U.S. Army Special Report On The Attack On The 507th Maintenance Company Based Out Of Fort Bliss That Occurred On March 23, 2003 In Nasiriyah, Iraq
The attack on the 507th Maintenance Company at An Nasiriyah was a tragedy not unlike those that have occurred in past conflicts in which this nation has engaged. Although violence and loss of life are realities of combat for Soldiers, the United States Army is committed to understanding this particular event in an effort to learn lessons and provide a means of closure for the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The element of the 507th Maintenance Company that bravely fought through An Nasiriyah found itself in a desperate situation due to a navigational error caused by the combined effects of the operational pace, acute fatigue, isolation and the harsh environmental conditions. The tragic results of this error placed the Soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company in a torrent of fire from an adaptive enemy employing asymmetrical tactics.
In the unprecedented rapid advance of the ground campaign towards Baghdad, the 507th Maintenance Company was last in a march column of 600 vehicles. The company became isolated, as communications, already stretched to the limit, could not be extended to include them while they recovered heavy wheeled vehicles from soft sand and breakdowns along a cross-country route through the Iraqi desert. Over a period of 60-70 hours with little rest and limited communications, human error further contributed to the situation through a single navigation error that placed these troops in the presence of an adaptive enemy who used asymmetric tactics to exploit the Soldier?s willingness to adhere to the Law of War. Several measures were available to mitigate the risk of such an event, but were either not employed (Brief-back rehearsal) or were ineffective (Traffic Control Point-TCP).
Soldiers fight as they are trained to fight. Once engaged in battle, the Soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company fought hard. They fought the best they could until there was no longer a means to resist. They defeated ambushes, overcame hastily-prepared enemy obstacles, defended one another, provided life-saving aid, and inflicted casualties on the enemy. The Soldiers of the 507th upheld the Code of Conduct and followed the Law of War.
The Army?s examination of this event will continue through the lens of Objective Force operations on a non-contiguous battlefield. Operation Iraqi Freedom, though executed with current force capabilities in a joint environment, provided insight into the advantages and vulnerabilities that Army and all ground formations can expect to face in the future. Battle Command, situational awareness, and common leader and Soldier disciplines and skills--the ?fundamentals?--down to the lowest levels become critical, perhaps more than ever before. The flexibility and agility required by the Objective Force calls upon the Army as an institution to ensure balanced investments between the advanced capabilities that allow commanders and formations to concentrate effects, and the development and retention of skilled Soldiers who are at least equally adaptive but more versatile than the threats they are likely to face in this century.
Purpose, Scope and Methodology. This report describes, in narrative form, the attack on an element of the U.S. Army 507th Maintenance Company by Iraqi military forces and irregulars in the city of An Nasiriyah on 23 March 2003 during OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. It is the result of an intensive, focused effort to determine those facts that could be determined in a relatively short period of time. This report does not answer all questions. In particular, in order to ensure the integrity of war crimes investigations, this report does not address in detail the conduct of Iraqi combatants during the battle, provides only a brief description of the death or wounding of each U.S. casualty, and does not address Iraqi treatment of U.S. Soldiers held captive. All these matters are under separate investigation. This report presents but does not assess decisions made and actions taken. These are matters for the unit?s chain-of-command and for ?lessons learned? reviews. This report does not address possible recommendations for decorations for valor. These types of recommendations are initiated by the unit chain-of-command according to Army regulations, and require substantiation. This report is intended to be an objective presentation of facts corroborated by multiple sources. Variances in individual perceptions, particularly during the intense strain of combat, make a perfect reconstruction of events impossible. The Review Team had access to the extensive work of trained experts and scrutinized a great deal of information. Finally, ongoing investigations may discover additional relevant information. This report should be read with these factors in mind.
This report was researched and prepared by a small team of Headquarters, Department of the Army officers working under the direction of the Commanding General, Training and Doctrine Command, tasked by the Chief of Staff of the Army to conduct a fact-finding review to determine what happened to the 507th Maintenance Company element in An Nasiriyah, Iraq on 23 March 2003.
Overview. In the early morning hours of 20 March 2003, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and coalition ground combat forces crossed from Kuwait into southern Iraq and attacked northward, beginning the ground phase of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. By dawn on 23 March, major U.S. ground combat units had advanced more than 200 miles into Iraq and were approximately 130 miles north of An Nasiriyah, an advance historically unprecedented for speed of execution and depth of penetration, designed to unhinge the Iraqis? ability to mount a coherent defense.
The rapid advance of coalition troops in thousands of vehicles and hundreds of aircraft was made possible by the determined, aggressive support of scores of logistics, medical, and maintenance units, many moving constantly to maintain contact with their supported units. One such unit was the 507th Maintenance Company, tasked to support a vitally important asset ? a Patriot missile battalion.
