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November 23, 2004

Some more thoughts on the future...

Soldiers of Battle Company, 5th Battalion - 20 Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) conduct route reconnaissance, a presence patrol, a civilian assessment, and combat operations contributing to the stability of Samarra, Iraq on December 15, 2003. The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) is under the operational control of the 4th Infantry Division. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Clinton Tarzia) (Released)

A friend of mine who, like me, is working on issues surrounding the design of the Future Force while learning from and giving input to the Current Force, sends along this article. The lead-in paragraph that follows are his words, which I agree with (name withheld to protect the innocent).

This reinforces my earlier post on the subject, and is intended to get the word out to those of you who are interested that there really are people back here who are watching and listening to whats going on Over There, and we let things like this inform on-going work trying to shape the future. As my buddy says,

"If this article is accurate & I believe it is...Stryker/FCS etc., isn't going to cut it in close urban fight apart from enormous leap in ballistic protection technologies... information dominance does not offset need for survivable platforms... and if this is what they are doing with low end rpgs... what will happen when they get ahold of more sophisticated variants... clearly you need a heavy/light mix, but if you lead with heavy to set conditions for follow on leg infantry, heavy force survivability is vital...can't be overstated.."

We aren't all clueless. It just seems like it sometimes.

Here's the story:

Bradley crew's shift: 19 hours in Fallujah shooting gallery Sun Nov 14, 9:40 AM ET By James Janega Tribune staff reporter

After nearly 18 hours in the claustrophobic urban canyons that constitute the front lines of the battle for Fallujah, the crew of the lead Bradley Fighting Vehicle was cramped, weary and low on ammunition. Then they came under heavy enemy fire for the first time all week. Within 15 minutes, as shooting erupted around them, their radio crackled with the news that their company commander's vehicle, blocks behind them, had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The blast killed an interpreter and severed a soldier's arm. A Bradley that sped to the rescue was hit by another RPG that slipped under its high-tech armor, wounding the driver.

A block away, they heard the boom as a third rocket from insurgents took out the transmission on a huge Abrams tank. The tank's turret wouldn't move. Nor could the tank drive in reverse or pivot. In a quiet voice that cut through the garbled shouts on his radio, Sgt. Jack Ames, 29, the Bradley's gunner, noted to the six other soldiers and one reporter on board: "Wow. We're the only ones left here."

After five days of fighting in Fallujah, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division had found Iraqi resistance in the last place the insurgents could hide: the tight streets of the Shuhada district on the city's south side. "Shuhada" translates as "martyrs."

They fought for a night and much of a day in streets so narrow they couldn't turn around, cruising devastated roadways that any second could explode in a barrage from rockets and Kalashnikovs.

Inside the troop compartment of Bradley Alpha 2-1--a space hardly larger than two refrigerators--a hulking 17-year-old from Florida crouched across from a skinny 24-year-old team leader, weighed down by 65 pounds of gear.

Along with the reporter, two other soldiers crammed in, buried in equipment and juggling two machine guns, a grenade launcher and an anti-tank missile launcher the size of a fence post. The weapons were useless inside the vehicle. But in this neighborhood, getting out and fighting on foot would be too dangerous.

Ames and the Bradley's commander, Lt. Michael Duran, 24, rode in the turret above the troop compartment. Spec. Clint Hardin, 23, rode up front, steering the 30-ton vehicle using a monitor and periscopes. The men in back slept uneasily for much of the night, leaning helmets against metal or one another as the Bradley's 25 mm gun tore apart houses and buildings where insurgents were thought to be hiding.

But at dawn, rifle rounds began pinging off the Bradley's armor and the RPGs began exploding, rocking the vehicle, raining dust on the men inside and sucking the air from the compartment again and again.

Search and destroy

Bradley Alpha 2-1's 19-hour mission into Fallujah began at sunset Thursday, hours after a briefing for battalion officers.

The goal was to move ahead of U.S. Marines and find the insurgents, remnants of a rebel force that in previous months had turned Fallujah into one of the
most dangerous cities in Iraq (news - web sites). Failing that, the soldiers were to destroy the insurgents' hiding places, preventing them from being used to ambush the Marines.

Break! Break! (military radio-speak for I wanna cut in on this channel) Note this - the Cav was sent in ahead of the Marines. Not because the Marines were scared... but because the need was for the survivability of platforms (vehicles) sent in before we sent in the crunchies to do their hard, dangerous, dirty work. The LAV (and it's cousin, the Stryker) aren't doing as well in this environment as was hoped. So the much-derided-by-the-think-tankers "old tech" Bradleys and Abrams were sent in. As my friend observed, absent an "enormous leap in ballistic protection technologies" the lighter vehicles aren't the tool of choice in this fight. And who'd a thunk we'd be using those dinosaurs designed for the North German Plain in the cramped confines of a southeast asian city? /sarcasm.

