I recently had the privilege to join the Army National Guard (NG) Operations Group as an Observer Controller/Trainer (OC/T) team chief. In this role, my team and I traveled around to the NG’s eXportable combat training centers (XCTC) and provided OC/T coverage for rotational training brigade combat teams (BCT).
While we worked these training events, we noticed a disturbing trend with regards to logistics. My team and I have covered over 40 XCTCs and a dozen combat training center (CTC) rotations. In every collective training event, the logistics units of every BCT failed to protect themselves.
To reiterate, ALL of the logistics units—from forward support companies (FSC) to brigade support battalions (BSB)—failed to protect themselves when attacked. This bears some description to show just how bleak we believe the situation to be.
In most BCT training events, the primary logistics unit to undergo training is the FSC. Whether the FSC is aware of it or not, they are put through a training lane that is commonly a react to ambush scenario.
This lane-style training is usually transparent to the unit at a CTC rotation but is obvious at an XCTC which has previously been designed for lane training. During these react-to-ambush training lanes, the FSC conducts a tactical movement down a route and is engaged by a squad of light infantry opposing forces (OPFOR) who normally possess one weapon capable of destroying a vehicle; usually it is an improvised explosive device (IED) simulator or some form of light hand-held rocket, i.e. a rocket-propelled grenade.
In more than 90% of engagements, a vehicle is destroyed by the OPFOR or by an OC/T with a Universal Control Device or “god gun.” The FSC then has to return fire and determine how to recover the vehicle or push through the ambush. In every case, with no exceptions in the last six years, the FSCs all stop, are overrun by a squad of light infantry, and suffer 100% casualties. The reasons for this are multiple and layered.
The main reason, on a tactical level, is simply a lack of return fire from the FSC; which is a symptom of deep-seated systemic issues within the logistics community. The FSCs we’ve graded never had all of their crew-served weapons systems mounted as they should, many of which do not fire due to a lack of proper maintenance.
In one prescient example at XCTC 18-02, in June of 2018, only one M2 .50-caliber machine gun returned fire to the OPFOR out of 11 vehicles; but that gunner was laying down excellent suppressive fire. He continued his one-man firefight until he expended his first belt of ammunition. At that point, he sat down inside the truck and never returned fire again.
During the after action review (AAR), it was discovered this happened because he had never been trained on how to reload the M2 while at his unit. This Soldier was a specialist with 4 years at this unit. He knew how to fire but not how to fully operate his primary weapon system because they had never trained on it.
This is a telling example of something we witnessed with every FSC: a lack of proper weapons training to secure the unit. In most cases, that training never existed, but, even when it did, it was lacking.
Tied to this lack of weapons’ training is a lack of what I’ll call Warrior spirit. Most FSCs that undergo lane training have not taken seriously the kinetic portion of their job. They do not bother to return fire, to maneuver, or, even more damning, their leaders do not try to make decisions.
In most cases, the personnel simply wait for the lane to end after they have all been killed. Then, they go back to their normal jobs and stop “playing Army,” to use the phrase of one particular noncommissioned officer whose unit had just failed a training lane.
To use another example as an XCTC 17-04, an FSC conducted a react-to-ambush lane when the lead vehicle was destroyed by an IED. The squad of OPFOR opened fire from the tree line less than 40m from the FSC and none of the training unit returned fire. The OPFOR walked out onto the roadway, amongst the FSC vehicles, with their weapons pointed down. The gunners of the FSC just stared at the OPFOR and never once even pointed weapons towards their aggressors.
On command, the OPFOR fired at all of the gunners setting off their MILES and leaving the FSC without a manned crew-served weapon. Then, the OPFOR went to the rear vehicle of the convoy, opened the non-combat locked doors, and safety-killed the entire crew. They did this from rear to front, one vehicle at a time.
At no point did the FSC fire. At no point did the FSC leadership make any decision or provide any guidance over the radio. They just sat there and accepted their fate with extreme insouciance. They admitted they wanted the lane to be over so they could move on with lives and avoid unpleasant training they did not want to participate in. These examples are not the exception, they are the norm. Never once have we witnessed an FSC provide adequate return fire to even survive an attack of seven to nine light infantry with M4/M4A1 5.56mm rifles.
In multiple AARs, the leadership of the FSCs or platoons stated it is the responsibility of the infantry or armor troops to secure logistics and they should not be expected to secure themselves. This is a serious misunderstanding of doctrine, as FSCs are manned and equipped to secure themselves. They are not expected to assault an enemy bunker but they are expected to maneuver without additional support when the enemy is light infantry.
It would be disingenuous to only point out the failures we have witnessed.
In the last two years, some FSCs have been conducting gunnery training at the crew level. That is a marked improvement and is, hopefully, representative of a culture shift. From our viewpoint as OC/Ts, what is missing is leadership emphasis.
Strategic leadership should ensure the importance of tactical training in doctrine and professional education requirements, such as at Basic Officer Leaders Course or the Captains Career Course. Separately, company and platoon-level tactical leadership must emphasize securing their convoys in their own training.
All too often, we have heard in AARs FSC leadership tell us that they have never been trained on how to react to contact. Whether this is true or not does not matter. What does matter is that they are not comfortable making decisions in a simulated firefight let alone in a real one. That must change.
Capt. Daniel Nichols is an Observer Controller/Trainer Team Chief with Bravo Troop, Army National Guard Operations Group Wolf. He earned his undergraduate degree in Peace, War, and Defense from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed a Master of Science in International Policy Management degree from Kennesaw State University. Nichols is a graduate of the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course, Joint Firepower Course, Scout Leaders Course, Cavalry Leaders Course, and the Cranfield University Strategic Broadening Seminar.
This article was published in the April-June 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.