On Ship

Creatively Deploying the Heavy Division:

Getting the 4th Infantry Division to Iraq in 2003

Colonel (Retired) Christopher D. Croft and Kelvin D. Crow

The next large-scale combat operation for the US Army will require strategic maneuver of large formations and their major weapons systems from staging locations in the United States to the seat of war. Enemy efforts will complicate an already complex and time-consuming process. Time spent thinking upfront and a shared understanding of the problem enables a more flexible and creative approach to the managed chaos of strategic maneuver. The 2003 deployment of the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) (4th ID), Task Force Ironhorse—to Iraq through Turkey, then through the Suez Canal and Kuwait—is an excellent historical case study to examine a creative solution to the deployment problem.

The end of the Cold War brought with it a reduction of US forward presence overseas, making power projection the centerpiece of US defense strategy. As its name implies, power projection is the United States’ ability to rapidly and effectively deploy forces from multiple dispersed locations and sustain them in a contested theater of operations. The key to the strategy is the US’s ability for unconstrained global reach. Projecting power globally provides our national leaders with the options they need to respond to potential crises: anytime, anywhere.

For their 2003 deployment, Task Force Ironhorse consisted of active, reserve, and National Guard forces located on 18 installations in the United States, Germany, and Italy. The Task Force deployed through eight seaports on 33 Ready Reserve Force ships and planned to enter through physically restricted ports. The Task Force had to plan on an unsupported movement through Turkey to attack the northern divisions of the Iraqi forces while the subordinate unit from Italy conducted a strategic airborne insertion. Each ship was loaded with self-sustaining or partially sustaining force packages that would build operational combat power almost immediately upon arrival. Turkey’s denial of access forced Task Force Ironhorse to divert through the Suez Canal and download in Kuwait. The new plan, and the restrictions imposed by canal transit, meant the division had to change the order in which the ships departed the holding area and their arrival in Kuwait.

This complex strategic maneuver for the 4th ID was successful because the division commander was actively involved in the entire process. He brought in key talent and oversaw the development of the team. He planned and executed the deployment through a three-step process thoughtful preparation and team building toward an expeditionary mindset beginning long before the receipt of a warning order; detailed planning built around an early and shared understanding of the operational effects desired and the obstacles to that end; and finally, flexible execution by teams prepared to make dramatic changes to the plan in response to events. Leaders at all levels from the division commander to the smallest unit enabled these three phases through personal engagement. Each of these phases will be examined in sequence and in some detail using the 2003 deployment of Task Force Ironhorse as a historical case study. Then Major Christopher Croft served as the Chief of Plans and subsequently the 4th Infantry Division Transportation Officer for this operation, and this account will rely on his observations for portions of the study.


Preparation for moving a unit begins long before the mission is even conceived. Successful expeditionary maneuver is predicated on building a great team both internally and externally to the organization. A key member of the internal team is the Division Transportation Officer (DTO). An incoming graduate of the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) usually fills this position. Students at CGSC must request an assignment as a DTO in order to be considered. Human Resources Command (HRC) reviews the files on each candidate, rank orders them, and then provides that list to the Chief of Transportation (COT). The COT personally reviews each candidate, interviews them as necessary, and then provides recommendations to division commanders on who should fill the DTO position. There are times that DTOs are selected in-house. Individuals selected to fill DTO slots need specific experiences in preparation for that assignment. The DTO must, at a minimum, be familiar with the other organizations in the transportation world, preferably having worked in a few of them and have connections in all of them. If they’ve identified themselves for assignment as a DTO, they are expected to take the DTO elective in the Command and General Staff Officers’ Course. If they do, the instructors attempt to help future DTOs establish connections to ensure success in the position. Commanders should look for this experience and the endorsement of the Chief of Transportation.

The division’s transportation office is a small team with a large mission. The size of the team varies based on the type of division but it typically has a major as the DTO, a sergeant major, a senior NCO (noncommissioned officer), a mobility warrant officer, and one or two civilians. During deployments, the office is augmented with a movement control team (MCT). The MCT usually consists of an officer, a warrant officer, (during the 4th ID deployment, a senior NCO) and five movement specialists. Even augmented, the division team is barely enough to serve as a core element for the deployment that serves as the nucleus of the deployment team internally and externally.

The DTO also serves to synchronize the external team. Deployments (to combat, to the National Training Center, or to humanitarian relief) all require the commander to rely on a team made up of organizations in the larger transportation world. Each of the organizations below assists in the division’s deployment, but they are focused on meeting their mission. It is the DTO’s responsibility to ensure the division commander’s intent is met. Hence the DTO must have a great working relationship with each of these organizations. Below is brief description of the roles of the six members of the external team.

