Transcript: Brig-Gen. Ham on the Stryker in Iraq
The M1126 Stryker armored personnel carrier‘s performance in Iraq came as a surprise to a number of individuals – including their commanders in some instances.
What follows is a transcript from the US Army’s recent “Warrior’s Corner” series (Oct 3/06). The presentation by Brigadier General Carter Ham, available in synchronized audio and Power Point, is titled “Stryker: Meeting the Challenge in Iraq.” Brig.-Gen. Ham served with two of the Stryker Brigades, both at Fort Lewis, WA in 2003 and in Iraq during 2004. His views would appear to mesh with the Army’s official position, but they are very definitely his own as well.
BG HAM: Hey, I think we’re all set. The – probably the two most dangerous things you’ve just witnessed is giving a general officer an audience and a microphone. All right? Two quite dangerous things. Well, welcome to the Warrior’s Corner. Who was here for the first session? Anybody? Okay, ma’am. [Country singer] Michael Peterson, right? Pretty awesome. I’m not going to sing. All right? He was truly an amazing presentation, but we are here in the Warrior’s Corner and though I will not profess to be a Warrior, I did have the great opportunity over the past year to serve with some great warriors who answered the call to duty in Northern Iraq. And those are the soldiers of the Army’s first two Stryker Brigades. And what I’d like to do this afternoon is a quick story about how those soldiers have answered the call to duty and their magnificent performance for our country and for the good people of Iraq. I have to figure this out here.
What you have in this brigade are soldiers who know how to think, not what to think. They’ve adapted to the new way we fight. The only squad leaders, staff sergeants who are responsible for the lives of 8 other men, who understand how to use their initiative within the commander’s intent. They understand the impact of their actions at the action, operation, and strategic level. This has been a phenomenal milestone in our Army’s history. Because a group of soldiers took a theory, an unproven concept, and took it to combat and did exceptionally well. They accomplished the mission in every way shape and form. We went through a lot of different possible missions just coming to Iraq. Originally we were supposed to be going to Fallujah, then we were going to Kirkuk. Eventually ended up in Samara, Baghdad, and then focused on the Syrian border, and now focused here in the city of Mosul. So, we’ve had a variety of different missions. I think that in and of itself and the successes that we’ve had in whatever mission, it is a tribute to a soldier’s adaptability and agility. And I think that that is a kind of common theme that is seen throughout the brigade. Adaptability, flexibility, and most of all speed. We have the ability to move more infantry faster and farther, and have moved faster and farther than anywhere in the history of warfare.
If you take one thing away from this morning, I would ask you to remember that when you think about Stryker and a Stryker Brigade Combat Team, it is so much more than the vehicle. The vehicle is wonderful. It does a lot of great things, but it is purely an enabler that allows the soldiers – the fighters, of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team to do the things that our Army has enabled them to do. They – it consists, I think, as you know, of ten different variants. We’ll talk a little bit about the Stryker vehicle performance a bit later on, but it really is the soldier as the center piece of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team – that dismounted strength that the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams bring to the fight, that sets them apart from other organizations.
It wouldn’t be right without a bit of a – a bit of history. So let me just take you back in time a little bit – and, in fact, really just a little bit, to this convention in 1999 when General Shinseki, then the Chief of Staff of our Army, announced his concept – his idea – his thoughts for the future and when the ideas of the Stryker Brigade, you know, the then, the Interim Brigade Combat Team and a different kind of force was initially talked about. And, it is important, I think, to remember in that time those years ago when he talked about that, remember that he told us that there would be two purposes for this brigade.
The first was to meet an immediate operational need for a lethal, strategically deployable, tactically flexible organization with great – with infantry-centric force. That was the first thing he asked the Army to do. And the second thing he asked to do, which remains very relevant even today, is to inform the development of the future forces – whatever that future force is going to be. And so the brigade had, from its very origin – from its initial concept, had two different missions: be ready to fight and be a very lethal force, but also help our Army shape the future. And I think the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams have done that. So from that initial idea in the fall of 1999 it was four years later – only four years later, when the first Stryker Brigade Combat Team found themselves in combat in Iraq. If you think about it in four years from idea – from an idea to a formed, trained, equipped, very lethal, and now deployed force that was in combat, that’s an extraordinarily short piece of time and it tells me that the time and the effort of soldiers, the civilians, the contract workforce, all of those who are involved in the development of our systems and our fielding of our forces performed an extraordinary effort in forming this very lethal Combat Team.
