M. Murray, Task Force commander.
The mission may be too big for one military branch. But the new century's Berlin Airlift has not been too much for a well-tooled, well-balanced, Joint Logistics Task Force.