“Out the open door of my helicopter I saw a series of flashes to our northwest…Over the [radio] we heard that [Task Force] Papa Bear was engaging some enemy to the north of its positions. The Cobra [escort helicopters] called back that they were over the [landing] zone, and it looked hot. The Cobras were turning outboard for another pass as my helicopter overflew the second breach. The LZ below us was invisible from the glare from hundreds of flaming oil wells to the north. I could see intermittent incoming and outgoing fires on the ground…reports started coming in from the aircraft that the formation was jumbled, with the Cobras intermixed with the transport [helicopters]. Reports of incoming ground fire were also received. It was obvious the formation had become a fur ball over the [landing] zone. ” Task Force X-ray
War is chaos. Those who succeed embrace the chaos as a rich canvas of opportunity that an organized and well led force can rapidly exploit. The attached article was first published in the February 1996 Marine Corps Gazette. In it I discuss Task Force X-Ray during Operation Desert Storm, the largest Helicopter Assault by the United States Marine Corps since Vietnam. The mission stands as a parable for the chaos of battle, first encounters in particular, and how to rapidly learn from mistakes for future institutional success. This article and a companion piece by an involved aviator have been incorporated into several critical analyses of Marine Corps Heliborne Assault tactics, and led to major revisions of pre-deployment training for operating forces. I also like to think this discussion had a part in the eventual adoption of the MV-22 Osprey by the U.S. Marine Corps.
But now we were hit by a far more perplexing challenge. Having thoroughly defeated the “evil empire” of Saddam, we had effectively stripped away all vestiges of his Orwellian dictator-ship, leaving only . . . us. What to do for an encore? We were now the single center of authority. In a blinding flash, we had become the local government, the utilities, the banks, the information bureau, the health care provider, the police, the court system, even the dogcatchers. We were it. Just over 1,000 Marines, soldiers,and sailors comprising our battalion task force became responsible for an area and population the size of Manhattan Island.
This article was first published in the Marine Corps Gazette September 2004. Since then, it was published in the “Small Wars Journal” (pdf) and “Iraq 2003 Anthology and Annotated Bibliography United States Marine Corps history of Marines in Iraq” (compiled by Major Christopher M. Kennedy, Wanda J. Renfrow,Evelyn A. Englander, Nathan S. Lowrey, History Division, United States Marine Corps, Washington, D.C. 2006). I’ve heard it’s often quoted in reference to post conflict stability operations. U.S. Marines in Iraq 2003 Anthology and Annotated Bibliography