I had the great privilege of serving with the brigades – the first two brigades at Fort Lewis, from the summer of 2003 until the first brigade deployed in the fall of 2003 and then joined them in Iraq in January of 2004 and spent the next year observing both of the Army’s first two brigades in combat. And they did extraordinarily well.
The brigade, in its initial deployment like all – like every unit going into Iraq – started off in Kuwait doing their normal reception and staging preparations, the last minute training; and, in this case, they also had to equip the Stryker vehicles with the slant armor. And you will remember the great controversy about how do you defeat rocket propelled grenades and the armor that was existing on the Stryker vehicles wasn’t adequate to do that, so they developed a unique slat armor system like the cage that you saw that was mounted in Kuwait and then the vehicle’s deployed. And often overlooked, but there was a lot of discussion about how do they deploy? Normally, combat vehicles are loaded up on the backs of trucks and transported into Iraq and then offloaded, reconfigured for combat operations, and then they begin operations that way. With the Stryker, there was no need for that. Took a little bit of arguing, but finally convinced all the pachyderms that make those kinds of decisions that, “Hey, the Stryker can deploy on its own, under its own power, be ready to fight all the time,” and they were able to do that and they did that extraordinarily well. Deploying from Camp Udairi initially to Samara for combat operations in excess of 600 kilometers, did not lose a single vehicle – had to tow one, had to – under – had to tow one with another Stryker to get it into Samara, but that’s not bad for 300-plus Strykers and all the other vehicles that were deployed there.
And as you mentioned – as you heard in the video – there was a lot of discussion about where would they go and there was uncertainty, and, in fact, units were initially dispatched in other directions and it was the connectivity, the situational awareness that the Stryker Brigade has that allowed those units to reform on the fly, conduct combat operations, and end up in Samara. In Samara, they fought with the 4th Infantry Division first combat operations. And again, one of the things that’s unique to the soldiers of the Stryker Brigade – when they deploy some place – they arrive ready to fight and that was the case in Samara.
Fourth Infantry Division had been operating there for some time. They had great situational awareness. They passed that along to the Stryker Brigade Combat Team and then through their system of connectivity with all the different units of the Stryker Brigade, they were able to very quickly, very accurately share that information so that the soldiers of the brigade could go immediately into combat operations.
In Samara, the brigade sadly suffered its first casualties. We also lost the first Stryker to a mine strike. And it was the first inkling of the level of protection that the Stryker vehicle offered. In a mine strike in Samara near the driver’s compartment, it ended up destroying the vehicle because it ignited a fire, but the only injury sustained by any crew member was a broken ankle. Everyone was able to extract themselves. Now that’s not good. I mean you don’t like to lose a vehicle. You don’t want a soldier with a broken ankle, but a mine strike and to have that as the result was the first inkling that this vehicle was going to be able to withstand the rigors of combat operations inside Iraq. So they did an, again, an extraordinarily good job. What the brigade – what the soldiers of the brigade brought to Samara with the significant infantry strength that they – that the Stryker Brigade has and the speed with which they can move from location to location – they combine that with the fire power of the 4th Infantry Division and they split the city of Samara and acted very, very quickly to establish – what had been a very volatile situation – and within a matter of days establish calm and control throughout the city. It allowed the 4th Division then to keep control of that city while the brigade prepared for future operations.
The other thing that we didn’t really recognize until Samara was how quiet the vehicle was. And in Samara they – the people started to talk about the ‘ghost soldiers’ because the vehicle was so fast, so quiet, and moved at night, often undetected, and then suddenly there would be an overwhelming infantry strength they have to fight. So a great performance by some magnificent soldiers in their initial combat experience in Samara.
The decision then was made to take the Stryker Brigade and replace the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which had been performing so magnificently in the northern provinces of Iraq. The division, as you know, the 101st Division, of course, a very large, very capable, very tactically mobile organization – and how do you do that? How do you replace that division with essentially a brigade plus some enablers?
