Sunday, February 27, 2005


The Single Best Component

We had a close call recently. One of our logistics patrols had an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) go off just 20-30 feet off the side of the lead vehicle. No one was hurt, and aside from a cracked windshield, the vehicle sustained no significant damage. Our patrol was able to safely return to the camp, where they conducted an after-action report (AAR).

Some things could have gone better, but all in all, we were very well equipped, trained, and prepared. Our first contact with the enemy, and none the worse for wear.

First of all, the Big Army supplied Up Armor Humvee completely protected the occupants. The blast caused a small ding on one side, a couple of cracks in the windshield, a whole lot of smoke and dirt, but somehow, that was it. The equipment worked the way it was supposed to.

The training our soldiers received had well prepared them for what happened. They were alert, ready for the blast, and had a procedure that they went with immediately. Had there been follow-on forces, or perhaps if they had hesitated in their response rather than let their training take over, perhaps it would have been different. The training worked the way it was supposed to.

The response to the blast had been planned in advance. There was a book of Standard Operating Procedures. It’s already been changed with lessons learned, but it was 90% there at the time of the blast. There was a complete manifest, all the details of what to do and how to do it had been defined and rehearsed. The planning worked the way it was supposed to.

When the blast occurred, the soldiers in the convoy were attentive, and when the blast went off they were alert. As the blast struck, the gunner immediately dropped down in the hatch in case the vehicle tipped or there was a follow-on blast. Everyone reacted to the blast the way they were supposed to.

So they survived the blast, combat ready, unhurt, and ready for anything that happened next. So far, everything worked just the way it was supposed to.

That’s when the finest single piece of U.S. combat effectiveness did its most amazing job, and not exactly the way it was supposed to.

When the blast shook the lead vehicle and smoke and dirt went everywhere, the driver and truck commander had to alter their planned response. There was too much smoke to see, this wasn’t part of any brief they remembered. They changed course, regrouped, regained battle awareness.

The driver and second truck commander knew that following the battle drill with very limited visibility might risk injury or bottle them up in a possible kill zone. They altered their planned response, setting the stage for a rapid redirection of the rest of the convoy.

An NCO back in the convoy knew that any hesitation could mean lots more trouble, and took charge when the convoy commander was unable to issue orders. He took charge, gave orders, and kept the convoy intact and moving.

The Truck Commander of the lead vehicle also happened to be the NCOIC of the group that does most of our convoys. He knew there were important changes to make to our SOP, but more importantly, he knew there was new information, new lessons learned that all of us needed to know. Not two days passed, and he had a revision ready for advanced distribution and review. We are now seriously considering new tactics and procedures based on their experiences. These changes will allow us to be that much better prepared, if there is a next time.

Our equipment, the finest the Army has to offer, did what it was supposed to. Our training, state-of-the-art, well prepared us for what happened. Our planning allowed us to respond immediately.

But by far, the single most valuable component of the U.S. Army went above and beyond what some may expect, but we’ve learned to count on.

The American Soldier, the single best component of U.S. combat power.

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