Wednesday, August 31, 2011

8th Engineer Support Battalion: OEF 10.2

By LtCol Christopher Downs
 
On 25 November 2010, 8th Engineer Support Battalion (8th ESB) (Minus) assumed responsibility of the general engineering support mission for Regional Command-Southwest (RC(SW)) as part of the Operation ENDURING FREEDOM 10.2 (OEF 10.2) campaign. The battalion (minus) was organized and employed as an independent formation within the Marine logistics group (MLG).


In a modification to Service doctrine, two engineer companies (minus) (reinforced) were task-organized and employed under two combat logistics battalions (CLBs). The battalion’s organic explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) company (minus) was organized as a separate entity under the operational control of the MLG headquarters and administrative control of 8th ESB. This article will focus on the organization, employment, tasking, and battlefield effects of the ESB (minus).
   
The ESB exists to provide tactically agile and operationally responsive general support mobility, countermobility, survivability, horizontal and vertical construction, bulk fuel, water purification, mobile electric power, bridging, and EOD capabilities to the MAGTF.2 In OEF, the MAGTF’s engineer formations have been, are presently, and will continue to be employed to support the tactical maneuver, battlefield mobility, and survivability and sustainment of coalition forces aboard forward operating bases (FOBs), combat outposts (COPs), and patrol bases (PBs). Often these microlevel engineer efforts can have operational impacts that advance the macrolevel counterinsurgency (COIN) objectives of the MAGTF and the joint force. This improves security and economic development and sets conditions for good governance and, ultimately, transition.

Predeployment

(Photo by LtCol Christopher Downs) An Afghan national
herds his livestock across the Tangye Bridge in Kajaki
as engineers from 8th ESB take a break from repairs to
the structure.
8th ESB had a very abbreviated window to conduct the force generation actions necessary to build a deployable battle roster and conduct its Blocks III and IV predeployment training. During a 40-day period, the battalion commander, the executive officer, six of eight company commanders, and all but two principal staff officers joined the command and were assimilated into their respective billets. Working outside the supporting mechanisms of the MLG’s new force generation policy, we worked quickly to orient and assemble this new leadership team and organize the battalion for combat. At the same time, needed internal controls and procedures were being developed to enable the continued force generation activities necessary to organize, train, and deploy combat ready engineer and EOD detachments in support of the eight independent deploying combat formations the battalion supports on a cyclic basis.
   
The battalion formed an operational planning team to plan the task-organization, force lay down, and command and control mechanisms necessary to conduct simultaneous combat engineering, general engineering, and fuel and water sustainment operations across the MAGTF’s dispersed battlespace. Additionally, the battalion was also told to prepare to execute a direct support transportation/battlefield distribution mission in support of 2d Battalion, 9th Marines in Marjah. While this mission set is typically associated with the core competencies of a CLB, our organic motor transport capabilities and capacities enabled the battalion to plan and train to assume this battlefield task in conjunction with its traditional engineer functions. As a result of this planning effort, the battalion organized for deployment with three company headquarters with functional subordinate platoons as detailed in Figure 1.
Figure 1. 8th ESB task-organization for OEF 10.2.


This organizational construct was designed to enable the battalion to establish baseline capabilities and capacities for “steady state” bulk fuel, hygiene services, and mobile electric power support at 13 dispersed FOBs, COPs, and PBs. More importantly, it set the conditions for the battalion to continuously and rapidly reorient, retask-organize, and employ small task-organized engineer detachments in response to emergent engineer requirements from all elements of the MAGTF. Our focus was on achieving maximum organizational agility and an ability to rapidly ebb and flow engineer capability across the battlespace in support of simultaneous and mutually exclusive demands for engineer effects. We knew we could not be strong in only one geographic location or battlefield function. To be a relevant MAGTF formation, we knew we needed the ability to anticipate demands and rapidly satiate multiple ground combat element (GCE) requirements in disparate locations across the area of operations (AO).

Predeployment Training and Mission Rehearsal

(Photo by LtCol Christopher Downs) Engineer equipment
operators rehearse tactics, techniques, and procedures
for road construction at Camp Lejeune weeks prior to
deployment for Afghanistan.
From 7 August to 9 September 2010, the battalion executed Enhanced MOJAVE VIPER 6–10 (EMV 6–10) as the logistics combat element (LCE) at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms. Presently, there is no formalized Block IV training package for any of the Service’s engineer formations within the EMV program. The exercise construct required the battalion to be employed as a direct support CLB supporting two maneuver battalions with Classes I (subsistence), III (petroleum, oil, lubricants), and IV (construction material) via combat logistics patrols (CLPs). A limited general engineering exercise (GenEx) was also part of this Block IV training evolution.
   
The EMV LCE program of instruction was centered on logistics tasks from the Marine Corps task list and applicable training and readiness manuals. The tasks are summarized in Table 1.
 