The Installation Transportation Office (ITO) provides transportation services and related functions for all authorized personnel and activities within the installation’s area of responsibility, ensuring that power-projection platform meets force readiness and mobilization requirements. The ITO consists of the Transportation Motor Pool, Inbound/Outbound Personal Property, Passenger Travel, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Unit Movements, and Inbound/Outbound Freight.1

The Movement Control Battalion (MCB)/Movement Control Team (MCT) consisting of 21 personnel, (an HQ element plus four teams) is attached or operational control (OPCON) to a division headquarters and placed under the control of the DTO to augment that staff and assist in providing a range of transportation support planning, programming, and operations required to support the spectrum of military operations. The team operates on a 24-hour basis to assist the DTO in planning, scheduling, controlling, and coordinating mode operations.2

US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) oversees the overall effectiveness, efficiency, and alignment of Department of Defense (DOD)-wide distribution activities, including force projection, sustainment, and redeployment/retrograde operations. USTRANSCOM supports the strategic flow of deploying forces and sustainment to seaports/aerial ports of debarkation in the joint area of operations. These services are provided through use of common user airlift, sealift, surface transport, and terminal traffic management activities.3

Strategic Distribution and Deployment Command (SDDC) “provides expeditionary and sustained end-to-end deployment and distribution support to meet the Nations’ objectives.”4 Military Sealift Command (MSC) “provides ocean transportation of equipment, fuel, supplies, and ammunition to sustain US forces worldwide.”5 Air Mobility Command (AMC) “provides common-user air mobility (airlift and aerial refueling) and aeromedical evacuation services to deploy, employ, sustain, and redeploy US forces on a global basis. Additionally, AMC is the single port manager (SPM) of common-user aerial ports of embarkation (APOEs) and aerial ports of debarkation (APODs).”6

Building these relationships takes time so it is important that the DTO have a plan to engage key leaders in the unit, in sister units, in the installation, and outside the installation. Division leadership should stop by their DTO shop well before the warning order is issued and check the status of their internal and external teams. This will help set the conditions for success in the planning and execution of the strategic maneuver.

The single most important element of preparation for any operation is cultivating good habits of thought. In October 2001, then-Major General Raymond “Ray” Odierno, after assuming command of the 4th Infantry Division, walked into the plans vault and asked that the planners identify all the avenues of approach into Iraq. He gave the team three days to think through the question and asked the team to look into all aspects from ports, roads, fuel, population, politics, culture, religion, to anything else that might be important to the division’s success. Three days later, the plans team presented the information gathered to the senior leaders of the division. Odierno prompted his team of planners and the senior leaders of the division to think through the problem of deployment to this area of operations and thereby improved their ability to provide solutions to situations and to lead units in those situations.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this component of preparation, but finding the time to think is difficult. Especially while in command, service members spend most of their time putting out fires and solving immediate problems. The apocryphal quote from Albert Einstein about spending the majority of the time available seeking to understand the problem vice looking at solutions has gained credence because service members intuitively understand its value.7

• How many pieces of equipment are in the division?                        
• How many railcars are available (for planning)?                        
• What railroads service your area? Who are the leaders/key individuals to know in those organizations? Visit their operations centers to get to know the people so that when you call, they have a relationship with you.                        
• What are the major line haul companies that service your area? Again visit their operations centers.                        
• What are the capabilities of the ports? If you have the time, it is important to know all the ports and their capabilities.                        
• What are the capabilities of the airfield? How many aircraft can be on the ground at the same time?                        
• What is the condition and capability of the destination port/ports/airports?                        
• Is local fuel compatible/contaminated/available?                        
• What cities will present congestion issues?                        
• What is the installation’s deployment process?                        

This is not thinking designed to come to a particular solution. Dr. Julia Slone describes it as a “divergent process;” thinking over a situation with no endstate in mind and aiming only to improve understanding rather than converging on a solution. It is to “suspend problem-solving and engage in a rigorous process of examination, exploration, and challenge of the underlying premise of the strategy.” Just as each of us comes to the table with a set of established biases based on experience, religion, race, etc. we must understand the background and biases of the people we will encounter. We must “slow down and turn off this instant pattern recognition and deliberately challenge the very process that has served us in the past.” This is what Odierno was attempting to do with his planning and command team in 2001; he was asking his team to turn off their preconceived notions and open their eyes to other possibilities. After the briefing, Odierno gave the planners some additional information to seek, more specifically about the religious and political components. Again, he was very particular about having the team open their minds to the other possibilities rather than launch right into planning. He was teaching the team to think critically.8

One other habit of thought integrates deployment, traditionally thought of as an administrative movement, with the operational and tactical plan. It should be considered a maneuver and designed with the desired tactical end state in mind. This comes from nesting the DTO with the operations shop and begins early in the process. The division must treat a deployment as a strategic maneuver and focus the entirety of the division’s resources to make the maneuver successful. Divisions that treat a deployment as a purely “logistics” operation are able to deploy, with lots of outside help, but they often then struggled to meet the commander’s intent in theater.


