When the National Guard’s 42nd Infantry Division was tasked with commanding Task Force Liberty by replacing the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, the Department of Defense was well aware that history was in the making.
When the Rainbow Division replaced the Big Red One, it was the first National Guard division to command Active Duty troops in Iraq. Two Active Duty brigades from the 3rd Infantry Division would be part of the more than 18,000 active and reserve component Soldiers commanded by the 42nd in an Area of Operation that stretched from Baghdad in the south to Kirk ûk in the north.
Keeping those units combat-ready is the primary
mission of the Rainbow Division’s 50th Main Support
Battalion, New Jersey National Guard, and their commander,
Lt. Col. Roch Switlik.
“Being the primary logistics unit for the division, we provide all aspects of multi-functional logistics support, ranging from supply and services, maintenance, medical and transportation,” says Switlik. “We handle all classes of supply, from food and fuel, water and ammunition, major end items, new vehicles, supplies of all aspects, all the way through to repair parts for tanks and major equipment.”
All these items come through the MSB. The unit
receives, inventories, stores and distributes them to their
customers, and they have a very large clientele, according
“We support about 240 units on roughly 25 different
Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s), and we deliver to 10 of
those FOB’s. The Main Support Battalion to date [as of
June 2005] has produced and distributed approximately
four million gallons of water, we’ve delivered roughly one and
a half million gallons of fuel, completed 3,800 maintenance
work orders and treated more than 7,900 patients — not all
combat related, so it’s been a very, very busy 110 days.”
It’s been a long-held belief that for every “combat” Soldier on the front lines, there are several Soldiers in the rear providing support, but for some members of the 50th MSB, providing support in this asymmetrical war of no boundaries means leaving the relative safety of FOB Speicher in order to deliver supplies to customers.
“Being a logistical unit, you’re not typically expected
to be put in harm’s way,” says the 50th MSB’s executive
officer, Maj. Michael Lyons. “But this being an insurgency,
and not a doctrinal battlefield, we find ourselves more of a target than the brigade combat teams, when we’re out there, we do our own security for our own convoys, which we call Combat Logistics Patrols here, to emphasize to the Soldiers that every time you step out the gate you have to have your game face on, and you’ve got to be ready.”
“We run 10-15 [CLP’s] a week, and so far we have logged over 600,000 miles in theater in the last 110 days or so," notes Switlik. That’s more than half a million miles in three and a half months. And while those miles were not all accident-free, there were no combat injuries or fatalities to members of the 50th MSB.
A major reason why the unit has been so successful is due to the dedication of the battalion S2 and S3, who have worked to make sure that when the Soldiers leave the FOB, they have the best information and training available.
“We have a very good Intel and Operations section,” says Lyons. “They do a good job of keeping the Soldiers aware of what’s going on in the AO, because this province is very hot – a lot of action in this area – but I think the Soldiers when they leave the gate, are prepared for the mission, they have the latest Intel and they know the AO.”
“It boils down to the deliberate planning and the discipline of the Soldiers," notes Switlik. “We have a very methodical process that the Soldiers go through every day prior to leaving the FOB, and I think the training and the discipline of the Soldiers is what led to no significant accidents and no loss of life due to enemy contact.”
The commander proffers another reason why his Guardsmen have been so successful outside the wire. “From a decision-making perspective, the leadership in the Guard tends to be a little bit older, with a little more maturity and life experiences, and I think that is what makes them equal to, or in some cases, better than active duty Soldiers,” notes Switlik. “I would put this National Guard unit up against any of them.”