Prepares Coast Guardsmen for overseas deployment

Convoy training: prepares Coast Guardsmen for overseas deployment

Alice Sennott

One of the biggest threats to troops serving in the Middle East, or in any combat situation, is being attacked by the enemy during a convoy through hostile territory. You only have to watch the nightly news to see that another service member was injured or killed while traveling in a vehicle in the Middle East. While the Coast Guard may not have the exact same missions as the other services, its members are susceptible to the same kind of attacks while traveling through hostile areas in a convoy situation. But now Port Security Units will receive convoy training while attending Tailored Unit Training Availability, Field Exercise Problem at Coast Guard Special Missions Training Center aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejuene, N.C.

“Convoy training was added in light of recent after-action reports from PSUs deployed to Iraq. Coast Guard PSUs deploy overseas to secure ports as part of the Navy’s Harbor Defense Command. In the past, they have deployed to Kuwait Naval Base and convoyed to Um Kasar, Iraq, right behind the Marines,” said Lt. Dan Tanguay, SMTC training officer. “There has been no convoy training available to us, until now.”

The first unit to receive the training was PSU 313 from Tacoma, Wash.

“After PSU 313’s deployment to Central Command Theater of Operation, where we arrived prior to the beginning of the war and continued to operate out of Kuwait for several months thereafter, we found we had to do some missions and tasks that hadn’t been done by the PSU community before,” said Cmdr. Rickey Thomas, PSU 313 commanding officer. One of these items was convoying vehicles and equipment in host nation countries and areas considered to be combat zones. Even more than us, our sister unit, PSU 311 of San Pedro, Calif., while in Kuwait with us, had to do more extensive convoy operations when their mission required movement into and out of Iraq.”

The Marines from the Division Convoy Course, Division Training Center, taught the convoy training section of the TUTA-FEP. It includes a day and a half of classroom training, immediate action drills, and then a convoy where the unit is attacked by opposing forces from SMTC to test their knowledge and reactions to different scenarios. The advantage of having the Marines teach this course is that they have just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and can offer real time scenarios as to what someone will face while traveling through these areas in a convoy.

“These were the guys-in-the-know, who had been there, done that and had the T-shirt,” said Thomas. “Their quick two-day course was presented in the most professional and understanding method for those of us that are used to getting our feet wet.”

“It’s important to share ideas and experiences,” said Gunnery Sgt. Dennis O’Sullivan, convoy training lead instructor. “During convoy ops in Iraq and Afghanistan we experienced multiple engagements on a daily basis.”

O’Sullivan and his staff teach the course using the crawl, walk, and run theory. During the first part of training, students attend class where instruction is provided on the different aspects of conducting a successful convoy. Students learn how vehicles are placed in a convoy to create the best security for the number of vehicles that will be participating in any given convoy. They also are instructed on the position security forces take in different vehicles and the appropriate reaction to a given situation. Some of the scenarios faced during a convoy involve improvised explosive devices. These can be a single device or a series of IEDs referred to as a daisy chain, which is designed to impact more than one of the vehicles in a convoy. Other threats include piano wire, which is usually strung between light poles and can decapitate or seriously injure troops that are positioned atop vehicles. Overpasses also are causes for concern when often, cans filled with explosives are dropped on the convoy.

While the former threats are obvious, there are many other not so obvious things that also can be a threat to the convoy. These include, but are not limited to: weather, cliffs, downed vehicles, crowds, children, jingle trucks and other local vehicles, herds of animals, terrain and urban situations. Other vehicles, civilians, or children looking for candy may inadvertently block, separate, or come between vehicles in the convoy. They may not purposely pose a threat, but can add to the deterioration of the convoy or make one or more vehicles more vulnerable to attack.

“Stopped vehicles are a target,” said O’Sullivan. “But some of these scenarios you can’t really prep for, like having 1,000 kids and donkeys in your way. It’s important to coordinate with other military services in the area that can alert you to events or problems. Also, everyone in the convoy needs to know what is going on. Communication is very important.”

Another important issue that a convoy must consider and be ready for is creating a tow plan; what is your plan of action if a vehicle breaks down? Are you prepared to tow it? Create a time line. If it can’t be fixed in five minutes, tow it. What about tires? The heat in the Middle East is extremely hard on tires and they are in short supply. Weather can cause vehicles to get stuck and create dangerous situations if the roads erode. Do you have the right jack for the vehicle? Do you have the right bolts for tires? Is there enough fuel for the convoy and a plan in place in the event that the convoy is delayed? Training suggests that the convoy be prepared with 96-hours worth of gear. This would include, but is not limited to, food, water, fuel, and ammunition.

