Marine convoy including seven-ton trucks during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
... With most of the basics of foot patrolling well covered, in the second week of our stay in Kuwait we shifted our training to emphasize convoy operations. Golf Company's first mission into Iraq was a three-day road trip north to Ramadi, and we wanted to be as prepared as possible. So each day I made Joker One practice jumping into and out of stationary Humvees and seven-ton trucks, the huge, fifteen-foot-high troop carriers that would be our primary people movers during the north-bound convoy. To a casual observer, the sight of thirty-seven fully loaded Marines bouncing all around unmoving vehicles for hours in the desert heat might have seemed ridiculous at best and sadistic at worst. However, I knew that the little things we learned during this endless repetition might very well make the difference between life and death.
In our world, basic tasks have to be repeatedly rehearsed in conditions mimicking predicted combat scenarios as faithfully as possible. For example, you can never be sure which small detail might mean the difference between exiting a vehicle a vehicle caught in an enemy ambush kill zone in two seconds or in ten. That kind of time differential can be fatal. Where is the door handle on the seven-ton truck? Do you have to pull it up or down to get out? How far is the drop out of the truck bed, and where exactly do you need to put your feet before you hurl yourself out the door? Once all the little questions have been answered, those answers must be practiced again and again until they become muscle memory. The Marines didn't like the mind-numbing repetitive nature of such drills, and they didn't exactly love the squad leaders and me for putting them through the endless rehearsals, but every time we did something tedious and painful, we tried to lay out the reason behind the drills to everyone. I became amazed at how much my men would tolerate if someone just took the time to explain the why of it all to them.
To make things even more reliable, the Ox (MBV: the company executive officer -- and yes, his nickname was "Ox.") managed to scavenge enough vehicles from the battalion to mount up all four Joker platoons. For lap after dull lap, we practiced responses to small IED ambushes, to civilian traffic jams, to herds of goats crossing the road, and to friendly vehicle breakdowns. . .
Once the exercise finished, Yebra and I trudged over to the seven-ton trucks that had been assigned to carry Joker One. The cab of each truck held only two people -- myself and a driver from the truck company in the first and the platoon sergeant and another assigned driver in the second. The rest of Joker One had to sit in the truck beds. Unfortunately, the seven-tons were still configured for movements back in the United States, where carrying capacity took precedence over personnel protection or fighting capability. As a result, a thin canvas covering was the only thing between the Marines and the open road. Furthermore, the benches in the back sat along the sides of the truck, forcing the Marines either to sit with their backs to the road or to twist painfully around for hours at a time, trying to scan their surroundings as their backs screamed at the unceasing torque. It had taken only a few rehearsals to convince us that this setup was impossible to handle for even an hour, let alone for a three-days-straight convoy to the heart of Iraq.
(MBV Note: "The speed with which tactical forces forget the main lessons from their collected experience, particularly those pertaining to weapons usage, would be difficult to overstate." -- S.L.A. Marshall, Commentary on Infantry Operations and Weapons Usage in Korea, Winter of 1950-51, p. 15
Hardening trucks and installing benches running down the center that faced outward so the troops could keep an eye on potential ambushers and use their weapons to repel them was old hat in the Republic of South Vietnam. See Circle the Wagons: The History of US Army Convoy Security by Richard E. Killblane.)
To help improve our protection, we lined the truck beds with as many sandbags as each vehicle could safely carry. They wouldn't cover people above their waists, but the bags were certainly better than nothing. The entire company scavenged Camp Commando for benches that we could put into two lines down the center of the seven-tons so that Marines could sit back-to-back, facing outward without having to twist themselves for hours. We had no luck, so the CO instructed each platoon to come up with two designs apiece for centerline benches using only what we could carry with us" boxes of MREs, crates of water, and our own duffel bags. The best design would be standardized and used throughout the entire company.
Hes, Quist, and Flowers -- the engineer -- had each come up with his own design, and they put their platoons to work constructing what they had planned. I hadn't been able to think of anything particularly clever, or different, so I called Noriel, Leza and Bowen together and explained what the CO wanted and why he wanted it. They all nodded as I went along. Many painful hours spent twisted in the back of the seven-tons had convinced my squad leaders of the absolute imperative for the centerline benches. Once finished, I turned them over to their squads. Noriel and Leza got to work on one truck, and Bowen and his men took another.
As much as I wanted to direct their efforts, to appear the in-charge leader who knew exactly how things should turn out, two minutes of observation convinced me that my men working together would create something far better than I would working on my own. Bowen had his guys huddled around him, and was explaining to them what I had explained to him, and design suggestions flew back and forth. Noriel and Leza were doing the same thing with the same results. After five minutes, the squads had broken up, and the seven-tons swarmed with Joker One Marines. Bowen took position at the head of the truck bed, standing atop two huge green duffel bags as he directed his men's efforts, blouse off and tattoos straining as he lifted here, pointed there. Noriel did the same thing in his truck while Leza moved about on the ground, shunting men from one vehicle to another depending on the manpower needed for each.
Fully involved in the process, the Marines worked with a vengeance. The stocky, muscular Guzon shunted back and forth tirelessly, usually with at least two huge packs slung across his shoulders. Henderson, as it turned out, was a car wizard, and many of the best suggestions for load configuration came from him. Ideas were tested and discarded, gear was arranged and rearranged, and slowly but surely, two centerline benches began taking shape in each vehicle. Nearly every one of my men had a suggestion for how to do something better, and sometimes the smallest ideas -- such as interweaving the handles of the duffel bags for greater stability -- made the biggest difference. Standing on the side, carrying the occasional bag or case of water, I looked for opportunities to give directions, but they didn't need it. Nearly an hour later, Noriel and Bowen pulled me up into their trucks to show off their handiwork. Both designs were good, but Bowen's was best; it would become the company standard. . .
On the evening of March 3, I surveyed my Marines for the last time before crossing into Iraq. . . Noriel, Leza, and Bowen were doing much the same thing: giving their men one last look-over, walking around the vehicles, checking on the gear. They appeared focused and busy. . .
The canvas sides that covered the top half of the truck beds had been rolled up, so I could see the silhouettes of my Marines settled into the bed behind me. -- Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood by 1LT Donovan Campbell, pp. 70-79.