It took a great deal of creativity, but what we found is that the soldiers of the brigade – because of the training that they had been through, the experiences that they’d been placed in, the leader – the emphasis on leader development and the opportunities for leaders to think creatively and imaginatively on how to solve tactical solutions, we found that it was the leaders more than anything else that made the difference in how you could take a relatively small force, about a third the strength of a division and replace an entire division and be able to continue essentially the same levels of operation. Very, very difficult challenge, but it was largely the imagination, the adaptive and agile nature of the leaders that allowed them to do that.
In the center then was in – the headquarters was in Mosul. The brigade scout was dispersed in several large bases throughout the northwestern Iraq. Responsible for a large segment of the Syrian border, which was quite important, the city of Mosul, which is a city of more than 2,000 – 2,000,000 people and the Tigris River Valley as it flew through the city of Mosul. So, pretty volatile area. And they – the soldiers of the brigade – again, performed magnificently in their operations there.
Just a couple of examples that demonstrate, again, the imaginative nature of the soldiers and the leaders of this organization enabled by the vehicle and the situational awareness.
We had, in conjunction with U.S. Army Special Operations Forces, had some intelligence that there was a camp that was being used out near the Syrian border to train and facilitate the movement of foreign fighters. Very difficult to get to. We tried to do some reconnaissance, tried to do some previous organizations to try to do aerial insertions and every time the helicopters would get nearby they, the enemy would scatter because they could hear them coming [emphasis added by DID]. So it, crafted, the leaders of the organization – the brigade crafted a plan, moved several hundred kilometers at night and, again, able to do so blacked out because of the situational awareness, the common understanding of the battlefield, that the systems in the Stryker Brigade enable over watch by unmanned aerial vehicles, were able to execute this mission very efficiently and very effectively in conjunction with Special Operations Forces and while on the target developed initial – additional information that connected other enemy targets back in Mosul. Again, through the digital connectivity, they were able to share that information and that same night as the operations had been executed out west, operations were quickly organized and conducted inside the city of Mosul, again, displaying these imaginative and adaptive nature that the soldiers exhibit as they are enabled to do so by the equipment and the systems that we have provided to them [DID: see also Michael Yon’s on-the-scene report for a similar instance].
Also, out west along the Syrian border, we had some of our initial successes with the Iraqi Security Forces – in this case the Iraqi National Guard. You’ve seen recently in the news a fair amount of emphasis on the city of Tal Afar up in the northwest. Again, a focus of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, who is there now. The First Stryker Brigade and the Second Stryker Brigade also conducted operations in there. The difference was that they didn’t have all the Iraqi Security Forces that were necessary. This time they do and the Iraqi Security Forces are able to stay there – and having some great successes.
One of the other things that the soldiers of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team were able to do when they answered the call to go work in other places of Iraq – remember that we were all the way up in the north, several hundred kilometers, about 400 kilometers north of Baghdad, when there became an occasion in April of 2004 – if you remember the time that, at that period of time, very volatile in and around Fallujah, very volatile south of Baghdad, and the routes that ran – the supply routes that ran in from Kuwait were in jeopardy. The Corps commander made a decision that he was going to take a Stryker Brigade and use that to establish security. So, on less than 48 hours notice, the Stryker Brigade was able to organize a force, pulling elements from four different battalions, organize them on the move, again enabled by that situational awareness, deploy under their own power, 400 kilometers, arrive ready to fight – and they did fight and establish the security on those lines of communication to maintain the critical supplies necessary to fuel the force. I didn’t like that very much because I didn’t like giving up the force, but it was necessary for the tactical situation. We did that twice more. We did it once in August and then just as the First Stryker Brigade was preparing to leave, they were summoned to send a battalion down to Fallujah to start the operations there. So again, a very, very flexible force.
