This article is courtesy of Soldier of
Fortune, a military/adventure publication.
The magazine specializes in first-person reporting
from armed conflicts around the globe, with
emphasis on current military activities, developments,
special units, weapons, tactics, politics
and history. Its writers include experienced
professionals, including former military and
frequent Soldier of Fortune readers.
By Col. Donald Schutt, USMC (Ret.) Soldier of Fortune Magazine
[Ed. Note: SOF has never run a story in eight parts before, but
we've never run a story like this before either. These guys were cops
and students, accountants and truckers. But when the Iraq War started
they made an adrenalin-charged assault from Kuwait to Baghdad that
makes Mad Max look like The Little Engine That Could.]
How are modern wars won? The media tells us over and over again about
how our high-technology aircraft can devastate targets at will with
extreme accuracy. We have Satellites that can read the side of a pack
of cigarettes. We are forever told high-tech airpower will be triumphant.
Then there are the computer geeks who claim they will bring the enemy
to their knees with e-mails and a computer virus or two. We also have
brave and dedicated Special Forces troops who conduct shadowy operations
that we are told are the key to victory. The truth is that the high-technology
aircraft mostly can't find their targets, satellites have limited
coverage, computer warfare is laughable in terms of real effects,
and although Special Forces troops can be very useful out of relation
to the size of the forces involved their effect is always on the periphery
as a force-multiplier than as a direct-action achiever. Even in Afghanistan
the Special Forces could not have gotten far without the heavy ground
forces of the Northern Alliance to take the ground. You can bomb targets,
destroy computer networks, conduct raids, and implement psychological
operations for years and victory will always be elusive. In truth,
wars are still won by the heavy ground forces that roll over the enemy
smashing his main forces and seizing his terrain. This is the story
of a group of Marines
who were part of the spearhead for the ground forces who liberated
They took the enemy on in head to head battle and won the war.
TOW and Scout Platoons, 8th Tank Battalion is a Marine Corps Reserve
unit based in Miami. Like most reservists they drill one weekend a
month and are activated for training for two weeks once a year. It
was on one of those normal weekend drills that a Naval Message was
received activating the unit for war. It was not unexpected. Everyone
knew that war was coming. It had become a guessing game as to when
it was going to happen and who would be selected to go. When the order
came down it answered the question. The time was soon and TOW and
Scout Platoons were going to the party. Although some of the Marines
were not keen on leaving their comfortable homes to venture into the
unknown dangers that awaited them, it would be fair to say that the
vast majority of them were eager go. Many had joined after 9-11, and
they were looking for some payback. Others had been drilling together
for years but had never been to war; they wanted to get the chance
to use the skills they had learned in a real-world endeavor.
There were a few Desert
Storm veterans who knew a little more about what awaited them.
They had mixed feelings. They, too, wanted some payback, but they
also knew what a filthy miserable place the deserts of the Middle
East were. There was no telling whether they would be there for six
months, a year, or … ? The Marines were mobilized to active duty in
mid-January 2003 and by the end of the month they were in Kuwait awaiting
the start of the war.
Kuwait: A Time To Prepare
Upon arrival in Kuwait on 29 and 30 January, the Marines of TOW and
Scout Platoons didn't waste any time in beginning preparations for
the hard fight they all knew was coming. Even before they were matched
up with their vehicles and equipment they walked through formations
and tactical maneuvers on foot. Finally, a few weeks after their arrival
in Kuwait, their vehicles arrived. The Marines practiced vehicle land-
navigation, vehicle-recovery procedures, formations, driving with
gas masks on, night driving with night-vision goggles (NVGs), and
the use of the thermal sight mounted on the TOW. With the threat of
biological or chemical agents being used much of the preparation was
focused on NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical)-training and procedures.
Many of the Marines in retrospect felt that the way the war actually
went down was very different than the open desert warfare they expected
and practiced for. The Marines were disappointed with the very limited
opportunity to fire their weapons prior to combat. Essentially they
were only given enough rounds to test fire the weapons for functionality
rather than for accuracy or practice. Many of the weapons were drawn
from pre-positioned stocks and hence test firing the weapons was critical.
Ammunition was just not available. This would have an effect for the
war as well. Military Logistics experts had developed a supply system
that mimicked the scheme used in modern manufacturing. It's called
"just in time." Japanese car manufacturers had developed it with help
from American management experts. Records are kept of what is used
and are then put into a computerized supply management system. Having
a computerized record of what is used allows new supplies to be brought
up as needed, thus eliminating warehouses and storage depots. In theory
it is efficient. In practice, at a car plant, with a perfectly thought-out
plant and perfect transportation links, it saves millions of dollars.
The battlefield, however, has no relationship whatsoever with an environment
that would support a "just in time"-method.
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That some REMF pogue thought that this system had any use on a battlefield
is really indicative of disconnect between the people who buy the
supplies and equipment and the people who use the supplies and equipment
against the enemy. The "just in time"-system proved worthless and
the logisticians had to work overtime trying to make up the shortfalls.
The people who were really affected were the end-user of the supplies.
The individual Marines, who risked their lives and did the fighting.
In a campaign that everyone knew would be fast and furious it is critical
that each Marine and each vehicle be loaded up as well as possible.
In a short campaign it is purely possible to support the entire war
out of what you had in the vehicle when you left. This did not happen.
Not enough food or ammo was available. The Marines would have to make
do with what they got. Obviously, each TOW Marine gunner would like
to have a full combat load of TOW missiles per vehicle. However, with
the thousands of U.S. forces streaming into Kuwait, logistics were
hard-pressed. A TOW HUMMV can carry six missiles plus one ready to
fire for a total of seven missiles per vehicle. Most of the Marine
TOW gunners crossed into Iraq with only three missiles per vehicle.
The main weapon the Marines would use was 5.56-ball ammo. It would
remain short until most of the fighting was over. Marines went into
Iraq with a basic load of seven magazines. They had plenty of unused
cargo capacity in their vehicles. If the logisticians had been able
to bring the ammo forward for issue prior to the war tons of precious
cargo space would have been available later for carrying other supplies.
Initially, the Scout Platoon had fourteen vehicles organized into
two sections, each of six vehicles, plus the platoon commander's vehicle,
and finally a "high-back" variant of the HUMMV used for carrying extra
ammo, rations, water, and fuel. The first section was called Tiger
Section and was mostly manned by regular Marines from the 2nd Tank
Battalion. The Second section consisted of Miami Reservists and was
called Panther Section. Each six-vehicle section contained two M2
.50-caliber machineguns, two Mk-19 automatic 40mm grenade launchers,
and two TOW anti-tank missile launchers.