At about 0700 hours (local time) on 23 March 2003, while moving through the outskirts of the city of An Nasiriyah in southeastern Iraq, an element of the 507th Maintenance Company was attacked by Iraqi military forces and irregulars. There were 33 U.S. Soldiers in the 18-vehicle convoy. All but two Soldiers in the convoy were members of the 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas. The other two Soldiers belonged to the 3d Forward Support Battalion (3d FSB) of the 3d Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia, and were traveling in their 10-ton wrecker with the 507th.
The Iraqi forces in An Nasiriyah conducted fierce attacks against the convoy. Of the 33 U.S. Soldiers in the convoy, 11 were killed in combat or died as a result of injuries, seven were captured by Iraqi forces, and the remaining 16 Soldiers were able to rejoin friendly forces. Of the 22 U.S. Soldiers who survived, nine were wounded in action. Although all details of the battle could not be determined with certainty, it is clear that every U.S. Soldier did their duty.
It was not until 31 March 2003, that elements of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) would take control of the city of An Nasiriyah.
Arrival in Kuwait & Preparation for Movement to Iraq
The 507th Maintenance Company arrived in Kuwait from Ft. Bliss on 20 February 2003. The company consisted of 82 Soldiers and their assigned vehicles. The unit became a part of U.S. forces under the operational control of V Corps, which was located at CAMP VIRGINIA in Kuwait. From 22 February until 20 March, the 507th prepared for its mission in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM--to repair and maintain vehicles and equipment of the 5th Battalion, 52d Air Defense Artillery (Patriot), supporting the Central Command (CENTCOM) battle plan.
Unit preparation at CAMP VIRGINIA built on training that had been conducted at Fort Bliss, which included individual and crew-served weapons qualification, tactical communications, land navigation, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) defense tasks, first aid, spot reporting, equipment maintenance, leader certification, force protection, deployment and redeployment operations, tactical employment, and sustainment operations. Once deployed and in CAMP VIRGINIA, Soldiers of the 507th conducted additional training and preparations at CAMP VIRGINIA that included rules of engagement, unit rehearsals (movement, actions on contact, ambush procedures), and weapons and vehicle maintenance. During this time, all Soldiers received their basic combat load of ammunition for their personal weapons (210 rounds for M16A2, 1000 rounds for M249 SAW, 45 rounds for M9). The company commander ordered issue of ammunition for the unit?s crew served weapons (.50 caliber and MK-19, 40mm) prior to movement, however, all pyrotechnics, hand grenades, and AT-4 Anti-tank weapons were consolidated and secured.
The plan to move V Corps units from CAMP VIRGINIA to OBJECTIVE RAMS (See FIGURE 1) involved the organization of convoys and movement of those convoys along designated routes?initially on ROUTE BLUE, then ROUTE JACKSON, then returning to ROUTE BLUE ?and through three intermediate attack positions: DAWSON, BULL, and LIZARD (See FIGURE 3). The 507th Maintenance Company was under the tactical control of the 3d Forward Support Battalion (3d FSB) for this movement. According to the 3d FSB Orders Brief, the 507th Maintenance Company convoy would be directed from BLUE to JACKSON by Soldiers at a manned tactical control point (TCP) at the site where the routes separated.
FIGURE 1 Overview of Area of Operation
The Operations Officer of the 3d FSB gave CPT King, the commander of the 507th, a CD-ROM disc that contained orders and route information. Route information consisted of the battalion orders briefing and annotated large-scale maps. The 507th had commercial Global Positioning Systems (GPS) (Garmin, ETREX VISTA), (FIGURE 2), which had been issued in the United States prior to deployment. The GPS gave CPT King directional signals via a display arrow that indicated the direction and distance the convoy should go. Five additional GPS were distributed to other leaders in the company. The unit was also issued 1:100,000 scale maps of the area of operations-- the theater standard. The review of this incident revealed that CPT King relied primarily on his GPS and one of the annotated maps from the orders brief while traveling in his HMMWV(See FIGURE 1 ? Note the map from the brief did not have Routes and Objectives annotated here for clarity). CPT King had highlighted only ROUTE BLUE on the annotated map, and believed in error that BLUE was his assigned route.
On 20 March, at approximately 1400 hours, 64 of the original 82 Soldiers of the 507th departed CAMP VIRGINIA in 33 vehicles and moved northwest as part of a larger convoy. Their ultimate destination was OBJECTIVE RAMS more than 350 kilometers distant. The other 18 Soldiers (maintenance contact teams and medics) from the 507th were attached to and moved with other units.
FIGURE 2 Garmin Global Positioning System
Movement to ATTACK POSITION DAWSON
During the first leg of the route, from CAMP VIRGINA to ATTACK POSITION DAWSON, while still in Kuwait, the 507th traveled off-road over desert terrain. At 2100 hours on 20 March, the 507th arrived at its first stop, ATTACK POSITION DAWSON, located just south of the Iraqi border. While at DAWSON, the Soldiers refueled and serviced their vehicles, ate and attempted to implement a rest plan. Most Soldiers got some amount of sleep in the 10 hours at this location. (see FIGURE 3)