The planning phase began the “convergent” thinking process of coming up with an innovative, executable course of action. In this operation, the DTO was a part of the 4th ID planning team helping the senior leadership understand and overcome the physics of the deployment phase while integrating the deployment of the unit into the tactical plan.

It is important to formulate and communicate the commander’s intent for the operation before planning begins. In 2001 Odierno was intent on building cumulative combat power with the arrival of each ship. He wanted the capability to employ combat power as soon as possible after disembarking the ship. The commander’s desire to deploy combat “sets” rather than focus only on maximizing the capacity of the vessel without regard to combat power on the far shore drove the need to sail each ship with a less-than-optimal load.

The 4th ID was called to a corps planning meeting at Scott Air Force Base to discuss the initial deployment plan. The corps plans team presented their concept of operations and the sequence of the divisions and other major subordinate units—e.g. 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR)—into the fight. In that initial plan, the 4th Infantry Division was near the end of the order of battle, meaning their movement would be more administrative since they would be part of the exploitation and sustainment phases instead of the initial invasion and exploitation force.

• What is the condition of bridges in Turkey and Iraq: How many? Ratings? Are the rivers fordable? What assists are listed in the task organization? Is this enough?                        
• Roads: What is the road structure? Capabilities of the roads?                        
• Fuel: Is there fuel available en route? Is the fuel compatible with our vehicles?                        
• Rest areas—do they exist? How large?                        
• What ports are available? What ports allow munitions? What are the restrictions at each port? What are the capabilities for download, staging, preparing, arming, etc.?                        
• What airfields are in the area? How close are they to the seaport of debarkation? Are there busses available to take from airport of debarkation to the seaport of debarkation?                        
• What air coverage will we have?                        
• What help can we expect to receive from the Turks? From US Army Europe (European Command)?                        
• What additional assets are needed?                        
• What is the enemy’s capability to deny access from Turkey?                        
• Cultural considerations: What are the different cultures? What must we know?                        
• What is the political situation in Turkey? Will they let the US use their country? If not, what’s the alternate plan?                        
• How many pieces of equipment are we shipping?                        
• How many people are in this task force (by location/unit)?                        
• What ships are available?                        
• How many ships do we need? How long will it take for the ships to arrive once the order is given? What concerns do you have with these ships?                        
• How long will it take the ships to transit from the seaport of embarkation (SPOE) to the seaport of debarkation (SPOD)?                        
• How soon can we get the task force together to work through issues?                        
• How long will it take the National Guard and Army Reserve units to activate?                        
• What and how many railcars are available?                        
• What additional resources are needed to ensure the units are 100 percent ready to deploy?                        
• How far can tanks travel before needing refueling?                        
• How will we control the movement of the units?                        
• How many contractors will we take with us? What do we need to know about their status while transiting through Turkey?                        

When the divisions were asked for their input then Colonel J.B. Burton, 4th Infantry Division G3, articulated the capabilities of the “digital division” and pointed out they were capable of simultaneous but separated operations, e.g. coming into Iraq from the north instead of through the south. Burton had a great understanding of the division and of the enemy’s defensive structure, and he pointed out the impact of this capability on the enemy. Having had his say, Burton led the Ironhorse team back to Fort Hood to begin planning. But just as the team arrived home, they were recalled to Scott Air Force Base. At Scott for the second time, the 4th Infantry Division team was informed of a new concept of operations that retained the main effort of attack from Kuwait but added a supporting effort by the 4th Infantry through Turkey into northern Iraq. This supporting attack would fix 25 Iraqi light infantry divisions in the north enhancing the main effort’s chances to overwhelm the enemy in the south and take Baghdad. The 4th ID was provided a multi-component task organization that included National Guard, Army Reserve units, and the Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza, Italy. The division was told to plan to conduct the reception, staging, and onward movement independently—meaning no assistance from forces station in Europe. The team returned to Fort Hood, and the initial planning process began. Each plans team member was asked to think through what they needed to know and began to develop a list of questions to answer.

As the team started answering these questions, it started to get a better feel for the organization. The commanding general received an update from his plans team every other week on developments and spoke with his plans chief every week to keep the chief abreast of his evolving concept. The plans team met twice a day, every day to hash out answers to questions and to think of new questions.

