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Briefing From Tallil Forward Air Base

Presenters: General Jack Stoltz, deputy commanding general of the 377th Theater Support Command
April 17, 2003 8:00 AM EDT

(Also participating; Colonel John Dobbins, commanding officer of the Tallil Forward Air Base)

Staff: Okay, so, for those of you present, we're going to introduce you to two more key figures of Operation Iraqi Freedom this morning. Joining us from Tallil Forward Air Base outside An Nasiriyah, Iraq, we have Army Brigadier General Jack Stoltz and Air Force Colonel John Dobbins. General Stoltz is the deputy commanding general of the 377th Theater Support Command, and he's in charge of all civil affairs activities in the An Nasiriyah region. Colonel Dobbins is the commanding officer of the Tallil Forward Air Base, the first forward air base that coalition forces were able to use for combat operations. These officers are going to talk to us about their roles in the conflict and in the post-conflict environment.

I will facilitate questions and answers. When you ask questions, please introduce yourself, your news organization, and then direct your question to either General Stoltz or to Colonel Dobbins or both.

And at this time, General Stoltz, if you'd like to open.

Stoltz: Yes, ma'am (sic). (Laughter.) Thank you. My name is General Jack Stoltz. As was already mentioned, I'm the deputy commander for the 377th Theater Support Command, and also serving here as the commander for what we call log base (adder ?), which includes the Tallil airfield area, as well as logistics center just south of here where we're transporting fuel and containerized cargo for the operations going north.

The initial focus of this log base was to sustain the forces while they moved forward in the battle. And it was significant because it was the first forward air base, that was mentioned, so that we could get air cargo in here, but it also served as a staging base for the onward movement of ground supplies going north.

Now that the hostilities have ceased, we have kind of focused our efforts now on two major functions; one is sustaining the military forces that are north of here -- providing food, fuel and other supplies as needed, but also doing a lot to focus now on providing support to the areas around here in terms of humanitarian rations and other types of civil support to get the country stood back up on its feet and get the people of Iraq back to being a normal, working economy here.

At this time I'll go ahead and turn it over to Colonel John Dobbins, and he can give you an opening statement from the Air Force perspective.

(Off-mike cross talk.)

Dobbins: Hello. This is Colonel John Dobbins of the 392nd Air Expeditionary Group. Is -- people there?

Q: We're here.

Q: We're here.

Dobbins: Okay. I was the first Air Force commander in here to Tallil Air Base, and our objective in opening up Tallil Air Base for the 392nd Air Expeditionary Group was to be able to provide lethal combat air power from the coalition's Air Force air component commander to other forces in the coalition. Secondary to that was also being able to provide combat search and rescue support from a forward location -- that would extend the legs -- and also be able to support the airlift mission for all forces that were in Iraq. We think we have done that well, and part of that -- what it does is -- was able -- enabled especially A-10 aircraft to get up to an extra hour over most of the target areas.

Our high point was probably surging 50 sorties out of Tallil Air Base during some of the push, and we have launched several rescue missions out of Tallil also that shortened the response time of getting search and rescue on site.

We've also shortened some of the transportation leg by being able to deliver cargo further forward and are now even delivering cargo directly from the CONUS, or Europe, into Iraq.

We too have transitioned slowly here away from some of the combat operations and now are starting to think about sustainment. Where we would like to help rebuild Iraq, we probably have somewhat of a selfish motivation within that, because, as we help rebuild Iraq and the local economy here, that helps us also to probably raise our standard of living here, because as the Air Force says, this is a bare base for us. We had a strip of concrete to work with and we're slowly building that up, so that we are able to do a lot more in the area.

I guess, subject to your questions, General Stoltz and I are now ready to take them.

Q: Yes. This is Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press, I guess for Colonel Dobbins. Can you go back to just the basics of when Tallil was opened by you and a little bit about how that was done? Was there resistance and that sort of thing?

Dobbins: Well, they actually had a colonel, A. Ray Meyer (sp), that moved in as the Army moved in to begin taking some measurements and make sure the airfield was, in fact, usable for some of the airlift assets. He gave a lot of statistics and made sure the runway was operable and started the communications and instrument approach procedures and tower and things like that, and was able to open the airfield to mobility assets.

