Attack on the 507th Maintenance Company
23 March 2003
An 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.