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. (The 4th Brigade is the Aviation brigade.)
The division needed additional boots on the ground to cover the Baghdad area, so the idea was to get a jump on the general U.S. Army concept to form a fourth maneuver brigade in each division (called a unit of action under current terminology). The 1st Cavalry Division chose to convert its Division Artillery; the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), which is undergoing conversion in the States before it is redeployed to Iraq, chose to convert its engineer brigade.
"Every unit in the Army is finding new ways to create combat power," Col. Lanza said.
The 1st Cavalry posted most of the Division Artillery assets to the other brigades. The 5th BCT retained one organic multiple-launch rocket system battalion, the 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery, which principally converted to a ground maneuver battalion, and one tube artillery battery from the 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery, which kept its firing capabilities. The 5th BCT gained operational control of 1-8 Cavalry (an Armor battalion that was converted to a motorized formation) and the division reconnaissance squadron, 1-7 Cavalry, less its Aviation assets. The brigade structure also incorporated the 68th Chemical Company, which also became a ground-pounder organization, an Engineer company, a Military Intelligence company and PSYOP and CA assets. The division compiled a new support battalion for the 5th BCT, carving slices from four other support units.
"Everybody in the division adjusted and adapted," Col. Lanza said.
The conversion plan was launched in October 2003, and the 5th BCT officially unfurled its colors on January 22, shortly before the 1st Cavalry deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, for the OIF-2 rotation.
"Iraq is actually our first field problem as a brigade," Col. Lanza noted.
Within the 5th BCT, other adjustments were made to squeeze more combat power out of the structure. For example, the 1-8 Cavalry shifted most of the strength in its Headquarters and Headquarters Company to form another maneuver company.
Individual soldiers had to shift, too. SPC Aldrich, an Armor NCO, had to become a motorized infantry platoon sergeant, and his soldiers had to become infantrymen.
"We finished a NTC (National Training Center) training rotation as tankers, and as soon as we got back to Fort Hood, they told us to park our tanks because we weren't going to see them again," SFC Aldrich said.
Today, he describes himself as a TWOT-the acronym adopted to fit the situation-which stands for "tanker without a tank." He and his soldiers worked hard to make the transition.
"Nobody really knew what to do initially," SFC Aldrich explained. "We had manuals and such, but we didn't have anybody in the company with hands-on infantry experience."
They started by digging into the manuals and talking to people who had the knowledge, both in an out of the Army. They asked a civilian police department special weapons and tactics team to help sharpen their building-entry and clearing skills. The son-in-law of one of the squad leaders is a Special Forces soldier, and he took leave to go to Fort Hood and give the platoon instruction.
"When we sent word out that we needed help, we got it from, all over the place," SFC Aldrich said. "We also did a lot of training before we left."
A line battalion usually shoots about 30,000 rounds a month for training. The 1-8 Cavalry shot 150,000 rounds a month leading up to deployment.
"And when we didn't have anything better to do, I told my soldiers to go attack our billets-do room clearing, searches, squad movement," SFC Aldrich added. "By the time we got to Kuwait (for the last training period), we could clear a house in nothing flat."
"Sometimes I do miss my tank's firepower and protection," he admitted. "But on the other hand, a tank can't get to most places here, and it would be too easy for somebody to get behind you and blow your tail off. The main difference is the pace. We're used to a faster pace, going 45 miles per hour when we move. Last night, it took two hours for us to move two kilometers," he said.
"The soldiers are the most surprising. They have adapted really well to the job," he added. "The golden rule for a tanker is never to get off the tank. Every day here, they are on the ground, carrying all this equipment around, and you don't hear them complain or whine to get their tanks back."
"Me? When I leave here I will have nearly four years as a platoon sergeant, a year of that as an Infantry platoon sergeant. I might be promoted, if I'm lucky; then I'll roll around in a Humvee," SFC Aldrich said. "I might never have my own tank again."
Text and Photographs
By Dennis Steele
Senior Staff Writer…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The 5th BCT: Full Spectrum War; Full-Force Adaptation. Contributors: Steele, Dennis - Author. Magazine title: Army. Volume: 54. Issue: 9 Publication date: September 2004. Page number: 46+. © Association of the United States Army Feb 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.