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Posted on Jan 4, 2007 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 011. Talking the Talk

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

CONFUCIOUS SAY: “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant. If what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone.”

One reason the services may have trouble operating jointly is that they don’t speak the same language. For example, if you told Navy personnel to “secure a building,” they would turn off the lights and lock the door. The Army would occupy the building so no one could enter. The Marines would assault the building, capture it, and defend it. The Air Force, on the other hand, would take out a three year lease with an option to buy.

Thermopylae Pass

Summer in the desert. It was hot, dusty, and dry which everyone had expected but it was also hot in the middle of the night which everyone expected but no one planned for. The demand for water was just as high at night as it was during the day. The Brigade Combat Team (BCT) had been in theater for a little over a week and had already been in two major fights and was preparing for a third. The BCT had two maneuver battalions; one battalion of air assault light fighters and one battalion task force of M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. It was a small but potent force.


The next mission was a two part attack. The light battalion would go in first, around 0100 am to clear a 1 kilometer mountain pass of an enemy forward company. They were defending forward of their battalion with the apparent mission to block the use of pass to US forces. They had tank ditches, minefields, and wire obstacles running vertical to the narrow mountain road. All were covered by tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and infantry. It would be a tough but winnable fight. Once the light battalion had cleared the way, the Mechanized Task Force would barrel on through to attack the defenders main position about 3 kilometers west of the heavily obstacled pass. By using the pass as the axis of advance, we would be able to strike at the flank rather than into the teeth of their defensive engagement areas.

The light fighters would infiltrate into assault positions and would make their move at 0100 hours under 0% illumination. They would have until BMNT, just before first light, to create a path for the heavies to run through. The Mech Task Force would burst through the pass just as the sun was rising behind them. Then the main fight would ensue. Once the main defense was penetrated, the division as a whole would pass though and continue the attack even deeper in to the enemy zone.

The light fighters hit their objectives right on time. The fighting was fierce and all in the BCT monitored the fight over the radio command net. The Mech guys were anxious, knowing they couldn’t help in the fight on the one hand and knowing their own successive fight depended on the skill of the infantrymen currently slugging it out in the wadis and ruts of the narrow pass.

As daylight approached, the BCT Commander, COL Treadwell, grew anxious. He began grilling the light fighter commander for his status – ‘was the pass clear yet, was he ready for the forward passage of the mech guys…’ Light fighter 6, the air assault battalion commander, was exasperated. He was in an up close and personal knife fight and he didn’t need the brigade commander breathing down his neck although he knew he had no chioice but to do so. Undoubtedly, the division commander was, in turn, breathing down the brigade commander’s neck.

After repeated queries, Light Fighter 6 finally gave the brigade commander the green light to initiate the mounted attack. It was 30 minutes past hit time but this was war not show time at the Ritz! Deadlines were important but setting the proper conditions is more important. The mech task force fired into action and plunged into the narrow pass, nicknamed Thermopylae after the famous pass defended by the Spartans, and the next phase of the battle got under way.

By noon the mech task force had reported its combat power had deteriorated from Green Status to Red Status faster than a “Frog in a Blender”. The tanks and Brads needed to pull back. Thermopylae would remain in enemy hands for one more day.

The Division Commander was not happy about the 24 hour delay. The Division’s axis of advance had now been revealed and the enemy was repositioning and improving his defenses in depth. Undoubtedly Thermopylae pass would be even more formidable tomorrow than it had been today. The CG flew to the Brigade TOC for a huddle with the Brigade Commander and his two Battalion Commanders. Even though he was angry he did not intend for the meeting to be a dressing down. Warriors fresh from the fight don’t need to be chewed out but lessons have to be learned to prevent repeat failures.

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