Major General Odierno specifically wanted to conduct integration (the 4th component of the reception, staging, onward movement, and integration program) before, during, and after the strategic maneuver. He wanted no delay in the process. He brought the leaders from the entire task force (active, Reserve and National Guard components) into the planning process early to get their input and seek buy-in. He conducted his operations updates with the goal of keeping the entire leadership team integrated into the situation. He maintained these updates throughout the deployment. When he moved overseas, the forward command post took over production of the updates until the Main Command Post arrived.

Entry ports for the division were a big concern in deployment planning. The deepest ports available in Turkey had a cargo pier depth of 35 feet or less. There was some reference to a dredging operation at the Port of Iskenderun but in talking with the local US team, that operation was delayed. The fastest ships in the strategic maneuver fleet are the Fast Sealift Ships (FSS) that can transit from the US to the area of operations in 12 days. The problem was they needed 37 feet when fully loaded. At the time, there were eight FSSs available but with a requirement to move two other divisions, an ACR, and theater opening/sustainment elements. The team felt that USTRANSCOM would not support the use of the FSSs, especially if the 4th ID could only load them at 50 percent of capacity. So the plans team started looking at the RRF (Ready Reserve Force) ships. These ships are somewhat smaller and have a shallower draft making them perfect for any port in Turkey.

Brigadier General Speakes, 4th ID Deputy Commanding General (Support), then requested a meeting with Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC) Director of Operations, Brigadier General Barbara Doornink. Fortunately, the division had made an effort to include MTMC in the deployment team. After being briefed on the situation, the tactical plan, and the limits of the port, she concurred with the analysis. The division requested 32 of the 35 available RRF ships but Doornink provided all 35 (33 were actually used in the deployment). She said MTMC would start the activation process once the order was given but that the division should anticipate the arrival of ships within five days from notification. The RRF has come a long way since Desert Shield/Desert Storm when they could not activate many of the ships and the 4th ID did not have an issue with any of the ships.9

Shortly after returning to Fort Hood from the corps planning meeting, Colonel Burton took the DTO and a logistics planner to Kuwait to get more information from US Central Command (CENTCOM) forward. In the meeting, then Lieutenant General David D. McKiernan described his intent for the 4th ID’s strategic maneuver into northern Iraq. It quickly became clear that fuel was going to be an issue. Overnight, the forward plans team looked at two possible solutions: having the tankers travel with the unit and then have follow-on tankers drive forward and transfer the fuel and using the divisional tanker to make turns between fuel farms established bases on the road march refuel distances for the M1s. The team compared the alternatives and determined the first method added too much risk to the mission.

Refining the concept of operations, the division plans team cut up sticky notes to represent each tanker in the task force and established locations to build fuel bag farms. The team determined the number of tankers needed to keep the fuel farms full by making turns between the bag farms. This analysis revealed the logistics assets in the task force could support the movement and employment of Force Package 1 to just north of Mosul, which was the desired limit of advance, as long as the assets were front-loaded. Force Package 1, as described by Burton, consisted of two mechanized infantry battalions and one heavy armored battalion. The next morning, the team briefed the need to push all the division’s logistics assets up front with Force Package 1 in order to meet the limit of advance by the prescribed time. McKiernan then asked how many ships this would take and, when told it would take between 8 and 10 ships, he gave the green light to the 4th ID plan.

The next step was to begin to refine the force packages central to Major General Odierno’s concept of the operation. The commander’s intent to ship combat ready force packages would inevitably lead to sub-optimal ship loading. The ships had not yet been identified, and their sequence of arrival at the port for embarkation was unknown. RRF ships do not have a standard configuration so the generic force packages designed would have to be modified after identification until actual loading of the ships, but this was an essential first step. Division leaders, particularly the brigade executive officers and S3s, together with the direct reporting units came together to identify the necessary capabilities for each force package. As a defensive measure, the division avoided loading all tanks or HMMWVs on any one ship. The 4th ID wanted each package to have an ability to move together and build immediate combat power. The analysis brief to McKiernan also meant the division had to front-load the logistics to conduct and support the reception, staging, and onward movement at the destination.

These types of force packages are discussed in general during classes at CGSC and the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) and in more detail in the division transportation officer elective. However, when it came time to actually design the division force packages, it was much more difficult than the classroom assignments. Some commanders had specific desires to maintain absolute unit integrity down to the platoon level. This would make it easier for the brigades to track equipment and require less manpower to execute. Additionally, the division had port restrictions, weather concerns, and had units arriving from 18 installations to three different loading ports via rail, line-haul, and convoy. The sequencing of equipment arrival at port was critical. The port areas were limited. so the division could not just send large amounts of equipment to the port, store it until it was needed, and then load as the space became available. The division did have a reserve location at Fort Hood and a small one at each port. If something did not fit on the ship at pier, the division would bump to the next ship. If space was available, the division could send something from the small port lot or line-haul something from Fort Hood. The 4th ID had line-haul trucks standing by, ready to load within an hour of the request. This is another reason why eventually placing the brigade executive officer at the port was essential; he knew the unit’s equipment and knew what specific pieces to call forward to meet the commander’s intent, nested within the division concept.