While an appropriate platoon (minus) evolution, the GenEx did not support effective or relevant mission essential task training for the tactical tasks our engineer battalion would be expected to (and did) execute while deployed. The limited construction activities were not adequately resourced with Class IV. Mission essential Class VII (major end items), such as water distributors, was not available. Most importantly, the limited scope of GenEx and the significant demand for CLP planning and execution negated my ability to conduct needed staff training on project management and battlefield resourcing, production estimation, and deconflicting the time, space, and force constraints to simultaneously execute multiple efforts in multiple locations with finite equipment, personnel, and security assets.
   
Despite the shortcomings for engineer-specific training, EMV was still an important training opportunity for our battalion. It enabled the command to train to tactically relevant mission events that cannot be replicated aboard Camp Lejeune. As a relatively “new” formation that had joined almost all of its commanders and staff officers only 45 days prior to EMV, it was most certainly the appropriate Block IV training venue for the battalion at the time.

Battlefield Integration and Employment

(Photo by LtCol Christopher Down) An MLC–50 nonstandard
bridge built by 8th ESB in Sangin.
Upon arrival in theater, the battalion’s leaders implemented a battle rhythm that fed rapid decisionmaking and execution. This supported the command’s subordinate detachments that were dispersed in 13 mutually exclusive locations across the breadth and depth of the MAGTF AO. This also ensured that individual engineer, fuel, and utilities detachments were assimilated into their tactical positions with no loss of momentum or no interruption of support to the GCE.

The RC(SW) operational area is characterized by restricted and severely restricted terrain and primitive mobility corridors that directly influence the timing, sequencing, and effectiveness of tactical maneuver and MAGTF sustainment. Our predeployment planning, training, and mission rehearsals acknowledged these factors. The battalion task-organized, forward positioned, and employed two self-securing horizontal construction detachments with robust second echelon maintenance capabilities to build, improve, and repair roads for the GCE.
   
Our main effort was in the Sangin District in support of 3d Battalion, 5th Marines and 2d Reconnaissance Battalion. For 4 months our engineer detachment partnered with these formations and 1st Combat Engineer Battalion’s (1st CEB’s) route clearance platoons to open Route 611 from the Sangin District Center to the Kajaki District boundary. This collective effort represented a textbook integration and employment of the layered and complementary core competencies of the CEB’s explosive hazard reduction/clearance capabilities and the heavy construction capabilities of the ESB. Working within the construct on a focused information operations campaign and in the wake of a dedicated clearing force, the CEB and ESB engineers cleared, proofed, and repaired/improved over 28 kilometers of limited all-weather road through one of the most kinetic areas in Afghanistan.
   
These efforts markedly improved the tactical mobility of the battlespace owners. Tactical movements between Camp Leatherneck and the Upper Sangin Valley that had taken days before construction were subsequently able to be completed in only 6 or 7 hours.3 Equally significant, the Afghan people realized an immediate and personal impact in their daily lives as this road and its complementary drainage systems and bridges supported their daily movement, subsistence agriculture, and commercial activities. The Commanding General, 1st MLG, observed that the MAGTF’s investment in engineers to achieve momentum in improving infrastructure facilitates military operations and improves the quality of life for Afghans, which in turn increases public confidence in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.4
   
(Photo by LtCol Christopher Downs) 8th ESB’s
engineer equipment operators building a limited
all-weather road on Route 611 opening the route
from the Sangin District Center to the Kajaki District
boundary.

Our lead supporting effort was also focused in mobility. Another task-organized construction detachment was forward positioned at FOB Hanson to improve and build roads in support of 2d Battalion, 9th Marines; 2d Battalion, 8th Marines; and 3d Battalion, 9th Marines in Marjah. These efforts were prioritized by the infantry battalions and their parent regimental combat team in order to complement and enhance the focused COIN objectives being conducted within that portion of the AO. The construction also established reliable mobility corridors linking remote patrol bases to ground lines of communications and the populace being protected from the Taliban.
   
In addition to road repair and construction, the battalion’s bridge platoon also emplaced and removed 11 medium girder bridges (MGBs) in support of GCE named operations. Our construction planning and design section partnered with credentialed structural engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Reachback Operation Center to validate our design and military load classification determinations for nonstandard bridges the battalion built and emplaced on the battlefield. These nonstandard bridges enabled the command to retrieve and preposition MGBs in other portions of the AO to support the assured mobility requirements of the MAGTF’s maneuver formations. Equally significant, these bridges were designed to transcend the presence of the MAGTF within the AO. The Afghan populace welcomed these bridges, used them extensively, and commented repeatedly that they were a benefit to the people of the area. While it is impossible to quantitatively measure the contribution of these efforts to the overarching COIN objectives of the campaign, it is important to note that while standard MGBs were successfully attacked and destroyed by the enemy during the OEF 10.2 campaign, no attacks, sabotage, or vandalism occurred on any of the nonstandard bridges the battalion built.
   
As cited earlier, the battalion’s bulk fuel and utilities Marines were distributed in small detachments across the MAGTF battlespace. In addition to their doctrinal general engineering tasks, they also partnered with the GCE to assess and rework many of the existing tactical power distribution systems emplaced at remote FOBs. These “tiger teams” were in high demand and provided small unit training on safety and preventive and corrective equipment maintenance, and efficient mobile electric power system employment. These teams proved so successful that the MAGTF commander requested that the battalion develop and present a formal period of instruction to teach these skills to the Afghan National Army to enable their autonomous battlefield sustainment after transition.

