View Full Version : Lessons from Iraq: An Infantry PL's Thoughts on OIF Ops

04-14-2008, 08:54 PM
Infantry, Mar-Apr 08 (AKO Log-In Required):

Lessons from Iraq: An Infantry Platoon Leaderís Thoughts on OIF Operations (https://www.benning.army.mil/magazine/2008/2008_2/10_fa.pdf)

Listed below are a number of observations based upon my 15 months service as an airborne infantry platoon leader in and around Samarra, Iraq. I have tried to organize my thoughts into specific areas which include small kill team (SKT) operations, mounted and dismounted patrolling, raids,interaction with local nationals, sensitive site exploitation (SSE) and miscellaneous topics. My observations are based on common sense Ö I think. During an assignment everyone forms his own opinions and develops his own techniques for doing things; these are the practices that have worked for my platoon and our particular way of conducting combat operations. Take what works for you and your area of operations (AO), or expand on my concepts to help prepare your platoon for deployment. Unfortunately, my company had a very bad relief in place and received almost no information or lessons learned from the previous unit. We spent the last year learning by trial and error what easily could have been passed on from our predecessors. This is my attempt to rectify those deficiencies and minimize the amount of practical knowledge lost between units.....

04-14-2008, 09:45 PM
Unfortunately, my company had a very bad relief in place and received almost no information or lessons learned from the previous unit. Why?

We spent the last year learning by trial and error what easily could have been passed on from our predecessors. Again...why? Where is the failure point?

Once I finished writing, I'd be taking a trip through the AKO pages to find those "predecessors" and tell them thanks for nothing.

Ken White
04-14-2008, 10:24 PM

Again...why? Where is the failure point?

Once I finished writing, I'd be taking a trip through the AKO pages to find those "predecessors" and tell them thanks for nothing.My kid left Iraq after two weeks of trying to pass on stuff to the new guys -- they discounted all of it and effectively said they'd do it their way. They did and it went downhill.

Friend of mine went in to another AO in Iraq and the unit relieved had no plan to effect the handoff after getting none coming in and thus had decided that a big effort was wasted.

Good units don't do that. Not all units are good units. Not excusing it, I'm really condemning it but I suggest a good part of it is a lack of coherent doctrine exacerbated by the Centcom penchant for putting units in odd places to build interoperability. That needs to happen but it should've been preceded by a firm outline on the handoffs.

There's also possibly the problem that the surge units -- some the 82d falls in that category -- went into places that crossed old boundaries and others where no one had really been operating and thus no one had any knowledge to pass on. Not enough info to tell, really.

04-14-2008, 10:41 PM
It must be one of those basics that we don't do well. :wry:

Tom Odom
04-15-2008, 12:13 AM
Not for want of emphasis here, Been a problem since 2004 and really a problem as the first units went back. Still a mark of a good unit is insisting on a good RIP/TOA as they assume and giving one when they pass off their AO to another. As Ken says, egos and human nature. I would add that the commander sets the tone: if he says do it and do it right so it will be done and not otherwise.



04-15-2008, 01:10 AM
I would add that the commander sets the tone: if he says do it and do it right so it will be done and not otherwise.

Absolutely, and something I overlooked to a degree when I first opened the article but I can say I've seen it firsthand...but the material included in this officer's article (and he returned this past Aug) is far from earth-shattering. I could pick about 80-90% of the material up elsewhere (and it would be dated by 1-2 yrs), whether it be here at the SWC, in Armor or Infantry magazines, or in handbook/smartcard. If he learned this the hard way, and felt he would have picked it up during a better RIP/TOA, I wonder what sort of PME he's been subjected to around the company CP.

When I used to see good tools and techniques in articles, I forced my platoon commanders to read them and discuss at some point. I also plagiarize like a mofo because I know there are guys way more smarter than me, so let's learn from them. It funny though, that I have peers who haven't cracked the cover on an issue of Armor for more than a couple of minutes before chucking it

Ken White
04-15-2008, 01:33 AM
a seven month turn around, sometimes less -- that's seven months CONUS and a year to fifteen months there. While they're in the states, they spend most of their training effort on big war stuff (by direction), not on the next tour. Not to mention they changed over the last three years from their old TOE to a totally new TOE which was a major reshuffle and stood up a new Brigade all that at the rate of a Bde every four or five months while still maintaining the deployment schedule. They average about 25% turnover.

As you say, he got back in August and he's talking about stuff he learned when he arrived, so yeah, you're talking about stuff that's over a year old. Then there's OPSEC to preclude publishing the really neat and most current stuff...

Since he's writing for Infantry, one can presume he reads it, I suspect.