Odierno had the plans team conduct several rehearsals of the strategic maneuver and initial operations. With the assistance of the Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) team (today’s Mission Command Training Program or MCTP), the division conducted a senior leader rehearsal to ensure all key leaders had completely absorbed the commander’s intent and concept of operation. The Fort Leavenworth group brought up key points of concern, which were incorporated into the plan. Key to the success of the rehearsals was the presence of the supporting organizations and their leadership, e.g. the seaport commander, the airfield commander, Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC—now Surface Deployment and Distribution Command), and Air Mobility Command. They were able to clearly articulate their processes and limitations so all the subordinate leaders could have a clear understanding of the situation. After this last rehearsal, the operations team took over the operation. The plans team then started working branches and sequels.

The division commander’s link into the transportation structure is the DTO. Of course, the division commander can engage personally, but if the division has a quality DTO, it will allow others to focus their attention on leading Soldiers. In conducting a strategic maneuver, the DTO and associated MCT will need to phase their deployment and array across the spectrum of the deployment with the division transportation officer positioned where the most impact is needed.

It is appropriate to briefly describe the DTO’s plan for internal operations within the overall strategic maneuver. At Fort Hood, the DTO first requested their designated Movement Control Team (MCT) be assigned immediately. The team came with six personnel, a first lieutenant, sergeant first class, and three specialists. These were integrated with the DTO staff consisting of a major, first lieutenant, chief warrant officer 2, sergeant major, sergeant first class, and a specialist who were organized into two teams working 12-hour shifts. A team (one first lieutenant and one specialist per 12-hour shift) was integrated into the G-3 operations center 24 hours a day. The DTO sergeant major and sergeant first class maintained contact with the plans team. The mobility warrant officer was responsible to ensure the Joint Operations, Planning, and Execution System (JOPES) data was correct and to serve as the subject matter expert for the various meetings, if the division transportation officer was needed elsewhere. At 0900 daily, the DTO would host a conference call with MTMC, USTRANSCOM, MSC, AMC, BNSF Railroad, CSX Railroad, KC Southern railroad, ITO, CTO, and brigade combat team unit movement officers (UMO) to synchronize all elements for the next 24, 48, and 72 hours. To maintain control throughout the strategic maneuver, it was necessary to establish a DTO forward, DTO main, and DTO rear. The plan was for the first lieutenant, sergeant major, and specialist to serve as the DTO forward and deploy on the first aircraft. Their vehicle was on the first ship and loaded with the radios and key material needed to control the movement. DTO main would jump forward at the tail end of Force Package 1. The intent was to replace DTO forward at the SPOD, allowing them to move forward and prepare to assist the movement of the remaining force packages. DTO rear would stay in place until the last aircraft departed. Major General Odierno was very specific about maximum utilization of assets provided. The DTO stayed at home station to control the synchronization with his movement tied to the chief of staff’s movement.


To improve is to change; so to be perfect is to have changed often.10
—Winston Churchill

On 4 January 2003, the deployment order was issued. Assistant Division Commander (Support), Brigadier General Stephen M. Speakes called a meeting and reviewed the order. The order was actually anti-climactic because so much work had been done in preparation that the division knew exactly what to do. The division operations order was issued and things long planned and rehearsed started happening. Synchronizing the movement to port and loading the ships and aircraft were significant undertakings requiring direct leadership involvement from all elements. But in the midst of this well planned operation, a change in the political situation necessitated a radical shift in the plan, highlighting the need for continual situational awareness and improvisation.

The 4th ID had long had its operations center open, but once the order was issued, the installation established their operations center and opened the railhead, the line-haul upload site, and container staging location, all by 14 January 2003. III Corps established their operations center. The division held a daily unit movement officer meeting to gather key information to maintain situational awareness and to set the conditions for the next 48 hours. The task force would discuss what specific equipment was ready to move to the rail, line-haul or convoy staging areas, and as the deployment progressed, the task force added in personnel movement. While the division commander’s intent is provided by the DTO, the actual movements are the responsibility of the local installation transportation offices. These daily meetings with the deployment supporters were instrumental in the task force’s success. Having a positive working relationship with all the key supporting and enabling organizations is absolutely essential.

As an example, prior to the start of the operation, the division had developed mutual trust that helped work through some very specific requirements. The task force did not want any vehicles loaded on the trains to stop once they left the installation in order to prevent theft and vandalism. The railroads understood the requirement and agreed to this request without hesitation. The task force also requested that they would not move trains unless the task force called them forward in the morning synchronization meeting in order to avoid overloading the small holding areas in the port. This worked well except for one case, which illustrates the need for detailed synchronization.

