Article and photos courtesy of Jason Hastings.
Lightning Troop, 3/2 ACR deployed to Camp Doha, Kuwait on October 1, 2002 for a six-month rotation in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Lightning replaced Bull Troop, 1/2 ACR, who had deployed in April of that year. Lightning’ s mission was to provide convoy escort to US forces who were moving from the port in Kuwait City to staging areas near the Iraq border.
While at Camp Doha, Lightning was given three additional missions. They assumed the security for the camp itself, detached 1st Platoon (+) to Camp Doha, Qatar for a 45 day security mission, and detached 2d Platoon to provide security for nearby Camp Udari, for approximately 60 days. Lightning was also augmented with an MP platoon to help with their growing schedule of convoy escort missions, and were also bumped up with a platoon from the Marine Corps Reserve during a particular port security mission.
On March 21st, 2003 the ground war began and Lightning Troop watched the war develop on their television sets at Camp Doha, Kuwait. Each day 6-10 Scud missile alerts kept them on their toes and they spent a few hours each day in MOPP 4. The sirens soon became routine and bothersome and the troop was only reminded of the reality of the situation when an occasional nearby Patriot missile was launched to intercept the Scuds. The Scud alerts died down as US forces made their way deeper into Iraq.
The military convoys that were supplying the 3d Infantry Division were starting to get ambushed on their long drive north along Main Supply Route (MSR) Tampa. The Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) located at Camp Doha realized they had an underutilized Light Cavalry Troop nearby and gave Lightning Troop the mission to join an MP battalion at the border and start convoy security missions. Lightning Troop loaded up their HMMWVs with gear and ammunition and headed north to the Iraqi border on March 27th.
Lightning Troop arrived at Convoy Support Center (CSC) Navistar at the Abdali-Safwan border crossing and was placed under the command of the 504th MP Battalion out of FT Lewis, WA. Their mission was to escort convoys along the MSR from CSC Navistar to various Logistic Supply Areas (LSA) up to 120 miles into Iraq. This mission made Lightning Troop the first element of the Regiment to enter into Iraq. The attacks on these convoys halted as soon as Lightning Troop began their escort mission. When the troop was not conducting escorts, they performed an in-depth route reconnaissance of MSR Tampa and destroyed abandoned Iraqi tanks, artillery pieces and anti-aircraft guns which were still trained on the route, and if reoccupied, would have been deadly to the supply convoys.
The Regimental Tactical Command Post (TAC CP or TAC) and 2d Squadron arrived a couple of weeks later and Lightning’ s Commander and First Sergeant gave a brief welcome to the Regimental Commander, Colonel Terry Wolff, as he and 2d Squadron sped through on their way north to a mission with the 82d Airborne Infantry Division.
As the war progressed, Lightning moved further north along MSR Tampa. The troop stopped briefly at LSA Cedar and the Iraqi Tallil Air Force Base before establishing another base of operation at LSA Scania. AT LSA Scania Lightning’ s mission changed to setting up traffic control points, and conducting area reconnaissance missions and presence patrols around the nearby villages. The troop took several prisoners including members of the Fedayeen, Ba’ ath party officials, and fleeing Iraqi soldiers. They confiscated weapons and ammunition and during one mission recovered $30,000 in US currency. Currency that was most likely intended as a bounty reward for the killing of US soldiers.
The troop stayed at LSA Scania for three weeks. Word finally came at the end of April to proceed to the Regimental TAC inside the old United Nations compound in Baghdad.
After a 48-hr rest, which included showers for the first time in over a month, Lightning received a mission to join TF 3-7 Infantry, 1st Brigade, 3d Infantry Division. Lightning’ s mission was to secure four zones of the city in order to deter paramilitary activities, enforce the law, and apprehend looters. The four zones were over half of the geographical area that was assigned to TF 3-7 which was composed of two mechanized infantry companies, an engineer company, and Lightning Troop.
Lightning Troop moved to their new home at the old Iraqi War College and set up camp occupying several buildings and making life as comfortable as possible. The rest of the Regiment arrived and the Air Squadron and Support Squadron established their base camps alongside of Lightning Troop at the War College. Mail started to flow more regularly and the troop got one hot meal a day and plenty of fruit.
The presence patrols were stressful, yet very productive. The general population appreciated the soldiers, but hostile paramilitary forces would occasionally fire upon the patrols and engage in brief skirmishes. Lightning Troop arrested scores of looters and other criminals, and confiscated over 400 military weapons and countless rounds of ammunition and small explosives. Lightning Troop made a definite impact as crime and anti-US activities in their zones diminished. The troopers responded magnificently during several direct fire engagements. The troopers also left a positive impact on the civilian population. They guarded public utilities, assisted in the start up of an elementary school, and provided first aid countless times for everything from traffic accidents to gun shot wounds.
At the beginning of June the order finally came for Lightning troop to reattach to 3d Squadron. LTC Robert Burns, CSM Philip Johndrow, and the rest of the Wolfpack welcomed the troop to their new location in the Green Zone located in Saddam’ s Presidential Palace District. Their new mission was to escort the Coalition Provisional Authority as they drove around Iraq conducting the administrative tasks necessary to start rebuilding the country. The same week that Lightning Troop started their new mission the Regiment received its new commander, COL Bradley May.
Lightning’ s greatest danger at this point was summertime heat in Baghdad. Temperatures that reached 130 degrees meant that the soldiers in body armor were reaching the limit of human endurance and minor heat injuries were part of the everyday activities. As summer slowly turned to fall, the paramilitaries switched tactics and Lightning faced a new enemy tactic, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). One Lightning Troop mission was struck and fortunately escaped with only one minor injury.
Lightning Troop continued that mission until they were redeployed home in September of 2003 after completing a year in theater. The troop served admirably through Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom and returned with all of their soldiers, and three Purple Hearts.
The success of the troop was due primarily to the leadership of the Staff Sergeants and Sergeants who made daily tactical decisions while conducting literally hundreds of two-vehicle convoy security missions.
Left to right: CPT Todd Clark, 1SG Jason Hastings, and 1LT John Gilliam (XO), at the Abdali-Safwan border crossing, March 2003.
Lightning Troop on the roof of the parking garage that served as their barracks while living in the Green Zone, August 2003.