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Greetings Mission Planners,

As you might expect, news is on the thin side.  PFPS 3.3.1 continues in Developmental Testing (DT) at Eglin AFB and preparations continue for the Mission Planning User's Conference (MPUC), scheduled for the week of February 9th in Las Vegas.  The class schedule has been posted in the MPUC section of the MPSSF's Website (need to log on to get to the MPUC part).  Don't forget Barry Roslin from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is looking for questions that folks want answers to or discussions on at MPUC.  

When Saddam Hussein was captured most people focused on Saddam stroking his beard, but if take a look behind him you'll notice a TLM 1:100K chart.  Despite our focus on high tech and computerized mapping there's still a place for a wall covered by paper charts.  Of course if you don't have a wall, want to update vectors, use while on the move etc. you'll realize some of the limitations paper charts will always have.


Mission Planning Tip:  Attack on the 507th Maintenance Company

Although it's been almost 10 months since the 507th Maintenance Company's convoy was attacked in Al Nasiriyah, most people (including those in the Military) have little understanding of what happened that day.  Media coverage has focused on individual personalities with very little attention to what happened, why it happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.  That's a shame, because most of the key facts are in the public domain, in a report released by the Army.  I strongly recommend reading the full report at:  You can download the report as an Acrobat or Word Document.  

When you read the report keep in mind that the convoy was traveling with for Garmin eTrex GPS units.  There is no indication that any of the units malfunctioned or gave faulty readouts.  A few brief excerpts:

The Operations Officer of the 3d FSB gave CPT King, the commander of the 507th, a CD-ROM disc that contained orders and route information. Route information consisted of the battalion orders briefing and annotated large-scale maps. The 507th had commercial Global Positioning Systems (GPS) (Garmin, ETREX VISTA), (FIGURE 2), which had been issued in the United States prior to deployment. The GPS gave CPT King directional signals via a display arrow that indicated the direction and distance the convoy should go. Five additional GPS were distributed to other leaders in the company. The unit was also issued 1:100,000 scale maps of the area of operations-- the theater standard. The review of this incident revealed that CPT King relied primarily on his GPS and one of the annotated maps from the orders brief while traveling in his HMMWV(See FIGURE 1 – Note the map from the brief did not have Routes and Objectives annotated here for clarity). CPT King had highlighted only ROUTE BLUE on the annotated map, and believed in error that BLUE was his assigned route.

Figure 1

Unable to communicate with the 3d FSB, CPT King attempted to catch up with the 3d FSB main convoy by deciding to take the most direct route ( a straight line azimuth) to Highway 8. This route proved to be extremely difficult, over rough terrain, once again resulting in vehicles becoming bogged down in the sand. It took the unit five hours to reach Highway 8 [ROUTE BLUE] about 15 kilometers away. At this point, 42 hours had passed since the 507th had departed ATTACK POSITION DAWSON. Except for a 10-hour stop at DAWSON, the 507th had been continuously moving. Most Soldiers had slept only a few hours since the morning of the 20th and were in their second consecutive night of movement.

After traveling west on Highway 8, the convoy reached the intersection with Highway 1, ROUTE JACKSON, the assigned route for 3d FSB. The road on which ROUTE JACKSON was designated led southwest of An Nasiriyah, eventually intersecting again with ROUTE BLUE, east of OBJECTIVE RAMS. The initial entrance to ROUTE JACKSON required a left turn at this intersection, where a manned Traffic Control Point (TCP) was planned to direct traffic. When the convoy arrived at this intersection, U.S. personnel were present, but by this time there was no formal TCP. CPT King states that the personnel that were present confirmed that BLUE continued North. Believing ROUTE BLUE was his assigned route, CPT King led his convoy through the intersection and headed north on Highway 8, towards An Nasiriyah in the general direction indicated by his GPS receiver – the waypoint west of An Nasiriyah.

