Supply train gets supplies out, keeps units fit for fighting

24 Feb 2007 | Staff Sgt. Tracie G. Kessler

It’s been said, that in order to win battles Marines only need three things; beans, bullets and band-aids.

Infantry units constantly on the move can only carry limited supplies with them in order to complete their missions. Needing almost daily resupply, units operating in the field rely on drops of food and water to keep their Marines fit and ready for battle.

The convoy, known as ‘Boxcar’, likens itself to a large supply train carrying supplies to forward operating bases near Camp Bastard, positioned just outside the city of Barwanah, in what has been referred to as the most austere living conditions of any unit currently operating in Iraq.

The daily Boxcar is essential to the success of ongoing operations in Barwanah, said 1st Lt. David Crabbe, assistant logistics officer for Battalion Landing Team 2/4.

“It’s crucial; the Marines out there couldn’t continue to operate within the town without a regular supply of all their needed items. Boxcar not only takes out supplies but it also provides [many other] assets. It takes capabilities out to the [units] that may not be organic to the company,” explained Crabbe, a native of The Woodlands, Texas.

Crabbe said, the boxcar transports mechanics, armorers, electricians and a number of other services to keep the units in fighting shape.

Logistically, keeping the supplies coming inbound is one of the more difficult tasks, explained Crabbe. Since Camp Bastard is not completely self-sufficient when it comes to supplies, the boxcar must travel to Haditha Dam to pick up the supplies and transport them back to the camp.

“No one is delivering supplies directly to Camp Bastard, so we have to take our trucks. The same trucks that are pushing supplies to the companies have to go to the dam and pull them down here to the camp. They’re constantly on the road performing that push-pull logistics,” said Crabbe.

Since beginning operations in late November, the Boxcar has performed in excess of 110 missions. Performing as many as three missions a day, the convoy has been going non-stop getting one break for Christmas Day, he explained.

According to Crabbe, this is an extremely large number of missions. Other units may take as many as seven months to accumulate that many completed missions, the BLT 2/4 supply convoy took only two and half months.

“The last time I was here, I was the motor transport commander and my sole purpose was running convoys with my platoon. It took us seven months to run 97 convoys and that was running a convoy almost every other night for seven months. That’s a lot of road time,” said Crabbe.

The Boxcar is not made up of infantry Marines, in fact only two of the Marines are infantry trained at all. The general make up the Marines spans several military occupational specialties including motor transport, communications and armorers.

Crabbe explained this was not a group of Marines that were just thrown together, but instead, a carefully picked group that could bring their different talents to the convoy.

“Back in the planning phases before we set out to do this, we sat down to figure out the best combination of capabilities to fill required tasks. For example, the driver of the vehicle that has the convoy commander and the security team leader is a [communications] Marine who can be there for quick fixes and can be the Johnny-on-the-spot when [communication] issues come up,” said Crabbe.

“This wasn’t just a list of names thrown together, it was going down name by name and making sure each person was going to be able to fill the capability and meet the requirements he needed to. We knew in advance this was going to be a challenging position for the Marines,” he explained.

To- date, no forward operating base has run out of supplies, explained Crabbe. He attributes some of this to the location of Camp Bastard in relation to the FOBs located throughout the Barwanah area, he explained.

“If it’s a particular item that we have, we have it out to them in a matter of hours. If our team is here, it’s that easy to throw on the vehicle. If it’s not a priority piece of gear, the next resupply is never more than a few days away,” said Crabbe.

Getting supplies out to the different bases is no easy task. With the number of miles and hours spent on the road, especially in a combat zone, the likelihood of being attacked increases. Boxcar, however, has been on 110-plus missions without losing one vehicle to improvised explosive devices or other contact with anti-Iraqi forces.

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Marshall, the supply chief for BLT 2/4 and the convoy security chief, explained his convoys have actually been hit twice by IEDs, but with no casualties or trucks destroyed.

“The first night we got hit by two IEDs at one time in a 26 vehicle convoy. One went off in the back and missed the trucks completely. [The second] hit in the front and hit a 7-ton [medium tactical vehicle replacement passenger variant]. All it did was break a mirror and scratch the paint. [Later] the second time we got hit [the IED] missed the trucks too—all it did was break a couple of taillights. We’ve been extremely lucky,” said Marshall.

In the first days of operations, driving the roads proved to be quite nerve racking, with everything looking as though it might be an IED, explained Marshall. Through experience and driving on the roads, his drivers are able to pick out the objects that don’t look quite right he said.

The most important part of the Boxcar convoy is delivering the supplies to the combat units posted in and around Barwanah. Marshall understands that without the supplies they need, the infantrymen would not be able to fight and sustain themselves, seriously diminishing their effectiveness.

From this, Marshall gets personal satisfaction out of being able to provide this service to those Marines.

“The rest of the battalion can’t function if they don’t have the gear and equipment to do it,” said Marshall. “We bring the ammo, we bring the chow, we bring the water and the engineering equipment to build up the firm bases and the parts they need to keep their vehicles running. If the battalion was like a body and the infantry companies were like the muscles needed to get everything done, I guess you could say we would be like the lifeblood that keeps everything going and allows them to do what they’re doing.”

The dynamics of the Boxcar is one of the things that make the convoy team a valuable asset to the battalion, Marshall related. Touching on the variety of MOSs involved, Marshall explained that no matter what the military occupational specialty of each Marine may be, each one plays an important role in the success of the supply convoy.

“They bring their requisite skills to the table. The motor-t[transportation] guys make sure our trucks our working, our comm guys make sure our radios are working properly, our armorers not only make sure our weapons are functioning properly—if the companies ask if we can take a look at something—they’re always working,” said Marshall, a Loveland, Ohio, native.

The Marines hard work does not go unnoticed, at least not by Crabbe. He knows his Marines share a tight bond from all the hours worked getting the much needed supplies out to the Marines who need them most.

“I think they’re doing a fantastic job. I love going down there and talking to them. They have a pretty unique bond now and I’m very pleased with them. They do a great job and work really hard and have great attitudes about it. They’re optimistic and never complain even though they’re on the road more than anybody else,” said Crabbe.