04-15-2008, 02:40 AM
I recognize that there is something real and valuable about unit integrity. At the start of every hostile conflict, the military is in the ideal position to deploy units whose officers and men have trained together and bonded together. As long as the campaign is short enough so that the same officers and men who started the job can finish it, then unit integrity will prove to be a valuable element contributing to success.

But we are involved in an interminable conlict. It involves fighting partisans, insurgents, saboteurs, and foreign-based guerilla forces in a long war of attrition. The Army and Marine Corps have made a huge mistake by rotating units into/out of the combat theaters, rather than rotating replacements. Even though many units are being deployed for the third time, personnel changes have been dramatic; and the units are not necessarily being rotated into the same AO into which they were deployed previously. Perhaps the Pentagon was in denial about the nature and duration of the operations; but the respective Chiefs of Staff for the Army and Marine Corps should have seen this coming.

I do not have access to AKO. So, I could not read the lieutenant's comments. I appreciate the quoted passages contained in the comments of members of the Small Wars Council, from which I gleaned the essence of the Platoon Leader's frustration.

Certain military units should have been permanently assigned responibility for stability and counter-insurgency operations within specified areas in Iraq and Afghanistan. The tactical organizations would have become almost permanent, while officers, NCOs and enlisted would have been replaced in small groups, so that situtational awareness, permanence of presence, singleness of purpose, and combat experience levels could be maintained.

Ken White
04-15-2008, 03:42 AM
First, on individual rotation which we employed during WW II, Korea and Viet Nam. It is probably noteworthy that two of the best divisions in Europe, the 3d ID and the 82d refused to accept any replacements above the grad of Private or 2LT; they promoted from within. In Korea, individual replacements were a detriment to full combat effectiveness as units effectively turned over 10% per month; Viet Nam was even worse because there was also the infusion program which meant an effective turnover of over 120% per year for most combat units.

Your suggestion of packet replacement has also been tried with the COHORT process -- that didn't work even in peace time.

Due to the above cited experiences, we have since gone to unit rotation and that needs to stay in place. Contrary to your assertion, the Army and Marines have not made a huge mistake in rotating units; they have improved combat effectiveness by an order of magnitude. Yes, there are personnel changes within units between rotations but the unit does get locked for its final trainup and, far more importantly, there is little personnel turbulence while committed. I'll acknowledge that not putting units back in the same AO is questionable but the rotation between AOs is designed to enhance flexibility in planning, assimilating and working with other units; it does that at only slight cost to combat capability. The enhanced capability it provides as a training vehicle for other wars in other places -- and there will be some -- is significant.

Having deployed to two wars, in each case once as an individual replacement and once with a unit; I have absolutely no doubt that individual replacements should be avoided at all costs.

04-15-2008, 05:01 AM
Orginally posted by Ken White:

My kid left Iraq after two weeks of trying to pass on stuff to the new guys -- they discounted all of it and effectively said they'd do it their way. They did and it went downhill.

When conducting a RIP in 2002 in Afghanistan we spent hours a day going over all our lessons learned in the previous six months. We had note takers and head nodders but that was the extent of it. On our last mission in country we asked if any of the incoming unit personal wanted to join us. We got about a squads worth of people, no one over the rank of SSG. During that mission we needed reinforcements from the incoming unit, they arrived but had not taken to heart anything we had previous talked to them about. We ended up having to change our plans to accomadate the incoming unit. The worse part was it wasn't operationally how to do things, it was what to pack and how to wear things. These were lessons we learned early on due to no historical weather data for Afghanistan. Example is we are briefed 86 degrees it ends up 126 degrees, quickly we learned bare minimums with lots of water. Our loads went from full rucks (80 lbs) to 3 day packs (20-30 lbs). All this was passed on to the incoming unit. Big surprise when they get of the helicopters with full rucks and can barely move let alone move up and down the mountains. But some just have to do it their way. I agree with the comments made on leaders enforcing good RIP operations, but they can also be the hinderence to them as well.

Replacements are not the answer. Think SOPs, SOPs, SOPs!!!! Takes a while to know how your unit does business, in country in a fight is not the time to be learning them.

Units in the same AOR is good and bad. Good for units that do their job day in and day out. Not good for units that work deals with the insurgents. We won't leave the FOB as long as you do not rocket or mortar our FOB. Yes this did happen and took about 90-120 days for someone to figure out that this was what was taking place. So by rotating units into different AORs is good gives someone a fresh perspective on things. On the other hand I believe SF units should be in the same AOR everytime. There should be a much more personal relationship between them and individuals in the AOR, problem is some conventional units want to shut down what SF does in their AOR. IMO this is because too many conventional leaders don't know what it is SF does or can do for them. Yes this has been created by both sides, no one side to blame here.

Ken White
04-15-2008, 05:35 AM
son was in the 'Stan, they got replaced by the Canadians and not only did the Bde send an MTT to Canada, they had a two week RIP that worked out pretty good. Like Tom said, it's up to the commander how well it gets done.