The Stryker Brigade and the soldiers of the Stryker Brigade became the force of choice for short fuse operations. January 30th of 2005 was, for me, probably the most important day of my life. Don’t tell my wife that. But the conduct of elections in Mosul was a very special day for me. If you’ll think back in time a little bit to November of 2004, you will remember that the police force in its entire – almost in its entirety – just a few hundred guys left, but several thousands of police walked off their job. It was a very, very tense time in the city of Mosul. We were – we had just completed the transition from Stryker Brigade One to Stryker Brigade Two, First Brigade of the 25th Division and it was very, very tense. There was a lot of tough fighting that day and if you’d asked me in the middle of November if I thought there were going to be elections in Mosul on the 30th of January, I would and, in fact, did say, “I didn’t think there was any chance.” But it was the soldiers of the First Brigade 25th Infantry Division who made those elections possible. They recognized the importance of it. They applied their imagination and their adaptability and helped with Iraqi Security Forces, established the security situation sufficient to allow for voting to occur in the city of Mosul. It wasn’t widespread. It was numbered in the tens of thousands rather than in the hundreds of thousands and it – but it – but they occurred and it was a major step forward when no one thought that they were – would have been able to do that. And it is because of the dedication and the commitment of the soldiers of the Army’s first two Stryker Brigades that that was in fact the case.
A bit about the vehicles. You can see some of the statistics about there – up – that are up there. That it’s – that talk about the performance of the vehicles.
bq. DID Sidebar: The Unclassified slide showed the following…
- Drove over 3,050,000 miles
- Average mileage per Stryker over the deployment was about 10,100 miles; about 842 miles/month per vehicle
- OR(Operational Readiness) rate over 330 days of combat operations was 94.66%
- Withstood dozens of attacks
- 23 RPG
- 62 IED
- 5 Mortar
- 1 Mine
- VCIED (car bombs)
- 2 Grenade
- 25 SAF (Small Arms Fire)
bq. Note that loss rates/ attacks not withstood were not included.
It can – I will tell you that I entered into this process not knowing much about the Stryker vehicle, frankly a little bit skeptical. I have no skepticism left. And I think the soldiers that have fought with Stryker vehicles in combat similarly have no reservations. Are there things that we would like to improve? Certainly there are. There are always things that we would like to improve on every piece of equipment that we have, but the speed of the vehicle, the quiet nature of its operations, particularly at night, the – its ability to sustain attack, both from improvised explosive devices and rocket propelled grenades, is extraordinary. We’re – we have to find a solution to the slat armor. I mean that’s a temporary solution, but that’s coming. The soldiers like the armament, they like the optics, and they like their protection. If you ask a soldier in either of the first two Stryker Brigades what they would like to be serving in combat in? They would tell you they would like a Stryker combat vehicle. That’s their vehicle of choice for a lot of different reasons. Yeah, its maintainability has proven itself. That surprised us a little bit, frankly. Not so much for the first Stryker Brigade because they were new vehicles. But when we did the rotation the equipment stayed and the second Stryker Brigade fell in on the first Stryker Brigade’s equipment and we thought we might have some challenges. We did not see a different performance. It was – it’s an extraordinarily maintainable vehicle and one that soldiers like and one that we need to continue to improve upon and the Army’s third Stryker Brigade is in this area now – the 172nd Brigade from Alaska. They brought their own vehicles, so they’re on a rotation now to use the equipment for two rotations and then swap it out. But again, the vehicle, extraordinarily good performance.
So what does that leave us with? Well, I think that leaves us with – after two years – two plus years in combat, as I look back and say, “Okay, how did we do on meeting General Shinseki’s vision?” Well, I think what we have is we have created for our Army an extraordinarily capable current tactical force. A force that has proven itself in close combat, in urban combat, has demonstrated its ability to move long distances very, very quickly, very organized, and be ready to fight when they arrive. So I think we’ve answered his first question extraordinarily well providing the nation with a current capability.
The answer to the second question is still out. How well have we informed the development of the future force? I think it should be from a – from both a hardware standpoint, equipment standpoint – there are lots of folks that are studying the Stryker vehicle and the systems that are inside the Stryker Brigade Combat Team to see how will those – how will the development of those systems assist in the future for us? More importantly, in my opinion, it is how have we trained those leaders? How have we trained those soldiers to think and operate differently than what most of us old people grew up with? And I think that is what is more important than the equipment is the leader – the emphasis on leader development, the powering down if you will, so that captains and lieutenants and sergeants, first class and staff sergeants – are making decisions at an – on a near instantaneous basis that allows the brigade to operate very, very effectively.
So, for my money, the leader development, the emphasis on soldier training is what will be most important as we inform the development of the future force.
