We have a few small details to add to this morning’s 507th post.
Some bright spark at the El Paso Times requested, after hearing how the unit managed to have M16A2s, M249s and an M2 all go tango uniform in combat, something that seemed reasonable to the reporter: all the records about the weapons. We didn’t find the original article online, but believe that this repost here is authentic.
…all records and documents about the weapons that jammed during the March 23 ambush that led to the death of nine Fort Bliss soldiers were destroyed in the Iraqi attack and that there is no way to trace the weapons’ histories.
The Army, responding to an El Paso Times request under the Freedom of Information Act, said any official information about the weapons used by Fort Bliss’ 507th Maintenance Company was lost on a supply truck taken into combat.
The disclosure that the records were lost shocked, bewildered and further angered relatives of soldiers who were killed in the early morning ambush, which is among the worst losses for the U.S. military during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition to the nine Fort Bliss soldiers killed, two from the 3rd Forward Support Battalion were killed, five soldiers were wounded, and seven soldiers were taken prisoner.
“Capt. Troy King (507th commander) stated that he does not have any historical data on weapons involved in the enemy contact,” June Bates, Fort Bliss freedom of information officer, said in a written response. “He lost his motorpool truck and all documentation.”
Bates said King’s records, which were kept in the motor pool, were stored in his supply truck, which was also “involved in the enemy contact.”
This is a little bit disingenuous, because even in 2003 the 507th, like any unit, would have had a property book maintained on computer at a higher level. For example, the 507th’s superior unit would have had a computer run of all the unit’s property, which would have to be reconciled at intervals (annually, or at a change of command, or on deployment/redeployment) with the property actually on hand. Most everyone who’s served a hitch in the Army has endured a property inventory. In 2003, it would have required unit commanders and logistics officers/NCOs to work off a green-and-white-banded, impact-printed inventory. This document records every single piece of organizational property by NSN, quantity, and, in the case of sensitive and serial-numbered items like weapons and optics, serial number.
So all of the 507th’s paperwork could go up in smoke, but two pieces of information clearly at hand were the serial number inventory of the unit’s weapons as-supplied-by-higher, plus, the serial number inventory of the surviving weapons. The only thing you can’t do without the company level records is determine what individual was assigned which weapon. You might be missing nine M16A2 rifles, and know their serial numbers, but you can’t say that this one was the one used by SGT Walters and this other one was 1SG Dowdy’s. Those assignments are lost (although there’s a long-shot possibility some of the soldiers who lost their weapons but survived, the wounded and captured troopers, might actually know their rifle’s serial number. About 1 in 20 soldiers seems to memorize this).
The paper doesn’t seem to know what they were asking for, or where to get it from, or how to ask for it. Soldier-hating journalists that they were, they were looking for some “gotcha” that they didn’t get.
The El Paso Times had requested the history of 31 weapons the soldiers carried during the ambush. The request sought information about weapon repairs, the weapons’ ages, and the manufacturer and condition of each weapon assigned to the 507th soldiers involved in the attack.
The Army does not maintain longitudinal records on individual weapons at all, which may be a mistake. This is one of the reasons for the shot-counter initiatives we’ve seen in these pages several times. We’ve also seen that, while the Army insists they’re fully equivalent, an arsenal-rebuilt weapon is statistically less reliable than a new one. Those two claims are actually both true, as impossible and contradictory as that sounds. The reason is, the Army has a criterion-referenced standard for weapons that both new and rebuilt weapons must meet. But, unlike the Army’s own depots, where a reject just goes back through until it passes, it’s a big deal when a new weapon coming in from an industrial manufacturer like Colt, FNH or General Dynamics-Saco doesn’t meet standard, and it leads to some pain and suffering for the manufacturer. As a result, they inspect parts, processes and weapons to a higher standard to ensure that the low tail of the bell curve still clears the Army’s criterion.
Because personnel files were lost in the ambush and no duplicates exist, the 507th is now trying to re-create the information. Also, [Ft Bliss Spokesman Jean] Offutt said, some of the weapons the 507th used haven’t been recovered.
“But shortly before the soldiers deployed, all of the weapons were certified and serviceable,” Offutt said. “The weapons were fired on the firing range before they deployed.”
Again, all that means is that the weapons were Technically Inspected (TI’d) prior to the deployment and met in-service standards for that particular weapon. As we’ve also often stated, in-service standards are considerably lower than initial-acceptance standards, because they make allowance for wear and tear, and all the slings and arrows of field use by the American GI, which can include using a pistol for a hammer, and a rifle barrel for a pry bar. The example we use in explaining the standard is the M16A1 technical standard for group size: a new gun must meet a fairly loose specification of 4 MOA, but a gun is not taken out of service for dispersion until its groups are over 7 MOA.
Please read the comments on the earlier post. Kirk has a particularly good one, but it’s not the only good one by any means.
It’s all fine and good to practice maneuver warfare and tell yourself you’re punching through the enemy’s resistance and bypassing his pocketed troops. but if you’re going to do that, having the Tail-End Charlie of your corps movement be a combat service support unit that is completely lacking in the experience and mindset of combat arms units is not a good idea.
The soldiers of the 507th did well when you consider that they were a unit expected to be, “in the rear, with the gear,” but found themselves fighting against enemy regulars, regulars, and even tanks.
Their sacrifice was not in vain, because the Army has considerably increased weapons and combat training for support and service support soldiers since then. Today’s maintenance, supply and technical soldiers may suddenly be thrown into a fight like this, but if so, they’ll have some training to fall back on; They won’t be as far over their heads as the 507th was that day in 2003.