In the normally bustling battalion command tent, two dozen senior soldiers in stifling body armor listened silently.

"Destroy everything you can destroy. Make sure you keep together," Lt. Col. Jim Rainey told his officers, reminding them of the rules of engagement established to protect civilians. "Given those constraints, kill everything that you can kill." At dusk, Alpha 2-1's commander Duran led 36 soldiers into his and three other Bradleys for the assault. He would take the platoon into battle.

As Hardin cranked Alpha 2-1's diesel engine, he recounted the vehicle's war. Since arriving in March, the men had run over eight bombs. Since fighting began in Najaf in August, the Bradley had been hit by 16 RPGs. One of them smacked the front armor outside Hardin's seat.

"Felt it, heard it, instant migraine," he said in a San Antonio twang. "I didn't see it coming, and it blew up right in front of my face." Duran crawled into 2-1's turret next to Ames, a tiny man who sucked down cigarettes and travel mugs of Iraqi instant coffee, which he brewed throughout the night. He, Ames and Hardin would stay awake the entire night.

Up the back ramp clambered Pvt. Thomas Dennis, 17; Spec. David Garcia, 24; and Spec. Jimmy Baca, 26. Their job would be to jump out and fight if needed. Last in was Sgt. Charles Thornton, 23, who sat and shouted "Close it!" over the engine noise. The heavy ramp clanged shut. The desert disappeared, and inside Alpha 2-1 all became noise and dark.

It was 6 p.m.

Until 1 p.m. the next afternoon, the crew's only view of the outside world would be on a green 8-by-10-inch monitor that switched between the gunner's thermal sights and an aerial-photo map of Fallujah that showed positions of friendly forces. It fizzed out periodically.

Fallujah became a shooting gallery on the screen, with everything that looked as though it could hide a bomb or an enemy sniper drawing fire from Ames' gun.

Working where tanks can't

DOOM-DOOM-DOOM. A cistern exploded in a cascade of water, sending a cat screeching into the darkness.

A suspected spotter for insurgent snipers appeared in an upper-floor window. Ames shot. DOOM-DOOM-DOOM. The man never reappeared.

Working in twos and with Alpha 2-1 in the lead, the four Bradleys of Duran's platoon rolled through streets so narrow tanks wouldn't enter; they couldn't have swung their cannons. The platoon essentially was on its own.

Obstacle by obstacle, the Bradleys sent high-explosive shells into the streetscape. Some found roadside bombs, many didn't. Mostly the night was quiet.

Inside the troop compartment, the soldiers dozed and watched the monitor, seeing the eerie infrared shapes of palm trees waving in a nighttime breeze they could not feel, as Bradleys slipped down broken streets crisscrossed with electrical extension cords above.

They tensed as Alpha 2-1 passed a blown-up bus where they thought explosives could have been planted. They listened on the radio as another platoon spotted a mortar team on a nearby block, raining shells down on them.

At midnight, six hours into the patrol, another company of Bradleys behind them stumbled on a huge ambush waiting to happen: A pile of concrete and metal bars, which snarl the tracks of Bradleys and tanks, a tipped-over fuel tanker packed with explosives, a gigantic dirt pile behind that, and a three-story building full of suspected insurgents.

Tanks, an Air Force AC-130 Spectre gunship and a Navy F-18 fighter dropping a bomb came in and destroyed the building.

Break-Break! Joint firepower, at the tip of the spear. Mind you, we have to be cognizant of the fact that this is possible because, brave as the mujis demonstrably are - they aren't good soldiers. And we own the air, and the muji's don't have much, if anything in the form of shoulder fired anti-aircraft missles apparently. So things like the Spectre can do what it does unhindered.

We have to keep that in mind as we design the Future Force - it also has to be able to fight a militarily competent enemy. We're already proving that the Current Force (and most importantly, the warriors who comprise it) can Act, React, and Adapt, leveraging our strengths to combat our weaknesses, to deal with a diffused, not-well-trained-but-well-motivated enemy. And the enemy is clever, too - and has managed to get inside our decsion loop on occasion. And he is incredibly adaptive - but they still aren't the disciplined infantry that decimates their opponents, like the Infantry of the Anglosphere (Insert plug for Victor Hanson's Carnage and Culture here).

