Marines in Iraq refueled by logistics specialists
Nov 1, 2003 12:00 PM
FOR THE logistics specialists in the First Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom posed significant challenges that stretched capabilities to the breaking point. Overcoming the difficulties proved to be a major contributor to the success of IMEF combat operations.
Distance may have been the biggest enemy faced by the Marine logistics team. Supply lines stretched hundreds of miles from depots in Kuwait to the Marine combat units in Iraq. The fast-paced tempo of the battle was another logistics challenge, with supply convoys often under fire and sometimes deep behind enemy lines.
The Combat Service Support Groups (CSSGs) under First Force Service Support Group (1st FSSG) and assigned to IMEF had to operate over some of the longest lines of communication and main supply routes ever traveled by Marine units. Upon the seizure of Tikrit, the supply lines extended nearly 600 miles. IMEF moved farther north in Iraq than any other major subordinate command in Coalition Forces.
“We knew that we had to address the tyranny of distance when we began planning for this operation,” says Lt Col Adrian W Burke, commander of Combat Service Support Battalion 12 (CSSB-12). “We needed enough distribution assets to overcome the factors of distance and time. If we were to win on the battlefield, we knew that, at a minimum, we had to be able to keep our Marines supplied with food and water, ammunition, and bulk and packaged fuels.”
Planning began in May 2002 while Lt Col Burke was assigned to the staff at 1st FSSG. He had a good background for the petroleum logistics side of the operation, in particular. He grew up in Deer Park, Texas, where his father worked at the Shell Oil Company refinery, and his mother worked at DuPont's chemical plant.
As part of the calculations developed during the initial stages, Marine planners estimated that IMEF would need at least three million gallons of fuel to meet its combat objectives. The estimate was almost exactly on target.
“During Operation Iraqi Freedom, we sent 3.3 million gallons of fuel to IMEF,” Lt Col Burke says. “We dispensed 3.2 million gallons. We had enough fuel for a big, heavy fight that never happened.”
The estimates took on real meaning five days into the war, when Lt Col Burke was appointed commander of CSSB-12, which was under CSSG-15. Among other responsibilities, the battalion was tasked with managing all of the Marine fuel depots north of the Euphrates River in Iraq.
Over the course of the combat operations, CSSB-12 ran four fuel depots — three of which were operational at the same time. Typical capacity for these depots was 1.2 million gallons.
The forward depots were supplied through a logistics system that stretched south to the Kuwaiti desert. It was a system that was put into place well in advance of the move into Iraq.
Preparations began with establishment of Combat Service Support Area Coyote in the northwest corner of Kuwait. Nearby was the US Army's Camp Virginia. About two million gallons of fuel storage was in place at CSSA-Coyote, and Camp Virginia had six million gallons of fuel capacity.
Fuel, mostly JP-8, was stored in 100,000-gallon rubberized bladders. They were filled from a six-inch pipeline running from Camp Virginia to a Kuwaiti refinery. Another pipeline laid down by the US Army connected Camp Virginia with CSSA-Coyote.
When Coalition Forces were ordered into Iraq on March 20, Marine logistics personnel raced north to establish a new supply depot at Jalibah Airfield in the vicinity of An Nasariyah. Fuel supplies at the depot were to arrive primarily via a flexible pipeline called the Tactical Fuel System (TFS).
Commanders at 1st FSSG say this was the longest pipeline ever built in combat, stretching 60 miles from the initial breach point at the Iraq-Kuwait border to Jalibah Airfield. The pipeline consisted of a hose-reel system with four-inch flexible hose that was designed to pump fuel no farther than the five-mile segments of which it was composed.
Booster stations with 650-gpm pumps were positioned along the way to keep the fuel moving at 400 gallons per minute. By the end of combat operations, the Marines had pumped nine million gallons of fuel through the system.
Laying down the TFS pipeline took five days and was completed nearly three days ahead of schedule. Logistics personnel built the tank farm at Jalibah Airfield while the pipeline was being assembled.
The Marine pipeline eventually was extended forward to the theater support area in the vicinity of Tallil Airbase, essentially becoming the means of conducting fuel resupply for the entire theater. When the full system was in place, the Marines had used virtually all of the TFS assets that they possessed.
“We never expected to put down that much pipeline (120 miles of it) ourselves,” Lt Col Burke says. “Our plan was to pull out our pipeline within 12 days and move forward with Marine forces. The Army was to take over responsibility for moving fuel up from Kuwait.”
Tallil Airbase was a major supply depot for the Army and was served by 220 miles of six-inch aluminum pipeline that extended south to Camp Virginia in Kuwait. Essentially, it ran parallel to the Marine pipeline. The depot was the responsibility of the Army's 49th Quartermaster Group.
Due to the scope of the Marine operations, the TFS was unable to meet all of the fuel needs. Marine petroleum transports were supplemented with tankers from the US Army's 319
In all, Marines logistics was served by 200 to 250 petroleum transports used primarily for linehaul movements to the fuel depots. Marine transports had a 5,000-gallon capacity, while the Army provided 5,000- and 7,500-gallon tank trailers. Civilian equipment came from throughout the Persian Gulf region with capacities of 7,500 and 8,000 gallons being typical.
As IMEF surged north, the logistics elements scrambled to ensure that resupply continued uninterrupted. By 2 April, IMEF crossed the Tigris River dealing a substantial blow to Iraqi forces. CSSB-12 was right behind.
With Coalition forces closing in on Baghdad, IMEF's artillery units were taxed harder than at any point during the war. Artillery rounds were literally taken off the supply trucks and loaded into the guns for fire support. CSSB-12 met the challenge by serving as a direct support organization during this time.
At the same time, the battalion and other Marine logistics units continued to set up new supply depots with tank farms. “Some of our logistics units were moving into new locations ahead of our other units,” Lt Col Burke says. “Most of the time, we were within 12 miles of the front.”
Within 12 hours, the logistics units could have a 300,000-gallon tank farm up and running. They would have 1.2 million gallons of storage in place in four days.
These forward depots were supplied entirely by petroleum transport. “We had a reasonably good highway network for our convoys,” Lt Col Burke says. “With the exception of Highway 1, which was under construction, most were well-built and well-maintained.”
Convoys frequently had to move through unsecured areas, and guerrilla attacks were common. “Every convoy was at risk,” Lt Col Burke says. “However, we didn't lose a single petroleum transport to enemy action. At CSSB-12, we had 14 attacks on convoys, seven of which were significant.”
The accomplishments of the 1st FSSG components were truly impressive. IMEF's daily fuel requirements of 190,000 to 220,000 gallons were met without serious interruption, despite some of the most extended and exposed supply lines encountered by the Marines.
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