The 5th BCT: Full Spectrum War; Full-Force Adaptation
Steele, Dennis, Army
Walking out of an elementary school on the south side of Baghdad, SFC Jonathan Aldrich said, "The war right now is being fought in these schools and for these kids. That's why we try to do a lot at the schools."
It was the second school that he and his platoon visited on a quiet morning amid the April conflagration. The soldiers were trying to get better oriented and better known in the sector for which their unit, Company C, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment (C/l-8 Cavalry), recently had taken responsibility.
The battalion and the rest of the 1st Cavalry Division's 5th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) were working to keep the peacekeeping mission on track despite fighting engagements.
"Our first three days were a nonstop fight, but we knew that we would have to get back to SASO (stability and support operations) soon. We fought well and eliminated a lot of insurgents through direct contact, but that is not the sole reason we're here, and we know that," explained Lt. Col. John Alien, the 1-8 Cavalry commander. "I will meet violence with violence, but I know that every bullet that I fire affects what I have to do down the line."
"I think this is the first time in history that military leaders have to think along five different lines simultaneously," he continued. "Soldiers fight full-contact battles at night, and the next day they could be putting out a fire with a bucket brigade or handing out pens at schools. The scope of this operation truly is full spectrum, and our soldiers are doing it seamlessly. I don't know of any other army that could do this-no other army in history that could."
"Our metric is simple: Is it helping the people?" said Col. Stephen Lanza, the 5th BCT commander. "Force protection is our number one priority, but I am trying to use combat operations as the shaping operation and IO (information operations) as the decisive operation. An effective IO operation is necessary to counter the insurgency. The people have to buy in to what we are doing. They have to see the positive aspects of governance."
The brigade employs a large number of psychological operations (PSYOP) and civil affairs (CA) assets that are attached to it, and robust IO sections are established in each of its battalions. The brigade IO section publishes a bimonthly newspaper, which is distributed throughout the BCT's area of operation, but the primary IO missions are conducted face to face.
"Our big challenge is countering the effects of misinformation," Col. Lanza said. "Concepts here are generated two ways: television and rumor. I can't get on [Arab satellite television channels] and say, 'You're getting the wrong information.' I can, however, try to counter rumors."
Rumors must be stamped out quickly if they are going to be stopped at all because "once something is in the population, it spreads fast," according to the BCT commander.
If a rocket attack misses the American base and hits a civilian neighborhood, for example, the rumor that usually starts is that U.S. forces are targeting the civilian, population. The countermeasure used by the 5th BCT is a quick-reaction PSYOP/CA campaign starting at the impact area. The faster something is addressed and the more it can be isolated, the better, and action must be initiated within hours if not minutes.
"If we wait days, it's a done deal," Col. Lanza explained.
The 5th BCT protects what are called Baghdad's "crown jewels"-the city's four key pieces of infrastructure that are situated in its area of responsibility: the main power plant, water treatment plant, oil refinery and sewage treatment facility. The city's long-term future depends on their security and restoring them to full working order.
The 5th BCT was established specifically for the 1st Cavalry Division's Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) mission. The plan took the Division Artillery, which Col. Lanza commanded, and made it a maneuver brigade, giving it the same relative assets as the three standing maneuver brigades in the division. …