Concerned that an impending snowstorm would delay a key movement, the division launched a train from Fort Carson to the port of Corpus Christi ahead of the agreed-upon schedule. Despite the efforts to delay the arrival (without stopping along the route), the train ended up arriving out of sequence. As a result, the train was sent to the Northside General Cargo Terminal at the port. Unfortunately, the ship capable of loading that unit’s equipment was unable to dock on the Northside due to size of the pier and depth of the north port. As a further complication, the bridges between the north and south terminals were not rated for tanks and other heavy equipment to transit, so the unit had to download the equipment to clear the track space for inbound equipment, and then upload to other railcars to move the heavy vehicles to the Southside General Cargo Terminal. Well-meaning actions can place the entire timeline in jeopardy and may require extensive manpower to rectify the situation. As it turned out, this early movement only slightly delayed the loading, but it created additional work and frustration for the troops. It is important to understand that when someone in the division has a good idea for adjusting while the maneuver is underway, everyone must understand the real impact of the thought. It is easy to brush over the impact and then get upset when things get muddled.

Another key to a successful strategic maneuver is the importance of involving all of the division’s field grade leadership at the key nodes, e.g. rail upload, ship upload, airfield, and processing center. It was impossible for the DTO to go to each location to resolve conflicts. The task force specifically placed the brigade and battalion executive officers at the port since it was such a complex aspect of the movement. They would call the DTO directly and provide eyes on information. They all knew each other from attending CGSC together, so there was a level of trust already formed. By doing this, the commanders at all levels could stay focused on the upcoming fight and maintain their level of integration.

In the daily updates, the division commander was concerned about his combat power. The fact that Task Force Ironhorse was deploying as force packages lent itself to articulating this capability to the commanding general. Interpreting combat potential was built from the key details provided by the unit movement officers that was captured by the DTO on a massive excel spreadsheet. Using that information, the plans and operations teams could build “what-if” scenarios if ships were reordered, delayed, or lost. Then as ships were offloading, the operations team could articulate actual available combat potential to the commander who would know immediately what he had available on the ground as well as what remained afloat so he could change his plans.

Personnel movement was keyed to equipment movement. The commander’s intent was that all Soldiers would get two weeks off just prior to deploying. Thus commanders had to build a plan where they continued to train and then sequence leaves appropriately; early deployers went on leave while the later deployers worked. In the original division plan, the personnel for a particular force package would start their 10 days of leave as soon as their force package was loaded. Personnel movement would start at the end of the leave period. The division knew it would take more than 10 days to load out the division so there was a need for the executive officer’s and S3’s involvement, along with the UMOs, to control transport and loading without wasting any available space on the ships or the aircraft. As the early deployers came back from leave, they prepared themselves for aerial deployment. While this might seem easy, it was not. Since Turkey had not approved the landing yet, there was no arrival date. The plans team provided planning considerations for Soldiers to download equipment and provided a coordinated plan to the commanding general, which he approved. The plan was adjusted as the dates started slipping. The status of the task force personnel was tracked at the daily operations update. This enabled the commanding general to maintain situational awareness of his combat potential.

The major change to the plan was the refusal of Turkey to allow the United States to transit their country to attack Iraq. This development seemed to happen in slow motion, and in hindsight, it was revealed that General Franks kept up the hopeless effort to change their minds as a way to maintain the threat of a northern attack and force the Iraqi high command to maintain their forces in the north. At the division level, this had several effects.11

One effect was the delay allowed the division to complete shipborne equipment load out prior to the start of the passenger movement, but that did not seem to slow down the operations tempo. As ships were en route to Turkey and the division started to get word that Turkey might not allow the division to come through their country, the commander needed information at hand should he have to make a decision on another course of action. To provide this, the status of the movement was updated and briefed twice each day. The ships loitered in the Mediterranean Sea so long many had to dock in Cyprus to refuel and refit. This of course changed the sequencing so maintaining an understanding of the status of each ship, and hence the force packages, was critical. USTRANSCOM was great at providing the information needed to keep the division commander and subordinate commanders aware of the situation.

Long before the final determination was made, the division operations staff and logisticians began to plan for the contingency of landing at another, as yet undetermined, port. Odierno’s thought experiment for his staff back at the beginning of his time in command paid dividends here. The plans team had worked through a scenario using Kuwait as an entrance to the theater; now it was time to dust off that plan and make adjustments based on the actual loading of the equipment and the situation of the fleet. The capability of each force package was reviewed and considered in terms of a potential new mission to enter theater from the south.

