Support troops prepare for sneak attacks
Stars and Stripes June 30, 2003
TAEGU, South Korea — Army Spc. Shawn McKoy remembers the sobering news that an Army logistics unit moving in convoy was ambushed in Iraq in March.
The unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, was ambushed March 23 near Nasiriyah, with unit members killed or captured.
The news had special bearing on troops like McKoy, with the 595th Maintenance Company.
“Everybody always thinks, ‘Oh, this can’t happen to me ’cause I’m combat support,’ but that made us realize, ‘Hey, it can happen,’” McKoy said of the deadly Iraq attack.
The 595th — at K-16 Air Base in Seoul — is part of the 498th Corps Support Battalion, whose companies are similar to the one ambushed in Iraq, the 507th Maintenance Company. Both are combat service support, or CSS, units — mechanics, clerks, drivers, cooks, communications troops and others in a host of logistics jobs.
So McKoy and his fellow troops said they were taking things seriously last week when their battalion practiced what to do if they’re ever ambushed in convoy.
Though the exercise was planned before the Iraq war, events there lent it special urgency, said Capt. Peter Boyer, the battalion’s operations officer.
“We planned it well in advance of what happened in Iraq with the 507th,” Boyer said. “What happened with the 507th just kind of reinforced why we need to do this kind of training.”
Boyer said the exercise ran from June 21 to June 25 in mostly wet weather at two training grounds north of the Imjin River: the Dragon Head training area about 10 miles northwest of Camp Garry Owen and the North Carolina Range.
Under the exercise scenario, a group of four Army cargo trucks moves down a dirt road when explosives go off, signaling the start of an enemy ambush that knocks out the lead truck.
The soldiers disembark, draw into battle formation, then mount a counterattack, assaulting the enemy in teams that “bound” forward one at a time, the stationary team laying down covering fire for the team that’s dashing forward.
The exercise also afforded them practice in map reading from a moving vehicle, using radios to call in situation reports, and requests for medical and other help. Sergeants took charge of their troops under mock combat conditions and organized and led the counterattack.
“You gotta stress individual movement techniques,” Boyer said. “Low crawl, high crawl, three- to five-second buddy rushes, being able to dismount the vehicle and they need to get under cover quick, they also need to respond or engage enemy targets as soon as possible.”
Staff Sgt. Edwin Burgos, a generator mechanic in the company, acted as platoon sergeant for the exercise.
“They knew that once they heard the simulators going off, that they were to dismount and set up a perimeter and that their team leaders along with myself would be assigning sectors of fire,” Burgos said of his troops. “For myself, it was more of a practical experience of knowing where to position everybody and ensuring that we had proper communication.”
Pfc. Ryan Eno is a generator mechanic who learned what to do in a road ambush.
“First thing is, get out of the vehicle and get down on the ground … get yourself set up and look for … the enemy and keep your sectors of fire away from your comrades so you don’t threaten their lives,” Eno said.
“You need to say things loudly so everyone can hear you,” he said. “That’s especially important when you start bounding … They need to know where to keep their fire shifted to and away from, and of course making sure to follow what orders are being brought down from the squad leader and the team leader.”
“As a CSS unit we’re quite vulnerable, just like 507th Maintenance Company was … and like the 507th, we’re out there, we’re moving troops, we’re a key target just because we’re carrying the assets that the infantry and the armor need,” Boyer said. “That’s who we support. We’re less defended and that makes us a good target and our guys, they need to be prepared to fight and defend themselves, especially in convoys.”