Sustaining Operational Readiness and Combat Capability

(Photo by LtCol Christopher Down) An Afghan National
Army soldier trains to properly wire electrical connections
as part of a formal training package developed by 8th ESB’s
utilities platoon.


Critical enablers for our formation were our maintenance and supply platoons. While deployed, 8th ESB possessed just over 6,700 principal end items distributed among 17 responsible officers. The equipment had deteriorated after 2 years of continuous operations in a highly kinetic environment. The men and women of these platoons worked tirelessly to repair and improve our equipment set. During the last week of November the battalion possessed 190 deadlined B and D table of authorized materiel control number end items. On 1 May there were 43. In the period between, our maintainers opened over 2,020 equipment repair orders, closed 1,560, and requisitioned nearly $7 million in repair parts. Our supply clerks processed over 50,000 transactions.
   
A key element in maintaining the daily readiness of our engineer equipment and motor transport fleets was the planning and establishment of forward positioned Class IX (repair parts) supply blocks with each of the engineer detachments. These IX blocks included 710 total national stock numbers and proved irreplaceable in shortening the repair cycle time for our battle damaged and broken equipment. Equally important, the battalion conducted weekly materiel readiness training for company commanders, responsible officers, and commodity managers. I participated in this training and linked every topic and class back to how it matters today in support of the MAGTF; how it will help each officer, SNCO, and NCO in their next assignments; and how I had experienced success and/or challenges in that particular topic area during my career. As a result of these collective supply stream and maintenance management efforts, materiel and operational readiness markedly improved over the course of our campaign. This enabled a sustained increase in operational tempo in support of the MAGTF’s battlefield requirements.

Observations, Conclusions, and Recommendations

Force generation needs to begin as early as possible. All MLG formations should be stabilized and resourced with the personnel required by the gaining Service component commander prior to the commencement of Block IV training. The successful application of this policy will enable a more deliberate development of battle rosters and task appropriate predeployment training.
   
EMV should be tailored to include battalion- and company-level engineer planning, engineer reconnaissance, standard/nonstandard bridge design and construction, road construction and repair, utilities design and employment, and other tasks the engineers will be required to undertake while deployed. Construction of entry control points, bridge/fording sites, or countermobility measures in support of the GCE, as well as helicopter landing zone construction or airfield damage repair in support of the aviation combat element, are core tasks for an ESB. ESBs should be tasked with these missions throughout EMV. This will drive more detailed battalion-level engineer planning, prioritization, and resourcing drills.
   
ESBs are organized, trained, and equipped to provide general support reinforcing combat and general engineering capabilities to the MAGTF. That point notwithstanding, ESBs can and should employ their organic and robust motor transportation capabilities and capacities in support of battlefield distribution, to include providing direct support transportation to GCE maneuver formations. This can usually be accomplished in conjunction with planned sustainment convoys for Classes IV and IX replenishment and Class VII rotation. It only makes sense to optimize every element of haul capacity to push required battlefield sustainment by every means available. This was the practice throughout our tour. The battalion conducted 850 motorized security patrols in support of construction activities and 90 CLPs moving over 30 million pounds of war material. This increased the collective capacities and responsiveness of the expeditionary logistics effort for the entire MAGTF campaign.
   
The ability of an engineer battalion to provide timely and relevant battlefield effects is inextricably linked to supply stream management and maintenance readiness. Intellectual rigor and staff energy must be applied to train subordinate leaders to look at engineer equipment maintenance as a “sortie generation” activity in support of their engineer equipment’s “dirt pilots.” Without an invasive command emphasis on material readiness, engineer equipment will quickly deteriorate and negate the battalion’s abilities to provide timely or effective support.
   
The MAGTF’s engineer formations provide expeditionary and temporary combat and general engineering capabilities to the MAGTF. However, the respective capabilities and capacities of Marine engineers can also advance the operational-level COIN objectives of the present joint campaign. The potential to realize enduring COIN impacts with the execution of MAGTF tasks for battlefield engineer effects must be considered when planning and resourcing tactical engineer efforts. After 1 year commanding the MAGTF’s engineering, distribution, and sustainment activities in RC(SW), the Commanding General, 1st MLG, offered:
There will be additional population areas that become more accessible in the future as the ‘hold’ in ‘shape, clear, hold, build’ deepens. More tribal leaders and local government officials will surface, all campaigning for improvements for their constituents, and local commanders will want to leverage engineering projects to maintain momentum in their lines of operation and to ultimately allow Helmand Province to have an improved quality of life.5
Someday the MAGTF will leave Afghanistan. The roads, bridges, culverts, and relationships our engineers build for and with the Afghan people can last for generations.


Notes
1. Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3–34, Joint Engineer Operations, Washington, DC, 13 February 2007, p. I–1.
2. Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3–17, Engineering Operations, Washington, DC, 14 February 2000, p. 1–9.
3. Commanding General, 1st MLG, e-mail message to author, 13 May 2011.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.

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