When the order was given to move the destination to Kuwait, the main considerations for revising the draft plan are listed in the call out box. The division needed to sequence the fleet through the Suez Canal. Based on USTRANSCOM data on the locations and speeds of the ships and the data collected during load out on the force package contents of each ship, the division staff needed to launch the ships to sequence a continuous flow through the Suez Canal that would provide the forces and equipment necessary to give the commander options. The task force did not just launch the #1 ship first. As an example, ship #8 was slower and closer to the canal. So, the task force launched ship #8 to get it through the canal without slowing the movement of the rest of the ships. Right behind #8 was #4 then #1 and #2, followed by #7, #5, #6, and then #3. In hindsight, because of the administrative nature of the landings, it would not have mattered, but the task force did this so the division commander could launch combat power if the ground component commander needed something fast. The task force’s job was to give our division commander options, and the plans and operations teams worked together to do that.

Now that the division had the ships beginning their final movement to Kuwait, it was time to focus on the air movement and getting a leadership presence in theater to gain a greater understanding and to oversee the building of combat power. The division commander’s intent for the air movement was to leave no less than one percent of the seats empty on each aircraft. Filling every seat would have required having people on standby to deploy, many of whom would have had to say goodbye to their family multiple times, which was unacceptable.

The division commander left the DTO back to ensure his intent was met on each aircraft. In fact, that was part of the briefing during the updates. The DTO managed the movement using a similar process as the equipment movement. Every night, there was a movements meeting where unit movement officers, executive officer, and first sergeants would attend to update the personnel they planned to deploy over the next 72 hours based on the airflow schedule provided by USTRANSCOM. It was a difficult balance and the UMOs, executive officers, and S3s were instrumental in making this happen again. It cannot be overemphasized how important it was for the entire team to take an active role in this maneuver. The typical movement process had the UMOs loading unit line numbers (ULNs) for each unit but the task force found that was too cumbersome. So the task force used one ULN for the entire division and then used an internal tracking mechanism to ensure everyone and every ULN was accounted for. This was a time consuming but necessary step. In the end, the division met the commanding general’s intent.

• Revised mission and concept of the operation?                            
• Force package composition?                            
• Which ships combined brought the tactical capabilities needed?                            
• Order in which capabilities were needed?                            
• Speed of the ships (capable of making a different speed)?                            
• Detailed location of the ships? s                            
• Status of fuel onboard?                            
• Weather?                            

  NOTE: Ports were not really an issue since they could easily handle the relatively shallow draft Ready Reserve Force ships.

One of Odierno’s key concepts in the operation was early and continuous integration of all elements of the task force, and this concept helped overcome confusion as the situation evolved. Each subordinate leader and his staff were aware of the changes to the mission, administration, and concept. So when the ships full of equipment arrived in theater to a different port and in a different order, the download teams were already on hand to receive the equipment. Each unit’s advanced parties moved the equipment from the ports of debarkation to their staging bases and, as the unit personnel arrived by air, they married up with their equipment at those staging bases. Because they were already familiar with the situation, all they needed was a quick update and they were ready to move forward. However, that simple sounding “move forward” contained yet another significant element to the strategic maneuver − transporting the division 684 kilometers from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Unlike so many other aspects of the deployment, this was a new aspect to the plan. The commander decided that the division would use heavy equipment transporters (HETs) to move the tanks and other heavy vehicles to Baghdad to reduce the stress on the equipment and ensure greater effectiveness for the tactical operations. After his staff calculated that the division needed more than 1,200 HETs movements to accomplish this − far beyond the division’s capacity − Odierno acquired five HET companies to accomplish the mission. He assigned the command and control of the five companies to the 180th Transportation Headquarters element from Fort Hood, Texas, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel David Cotter. At Fort Hood, the 180th Headquarters commanded the HETs companies, so it made sense to use them. Responsibility for uploading the heavy equipment on the HETS in Kuwait, and their download just south of Baghdad, was given to the Division’s Chemical Company under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Vance Vasser. The DTO sent one of his MCTs forward to the download site to provide incoming and return vehicle information. It was critical to get each HET downloaded and back to Kuwait as fast as possible to ensure the most efficient movement of the division north. In the middle of the movement, the Army Central (ARCENT) commander directed a halt to the Task Force Ironhorse movement to allow 3rd ACR to utilize the HETs and move into position to protect the flank of the operation west of Baghdad. Task Force Ironhorse provided the support to the movement of 3ACR as if it was a Task Force Ironhorse element. Realizing the right flank was unsecured, two elements, an infantry battalion and a field artillery battalion (multiple launch rocket system), were ordered to conduct a tactical road march to cover this flank. Both commanders provided a detailed movement plan, which was approved by the ARCENT commander, and conducted the movement flawlessly, providing information at all checkpoints. The information helped the division conduct the remaining movement forward. As the heavy equipment moved forward Class IV re-supply was placed in the available spaces on the HETs, thus reducing total transportation requirements. In this efficient and effective use of space the MCT was essential.

