Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser --
Marines in Iraq spend weeks, and sometimes months, outside the ‘wire’ conducting numerous operations and patrols. Their operational tempo requires an enormous amount of logistical support, and creative ways of re-supplying in the seemingly endless desert. A mobile unit can use over 10,000 gallons of fuel per week just to keep going, not to mention food, water, and other consumable items a unit on the move might need.
Company B, 1st Tank Battalion, which has been supporting 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (Task Force Highlander), Regimental Combat Team 2 since the beginning of their tour in March, utilized a unique solution to this problem: a joint air and ground mission called ‘rapid ground refueling.’
“The RGR (rapid ground refueling) allows a company to sustain forward operations,” said Master Sgt. Jerri A. Schlickenmayer, the company tank leader. “Bringing in fuel by air allows us to keep going without having to go to a nearby outpost or base. It probably cuts down one or two days of logistical travel per week in the field, and it’s faster and safer than bringing in a convoy. We can literally get thousands of gallons of fuel in less than an hour.”
To help sustain themselves during forward operations, the tank company takes along a ‘combat train’: a convoy of vehicles which supplies everything the unit may need to support itself in the field.
“The combat train provides our logistical support, so we can operate much further from a base. They have chow, fuel, water, repair parts, and recovery assets,” said Schlickenmayer, a native of Bismarck, N.D. “They also provide limited infantry support for snap VCP (vehicle check points), limited cordon and search, detainee handling, and several other functions.”
The tanks go through fuel faster than any of the other items, so during long operations the combat trains rely on air support from the CH-53E “Super Stallions” of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466 to re-stock.
“A tank can take 200-250 gallons of fuel per stop,” said Army Pvt. James D. Green, a motor transport operator for the combat trains of 541st Transportation Company in support of 1st LAR and Task Force Highlander. “It’s incredible when you think about it, it really adds up quick. Without the air support and the RGR, their range would be very limited, but because of this asset the Marines can go pretty much anywhere.”
“I have no doubt the Marines would find a way to complete their mission one way or another, because that’s what they do, but time is essential in this environment,” said Army Sgt. Sady Oandasan, a motor transport operator with the combat trains. “Every mission these guys do is important and that’s why we are here at a moment’s notice, to support them and make their lives easier. They’ll get the job done no matter what, have no doubt, but the (combat) trains help grease the machine.”
Because of the support from the helicopter squadron, also known as the “Wolfpack,” and cooperation between Army and Marine Corps logistics, Task Force Highlander and its supporting units continue to complete successful missions throughout the western Al Anbar province.
“This type of thing is really the spirit of the Marine Corps expeditionary mission. The kind of thing that makes us feared and loved throughout the world,” said Schlickenmayer, a Desert Storm veteran serving on his third tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “It’s a true Marine answer to a problem, ‘How can we survive for weeks on end in the middle of a desert?’ Just leave it to the Marines to figure it out. And we did.”