“It’s a good idea to use a convoy template,” said O’Sullivan. “Success equals a standard operating plan. Figure out who will do what and let everyone know what’s going on, from your highest to lowest man. Also, make sure everyone has a map. These issues are important because, in the event of an attack, if some personnel are injured or killed, the next person will know what to do to continue the convoy on its projected path.”

During the next segment of training, the team took what they learned in the classroom and applied it to immediate action drills. Here the team rehearses their plan before the convoy.

“This is like the rehearsal practice before the game on game day,” said O’Sullivan. “During this training, the team builds muscle memory and everyone gets to know their role in the convoy.”

Here the PSU breaks up into different sections: command component; quick reaction force; and main body. Each section has its specific job to create a successful convoy. The command component organizes the position of personal and specific jobs for team members. It is responsible for communication throughout the convoy. The main body consists of drivers and other essential personal in the convoy. The quick reaction force is the security for the convoy and positions itself throughout different vehicles in the convoy.

During the rehearsal, the quick reaction force learns security techniques to protect the convoy. During these drills, the quick reaction forces learn to assault through enemy positions by learning consolidation, bound forward, and prepare for attack techniques.

“We like to use the ACE method following an attack,” said O’Sullivan. “This stands for ammunition, causality, and equipment. This allows the team to assess their situation after an enemy engagement. After the team has dismounted from their vehicles and engaged in an attack, they consolidate the group and word is passed down the line to the squad leader as to the amount of ammo each person has, if anyone is hurt, and the state of their equipment. This allows the team to quickly redistribute ammo, call for appropriate medical help, and get an equipment report.”

The quick reaction teams also learn proper dismount, bound-back, and how to execute a bump plan from a vehicle. The dismount and bound-back are used while exiting and remounting the trucks, while the bump plan is use to redistribute personnel if a vehicle is taken out.

After the immediate action drills, the PSU is ready to begin the convoy from their base camp. During the TUTA-FEP training and convoy, all personnel wear Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System gear. MILES is a training system that provides a realistic battlefield environment for personnel involved in training exercises. MILES provides tactical engagement simulation for direct fire force-on-force training using eye safe laser bullets. Each individual in the training exercise has a detection system to sense hits and perform casualty assessment. Laser transmitters are attached to each individual and accurately replicate actual ranges and lethality of the specific weapon systems. MILES requires a blank cartridge to discharge a laser transmitter, which sends a simulated laser bullet to kill or wound opposing forces during training exercises. When the laser beam hits a detector, the laser detector records a kill or near miss. The use of this system allows the instructors from SMTC to see how well the unit is doing during attacks.

Once everyone is in their perspective vehicle and position, the convoy leaves base camp and begins its journey to a secondary camp called Combat Town. Here units will spend the night. Along the route, the convoy encounters a variety of scenarios from Opposing Forces that it must assess and evaluate with a proper response to the given situation. During the convoy, the unit encounters everything from sniper fire, ambushes, roadblocks, IEDs, and non-threatening encounters with personnel to test the skills they learned in the past few days. In each scenario, the unit must quickly determine the right course of action.

“As the first PSU to go through the convoy training, they performed better than expected,” said Lt. Bill Cassels, White Cell evaluator. “During the scenarios, the PSU deployed when necessary, confronted the enemy positions, and destroyed the opposing forces with fire and maneuver techniques. The convoy scenarios took place in the middle of 42 hours of constant land and waterborne attacks. They stayed sharp and responsive despite the extreme sleep deprivation.”

The convoy finally reached its destination and set up camp at a Combat Town. Here the team continued to be challenged with different scenarios from OPFOR until 0400 when they pack up and convoyed back to base camp.

“This was PSU 313’s first formal convoy training, but now that we have received the basics and with the course information provided, it will certainly become part of the unit’s future training plans,” said Thomas. “For our sister units scheduled for TUTA/FEP, I strongly suggest they make the convoy training as part of their package. It was most beneficial.”

Story and Photos by PA1 Alice Sennott, USCGR

COPYRIGHT 2005 U.S. Coast Guard

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group