Figure 5

At about 0530 hours, the convoy stopped when CPT King saw lights ahead, which he believed to be an industrial complex or an oil refinery. He conferred with 1SG Dowdy and decided to continue. At an intersection south of An Nasiriyah, Highway 8--ROUTE BLUE-- turned west, requiring a left turn. CPT King did not recognize this and led his convoy straight North through the intersection and on to Route 7/8, exiting ROUTE BLUE. Route 7/8 led the convoy across the Euphrates River into the eastern outskirts of An Nasiriyah. (See FIGURE 5) An Nasiriyah is flanked by the Euphrates River in the south and a series of man-made canals in the north. It is a city characterized by buildings no greater than four to five stories in height, with many narrow streets and alleyways. The surrounding areas of An Nasiriyah, including the roadsides along the route taken by the 507th, are marshlands that have been partially-drained, consisting of soft sand and mud.

Figure 7

On its way through the city, the convoy crossed a bridge over the Euphrates River and then another over a canal before coming to a “T” intersection with Highway 16 (See FIGURE 7). CPT King led the convoy left at this intersection, believing that he was still on his assigned route. The convoy soon reached another “T” intersection with Highway 7, at which time CPT King turned right, heading north with the rest of the convoy following. CPT King continued to move the convoy north and out of the city for approximately 2 kilometers. At this point, King realized, for the first time, that the convoy was off ROUTE BLUE. CPT King stopped the convoy and set up security. His GPS indicated that the main convoy route lay due west. There appeared to be no hard surface roads leading west from his location. After conferring with 1SG Dowdy, CPT King decided to retrace their route back through An Nasiriyah to find ROUTE BLUE/Highway 8. Realizing that he was off the convoy route, he instructed his Soldiers to “lock and load” their weapons and to be vigilant. SFC Pierce reiterated these instructions to all Soldiers. In some of the vehicles, Soldiers took the halt as an opportunity to change drivers. King then began turning the convoy around. This would be the first of two U-turns by the convoy.

The story of the 507th is Tragic, but it demonstrates again that a GPS alone doesn't provide situational awareness.  Perfect knowledge of Latitude and Longitude couldn't prevent a misunderstanding of what route was assigned or prevent missing a turn to stay on that (mistaken) route.  

What could have prevented these problems?  The convoy's Garmin GPS's could hold 1,000 waypoints and 20 routes (up to 125 points per route).  If ROUTE BLUE had been loaded the 507th would have remained south of the Euphrates (albeit along the wrong route), not in Nasiriyah.  A serious mistake would have been made (following ROUTE BLUE instead of ROUTE JACKSON) but the convoy wouldn't have driven through Nasiriyah twice.

Does the DoD have software to load a Garmin GPS?  Absolutely.  Every release of PFPS (since 3.2) has included the Handheld GPS AWE (developed at Eglin by Tybrin Contractors)  which loads Military GPS units like the PLGR/EPLGR and the far more common Garmin units.  The Handheld AWE was paid for by SOF, but that doesn't keep anyone from using it.  

Does this mean someone was "at fault" for the 507th not loading their GPS's? Certainly not.  While PFPS awareness is increasing throughout the Military, knowledge is still primarily in Aviation, SOF and Intel units.  In Pilot Training our instructors always emphasized the "Accident Chain".  Every accident is normally the result of numerous decisions and as pilots we were the last in line to "break the Accident Chain."  A GPS loaded with the planned movement routes would have broken this Accidents Chain at the turn south of Nasiriyah.

Its incumbent on those of us who use PFPS to reach out to those who need to use PFPS.  They may not think they need to use PFPS and may not think they "Mission Plan" but the lessons from the 507th show that anyone who uses a GPS, heck anyone who draws lines on maps is a Mission Planner.   In some cases you'll find "non-traditional" Mission Planners already taking advantage of PFPS (one report had  an OIF Patriot Battalion printing planned movements on FalconView "strip charts"), but you'll find others blissfully (or belligerently) ignorant. 

Finally, any discussion of the 507th would be incomplete without mentioning the heroism displayed by someone whose name you've likely never heard - 1st Sgt. Robert Dowdy.  1SG Dowdy worked tirelessly in the rear of the convoy to keep folks moving as rapidly as possible, pick up survivors and identify navigation errors made by others.  He remained calm and focused in spite of the chaotic battle raging around him, saved lives and reminds us again of our heavy debt we owe to our Noncommissioned Officers.  1SG Dowdy was killed when his HMMWV was hit by Iraqi fire.