Agree with you on the benefit of rotating conventional units and not rotating SF out of a given AO -- if they're doing ID, for the DA jobs it's mostly immaterial.

One would hope that anyone making a back scratching deal would get found out and jailed...

04-15-2008, 01:07 PM
Regarding WW II, you could have added that there were instances when the newly-arrived troops were sent forward by veterans to draw fire. The veterans had bonded; and saw no purpose in risking their own lives that way, when unknowns could bear the brunt instead.

S.L.A.Marshall's vivid account of the late days of the Korean War exposed the problems of poor training and low morale within units just waiting for the truce talks to end the war.

Personally, I found great comfort in patrolling with men who had been moving through the AO for months, or sharing my experiences months later with the officer who would take my place and introducing him to men who had joined the unit during the interim. There was a continuity of operational effectiveness and situational awareness, which gave a sense of stability to the unit, and to the civilian and military leaders of the indigenous population. Unit integrity was not the problem, which proponents of unit rotation seem to fear. None of the problems, reported by the Lt. or others, concerning hand-offs of responsibilitry from one unit to another, occurred.

Perhaps, if the military would rotate individual battlions within the same brigade, to replace each other within the same AO, one could have the best of both methods.

One thing is certain: the current policy is to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan for decades. If the military is going to create a stable environment for the civilian populations of these two countries, it must stabilize the way its units operate in-country and treat the indigenous population.

Ken White
04-15-2008, 03:53 PM
I agree with you on one point -- it's a proven fact that if you do not rotate units, you do not have the problem of coordinating the rotation and relief in place process. Beyond that we'll have to agree to disagree though I will add that there are advantages and disadvantages to any method.

Yes, I could've added a slew of WW II and other war stories -- the one I did provide made two points germane to the discussion; to wit, (1) two of the acknowledged better units in the US Army during that war (2) tried to promote from within. Coincidence? I think not... ;)

Steve Blair
04-15-2008, 04:02 PM
It's also interesting to note that prior to the draft, any rotations were done on a unit basis (be it company or regiment...the Philippines was of course the main destination prior to 1945, but there were others) and not individual replacements. Even during the pre and post Civil War period replacements were sent out in as large a party as possible. Individual replacements came about as part of the industrial mindset and the desire to keep units in the line as long as possible (possibly due to lack of transport and/or space to refit during the early part of World War II). With the Vietnam example, SOME units did their best to train replacements up before sending them out on that first chopper, while others didn't. It was, in short, something of a crapshoot and certainly hurt unit ability and cohesion. I can't see any real value in going back to that system, especially with an AVF.

04-16-2008, 03:29 AM

Again...why? Where is the failure point?

Once I finished writing, I'd be taking a trip through the AKO pages to find those "predecessors" and tell them thanks for nothing.

The predecessors are not the problem, so much as their chain of command at BDE and above. 1st BDE, 3ID (OPCON to 42ID) was in Salah ad Din until Jan 06. They were replaced by 3rd BDE, 101st. Whereas there was an entire heavy maneuver battalion dedicated to Samarra until Jan 06, including 3 full infantry platoons living in the city, along with ISF and MiTT's, and an Engineer company on the immediate outskirt, with the remainder of the battalion only 15 km away, the incoming battalion was diverted from the mission of securing that large population center and told to focus their efforts on the MSR and surrounding area. They put a smaller, lighter force in a patrol base on the edge of the city, rather than in the middle of it. If this doesn't sound like it makes one bit of sense then you are reading it correctly. It didn't. I don't know specifically whose call this was - COL Steele or someone higher - but it directly contradicted the advice of everyone in the outgoing unit.

Predictably, Samarra turned to crap almost instantly. And by "predictably" I mean that everyone in the outgoing battalion in Jan 06 from the lowest PVT to the Junior Officers were left scratching their head and asking "WTF?" as to why they fought for a year to restore some level of normalcy to the city, only to leave and hand it back over to terrorists and insurgents.

At some point between nearly deserting the city and the spiraling cycle of violence that occurred throughout 2006, someone at BDE or DIV apparently realized just how stupid the plan was to clear out of Samarra. So when the 82nd showed up, they were sent into Samarra in larger numbers to undo the degradation of security that resulted from withdrawing from the city. Because they were more than replacing and increasing the presence, there was not an adequate RIP/TOA.

It is also worth noting that that tiny patrol base cannot hold the entire incoming and outgoing units, especially given all of the footlockers and other containers that are being moved in and out. Even an orderly RIP/TOA would be pretty weak.

That was the joy of the FOB consolidation strategy of 2006. Let's not secure the population. Let's wall ourselves into these giant concrete garrison paradises, shop at the PX, and eat at Pizza Hut.