Finally, this deployment was similar to an operation the division had begun to plan earlier, which illustrates the use of non-combat deployments for training in complex strategic movements. The 1st Brigade Combat Team, then commanded by Colonel Donald Campbell, was headed out to the National Training Center for a training rotation. One force package for the brigade combat team would move to NTC via rail as usual. Another would go to Seattle by rail, then upload on an Army LMSR (Large, Medium speed, Roll-on/Roll-off ship). It would then download the equipment at Port Hueneme, California, and complete the move to the National Training Center by line-haul and convoy. The division was working some additional options for the brigade to sail out of Corpus Christi but didn’t get to execute either plan because the combat deployment began to become a reality. But the planning effort to make deployment training more realistic can be seen reflected in the actual movement of the division.


The strategic maneuver of Task Force Ironhorse in 2003 provides a good case study to begin to prepare for the contested deployment of a heavy division in the future. Given the current stationing posture of US forces, projecting land combat power globally will be an ongoing requirement. It can be practiced and prepared for in deployment to the National Training Center or humanitarian relief. Rather than approach the deployment of the division as an administrative movement, commanders are well advised to begin selecting, training, and building their teams with an expeditionary mindset well before the mission appears. This expeditionary mindset sees the movement to theater as a part of the strategic maneuver. They approach the deployment as a part of the tactical concept, making sure their staff understands how the deployment itself fits into the next phase of the operation and that they incorporate this into their planning. Relationships and coordination with external team members are critical for success, and periodic updates for all team members is a time-tested and approved way to synchronize internal and external members of the division team. In the 2003 deployment of the 4th ID force, packaging proved itself as a planning concept that gives the commander combat relevant options in the face of a changing situation. Detailed plans will not survive contact with reality, much less the enemy, but they form the basis for rapid adjustments as circumstances evolve. A vigorous and imaginative execution of the plan helps achieve the desired end state. Finally, the commanders at all levels must actively participate in the entire process. While the 4th ID’s experience is 2003 is not a blueprint for every situation, it does provide a historical example that will reward thoughtful consideration.


  1. Logistics Readiness Center “Transportation Division,” accessed 14 May 2018, http://gordon.army.mil/garrison_old/dol/Transportation/Transportation.htm.
  2. Department of the Army, Army Training Publication (ATP) 4-16, Movement Control (Washington, DC: April 2013), Chapter 4.
  3. ATP 4-16, 2-1.
  4. ATP 4-16, 2-3.
  5. ATP 4-16, 2-2.
  6. The quote is sometimes given, “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.” According to Quote Investigator (accessed 2 May 2018, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/05/22/solve/), it is not found in Einstein’s collected papers and was first attributed to him in 1973. It has, nevertheless, since gained wide acceptance.
  7. Julia Sloan, Learning to Think Strategically (New York: Routledge, 2014), 157.
  8. Military Sealift Command “MSC 2003 in Review” (accessed 11 May 2018, http://www.msc.navy.mil/annualreport/2003/pm5.htm) states the problem and solution as follows, “Since Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s, older RRF break-bulk ships have been replaced with newer and more efficient roll-on/roll-off ships. Significant improvements were made in RRF ship readiness, training, and management oversight as well. Where only 20 of 72 RRF ships were activated on time in Desert Storm, all but two were on time for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The RRF delivered 3.4 million square feet of cargo for Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
  9. Robert James, Winston Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897–1963 4 (New York: Chelsea House, 1974), 3706.
  10. Anthony H. Cordesman, The Iraq War: Strategy, Tactics, and Military Lessons (Westport, CT: Prager Publishers Inc., 2003), 58; Williamson Murray and Major General Robert H. Scales Jr., The Iraq War (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2005) 62. Additional difference and detail was provided in Leopold Scholtz, “Iraq 2003 (Part 2): The Road to Baghdad,” Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies 32, No. 1, 2004, 6: “Donald Rumsfeld told Central Command military personnel at the coalition HQ in Qatar that General Franks deliberately waited before diverting the division’s equipment from the sea off Turkey to the Gulf, to fool the Iraqis into believing that the offensive was not imminent. It also transpired that Saddam was being fed deliberate disinformation, that the Turkish hard-headedness was only a sham and that the main offensive would come from the north after all.”
Opening image of Ready Reserve Force ship MV Cape Texas rides out a storm in the Mediterranean Sea in early March 2003. Cape Texas and 30 other Ready Reserve Force (RRF) ships transported cargo for the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo courtesy of Military Sealift Command.