By Maj. Gen. James E. ChambersApril 28, 2009
The dispersed nature of operations and the asymmetric character of the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan have dissolved the traditional distinction between the front and the rear and exposed logisticians to the enemy as never before. Nowhere in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom has this elevated level of exposure been more evident than on convoys moving supplies, equipment and personnel across a widespread area of operations.
These operational conditions have led to the coining of a new term, "combat logistics patrol," or "CLP." Many commanders believe that use of the term CLP has brought focus within the theater that a convoy is not an administrative movement of supplies but instead a combat operation. The intent is good; however, using the term "CLP" can lead to confusion and unintended consequences.
A review of doctrine, together with consideration of historical and recent lessons learned, supports the conclusion that there are significant and compelling reasons to reinforce the use of the simple doctrinal term "convoy." Let's look at some of them.
The most significant reason supporting the use of the term "convoy" is to prevent mission confusion.
According to Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, dated 12 April 2001 (as amended through 17 October 2008), a convoy is defined as "a group of vehicles organized for the purpose of control and orderly movement with or without escort protection that moves over the same route at the same time and under one commander."
The same publication defines a patrol as "a detachment of ground, sea, or air forces sent out for the purpose of gathering information or carrying out a destructive, harassing, mopping-up, or security mission."
While it is true that gathering information is an important specified task of a convoy operation, as shown in the above definitions, the objective of a convoy is not to "carry out a destructive, harrassing, mopping-up, or security mission"; therefore, by definition, a convoy is not a patrol.
When you also consider the fact that there is no Department of Defense-recognized definition of CLP, you get a recipe for mission confusion, with potentially disastrous results. While the convoy mission-essential task list (METL) requires Soldiers to defend the convoy and neutralize the enemy, there is also a very real possibility that convoy commanders may lose focus that the primary objective of a convoy is delivery of supplies to the right place, at the right time, and in the right quantities.
Failure to accomplish that mission can lead to catastrophic results. From a historical perspective, the term "convoy" originally referred to any column of vessels or vehicles under an armed escort. A column of vehicles without an armed escort was referred to as a "train." When the linear battlefield evolved with its front line and relatively safe rear during World War I, armed escorts were not needed for supply trains, but the term "convoy" remained in vogue.
Convoys in the past have been the target of attacks by an elusive enemy. The 8th Transportation Group, while conducting operations in South Vietnam, employed the first gun trucks to effectively repel the attacks of a deceptive and determined enemy. Gun trucks escorted convoys in Vietnam for five years without adopting a new term to replace "convoy." This history underscores the fact that there is no doctrinal gap in conducting tactical convoy operations and no need to add to, or modify, the doctrinal term "convoy."
Two more important reasons to continue to use the term "convoy" are to limit redundancy and maintain consistent doctrinal taxonomy. The qualifier "combat" is not used to describe any other logistics operations in theater that face the same threats, such as "combat feeding," "combat re-supply/tailgate operations," or "combat vehicle recovery," so "combat" should not be used in doctrine to replace or unnecessarily qualify the root taxonomy (the simple term "convoy") when discussing convoys. Terminology becomes a Pandora's Box when opened for anyone who wants to "leave their mark" by coining a new phrase.
The Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) is taking steps to reinforce the doctrinal term "convoy" and to eliminate the use of the term "CLP." These measures include-
Ensuring that all Army field manuals only use the doctrinal term "convoy."
Ensuring that the combat training centers and Army Training and Doctrine Command schools coach, teach, and mentor that convoys executed in a hostile environment are to be treated, planned, and resourced like any other form of maneuver or combat operation-troop-leading procedures are key.
All leaders need to emphasize in training and enforce in the field that convoys are a logistics core competency and that, like the jobs of all Soldiers, they are inherently dangerous and can lead to deadly encounters with the enemy. Logisticians, like all Soldiers, face danger every time they head out on the road-a reality recognized by their eligibility for the Army's new Combat Action Badge.
Professions have some common characteristics. Among them are a seriousness of discourse and a unique lexicon. A doctor who routinely used inexact terms in his diagnosis would rightfully risk both the lives of his patients and his professional reputation.
Our standards should be no less exacting. A patrol is no more a convoy than a heart attack is a stroke. The term "convoy" does not need modification or addition; it can stand alone as embodying the logistician's professionalism and willingness to face danger to accomplish the mission.