I would tell you it was a great privilege and honor for me to have the opportunity to serve with our Army’s first two Stryker Brigades, both as they grew up in their training and development, but that year plus. My wife would remind me 408 days, that I spent with them in Iraq, was extraordinary for me. To see how far we have come. To see how extraordinary our young people are. It gives you hope. It gives you just immense pride – as I look back 30 years – remembering back when I was a private, to see what these folks are capable of doing. What we ask and what we expect of our junior leaders and of our soldiers today is more than any of us have ever imagined and they have answered that call to duty better than any of us have ever imagined. And, we as a nation, should be extraordinarily proud and grateful for their service each and every day. Thanks for your attention. If you have a couple questions, I’d be glad to do that. I’m not going to sing. Unlike Michael Peterson. Yes, sir?
Q: (INAUDIBLE) MAN: Sir, I’m going to bring you a microphone. Q: How many Brigade Combat Teams are we going to get?
A: Stryker? There are four presently – three at Fort Lewis, one in Alaska. And the one in Alaska is, I guess, five because one is in – the Alaska brigade is in Iraq now – one in Hawaii and two more to come. The big, the single biggest difference, I think, between the first two brigades to form and the subsequent brigades was the recognition of the – and the necessity of a dedicated aviation element. The first two brigades did not have that. Yes, sir?
Q: Sir, could you talk to the fact that the Army seems to have settled on a bandtrack – track vehicle as opposed to a wheeled vehicle for the FCS, whereas we’re – the interim vehicle is a wheel vehicle?
A: No, I can’t because I don’t know that. I’ll do the – I’ll do a famous cop-out and say my experience with the Stryker Brigade was extraordinary and performance of the vehicle was what was needed and what is needed for that particular force. In my current job – I’m in a purple job now – so I’m watching current operations from a joint perspective. So I’m sorry, I don’t have keen insights into that. Yes, sir?
Q: (INAUDIBLE) Yeah, so you identified the vehicle as just one of the transformative elements of equipment of the brigade. What were some of the other elements we used in blue force tracker? What other aspects transformed how you fought?
A: Well, we did have a blue force tracker because that was the system that was compatible with many other systems. But as you know at the – the brigade operates under its own cloud of situational awareness that is not reliant on other systems. Now that’s terrestrially based, but it works quite well. I think the more – the most transforming aspect of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team is this idea of powering down, informing through the various digital systems that enable the brigade, but informing junior leaders so that they have an opportunity to make decisions in a much faster decision cycle than what we are accustomed to. In our hierarchical organizations, information would have to go up a system and then back down a system and, in this case, with those organizations are quite flat and it’s – and I think that’s the biggest difference.
It’s an interesting thing when you listen to the radio networks of a Stryker Brigade. They’re very, very quiet and you – and I fell into this trap. Initially, I was listening to them at the National Training Center and other places and then I became accustomed to it, but they don’t talk much because they don’t have to. Because they can see, they can sense what their units on their left and right are doing, what their reserves are doing. And, it is only at those critical points in combat where the commander or the platoon leader need to insert themselves to insure the execution of critical combat decisions. So, it’s almost a – it – if you listen it seems calm. Now, at the company and platoon level, it is not at all calm. It is combat like we have all seen, but it is an interesting dynamic. I think, perhaps, one more. Yes sir?
Q: What kind of report card would you give the Army Battle Command Control Centers you were using – The ABCS?
A: I think probably a B+. Generally good. We’ve got to make sure that they – as we upgrade systems and have newer versions – we’ve got to have a quicker way of proliferating that and deploying that through all the affected networks so that you don’t have incompatibility issues or have systems working – units working on different versions – but generally, I think quite effective. The other thing that’s amazing to me, and having watched this, is that how our young sergeants and young soldiers take the ABCS systems as they are designed and find uses for them and applications of them that we didn’t ever really envision. I mean they’re just – they’re bright people. They’re – and this is very natural to them, where to me, it’s natural to take out a piece of butcher paper and a magic marker and write and that. And so, it really has been a great experience.
Thank you all, very much. Be proud of your Army, be proud of your soldiers in the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams who have answered the call to duty and pat them on the fanny every time you get a chance to. Thanks.