The first bad news came at 2 a.m.: An Abrams lightly damaged in battle had tipped over in a ditch north of town. The tank's driver died instantly, prompting a sharp expletive from Garcia, who sat closest to the radio and relayed each scrap of bad news.

More came at 3:55. Alpha 2-1's mission was supposed to end at dawn. Instead, Duran relayed another message: "Continue to press the enemy." The soldiers groaned.

But the enemy did not appear until 6:45, when a man's thermal image appeared running between the arched windows on the ground floor of a mansion. Another silhouette appeared on a nearby roof.

On the monitor, the men watched Ames aiming the Bradley's gun, but the silhouettes didn't reappear and Ames didn't shoot. Twenty minutes later, an RPG found the Bradley. A sudden, high-pitched bang rocked the vehicle from side to side and the men crouched a little lower, ducking their helmeted heads like turtles disappearing into shells.

Searching for an open shot, the Bradley almost backed into a tank behind it. And then the tank fired its main gun, wrecking the opulent house across the way.

As dust and quiet settled, Ames griped, "How come they get to shoot the mansion?"

Low on ammo

Two hours later, RPGs erupted from the direction of a mosque. The platoon's four Bradleys opened up, firing for more than an hour as shapes of people flitted across the monitor in the troop compartment.

"We're getting low on ammo," Ames warned, reading off a list of what he had fired--hundreds of high-explosive shells that blew holes the size of dinner plates in cinder-block walls, and hundreds of other shells designed to take out enemy fighters.

When rocket fire picked up again, frustrated Bradley gunners trained their sights on buildings but held their fire. The Marines, who had arrived on foot, were too close--and right in the line of fire.

Break-Break! This is the discipline I've been talking about. Believe me - when you are tired, frustrated, and angry, it's hard to hold your fire. Even when friendlys are around. It takes real control to not prove you've got big ones and can shoot 'danger close' just because ya wanna.

Alpha 2-1 was trying to find a way south to clearer shots when the insurgents' attack began in earnest.

"I'm hit!" Alpha Company's commander, Capt. Ed Twaddell, shouted over the radio at 11:43. The armor-penetrating RPG punched a half-dollar-size hole in his Bradley's back gate, then filled the troop compartment with light, noise, gore and flying metal before lodging in the turret where he was standing.

"I saw light and a flash down by my knee, and then the turret filled with smoke," Twaddell said later, his face still covered in soot and dust.

His interpreter, sitting behind him, had been killed instantly, a baseball-size gash in his side.

Two blocks north of Alpha 2-1, a Bradley maneuvered to help, disgorging a medic and soldiers under a hail of gunfire. Within minutes a penetrating RPG exploded under the second Bradley's driver compartment, wounding a man from West Virginia who had survived RPG shrapnel to the neck when his Bradley was hit in Najaf.

There's a man with two uncontestable Purple Hearts.

For an indeterminate time, Alpha 2-1 was all alone. Somehow the crew had been separated from the platoon's other three Bradleys, spread out somewhere in the tangle of buildings.

The crew heard another explosion at 11:59--the RPG shot that disabled the Abrams. Duran found his other Bradleys on the radio and ordered them to stand guard around the tank as more tankers hooked a tow bar to it. It took a half-hour.

As the armor limped north through town, a lone Marine hiding behind a tree flagged Alpha 2-1 and gestured toward a house across the street, indicating that an insurgent was inside.

Ames pumped his last few rounds into the top floor. Emerging from behind the tree, the Marine waved happily.

"No problem, buddy," Ames said wearily as Hardin drove slowly back to camp.

They arrived at 1 p.m., 19 hours after they had left.

But within an hour, Alpha 2-1 and its crew had refueled, reloaded and returned to Fallujah.

This generation can hold it's own with their fathers and grandfathers in the Legion and VFW halls when they come home.

And we're building a new generation of newsies who have some idea of what they are doing, too. Which doesn't mean they're cheerleaders - but they understand what they are looking at. And have looked at it. Not just interviewed a few people here and there after the fight was over and uploaded it from their hotel.

Real newsies. Ernie Pyle quality.

Hat tip to Mike for forwarding the note (no, it ain't him!)

An M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle from 1st Platoon, Alpha Troop, 1-4 Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division moves into an over watch position at a traffic control point outside of Ad Duluyiah, Iraq Oct 16, 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 1-4 Cav is integrating with the Iraqi National Guard at the TCP to search for anti Iraqi forces entering and leaving Ad Duluyiah. USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo (RELEASED)