I came up slightly later and started adding in the different things that was going to make it sustainable, all the different POL -- our fuel, oil, lubricants kinds of things -- along with the things that were necessary to turn combat sorties out of here, like munitions and maintainers, along with a more robust communications structure to be able to command and control those forces, in addition to trying to improve the runway surface environment so that it could hold more airplanes at once.

Q: Sir, but when the Army came up before you did, had it been abandoned? Or did they have to do something to take that facility?

Dobbins: Well, I wasn't actually here when the Army took the facility, but I don't think there was much resistance here at Tallil Air Base. From hearsay evidence, that the commander here at Tallil, the Iraqi commander here at Tallil, ordered his troops to evacuate Tallil Air Base and go on to An Nasiriyah.

Q: Hi, Colonel Dobbins. This is Jenny Ohm with MSNBC. You mentioned providing combat search and rescue. Can you give us any examples or details on any that stand out in your mind?

Dobbins: There's actually several, and we obviously have lots of capability to recover either downed air crew or other isolated personnel out there. But one of them was early in on in my tenure here; they had a recon patrol that got trapped behind lines, and they actually called some -- in some of our Jollys, and what the helicopter commander told me was that they stacked the recon element members in the helicopter like cordwood to get them out. Because there isn't a whole lot of room in a rescue helicopter, because it's mainly designed to pick up isolated downed air crew, as opposed to the recon element that it actually pulled out.

Q: This is question is for Colonel Dobbins. This is Lorenzo Cortes from Defense Daily. I just wanted to see how the performance of the A-10s was improved when you were able to open up Tallil and, you know, did it allow you all to use, you know, a wider selection of weapons and you were able to support them more thoroughly when they were going over areas where there was a lot of triple-A?

Dobbins: It really didn't change the performance characteristics of the aircraft. It was -- the A-10 was still the A- 10. What it really provided was more time over target. The fact that it could stay in an area because it had more fuel available to it because it did not have to fly as far to get to the fight meant that he could stay there and have a -- get -- develop better situational awareness, so that all the ordnance that he did use was used more effectively. He wasn't bumping up against some gas constraint that -- fuel constraint that would make him home early without having and expended his ordnance.

Q: Hi. This question is for General Stoltz. This is Peter Cook with NBC.

Dobbins: We're using one handset here, so you'll have to wait a second.

Q: Okay.

Stoltz: Okay. This is General Stoltz. Go ahead.

Q: Hi, General Stoltz. This is Peter Cook from NBC. Could you give us a sense of what your priorities are right now, from a civil affairs perspective, in the An Nasiriyah area? And also, can you tell the reception you are getting now from the community as compared to, say, even a week or so ago?

Stoltz: Yeah. I think the -- a couple things that we've really focused on in the outlying areas here -- one has been really from the start, when we first arrived here, is providing medical support. We've got a combat support hospital set up here at Tallil, and from the beginning of the operation here, the ground attack phase, we started treating not only American wounded but also Iraqi EPWs and Iraqi civilians from the local area that were getting caught in the crossfire and had quite a -- you know, quite a telling story with some of these civilians about the situation they were put in by some of the paramilitaries that really forced them into the crossfire. But we've been providing that service and really saving a lot of Iraqi lives here at the airfield.

Now that we've transitioned to the post-hostility phase, we're really getting our medical people out into the local community, and they've been down to An Nasiriyah, to the hospital there, almost daily. And we're taking some of the more severely wounded personnel that are down there, bringing them back up here, where we've got our doctors, who are trained and ready to go with medical supplies. And we're treating especially some of the kids and everything up here in our facility and still saving their lives while also trying to get down there to the local community in An Nasiriyah and that area and provide local medical care on site down there.

The other thing that we're focusing on down in that area and some of the towns just north of here, like As Samawa and Diwaniyah, is to get the civil facilities, the water plants, the electrical plants, and try to get those back on line. We're still having some difficulty because some of the damages that were done by the Iraqi military there -- however, we're bringing in our own water, purified water, using our own little water trailers or water trucks to provide water to the local community, in some cases bringing them bottled water. And also we've got some of our generators out there that are providing electrical supply, to keep the hospitals and the critical facilities up and running.

In saying that, to answer your question, the last part, we have seen a dramatic shift in terms of the attitude of the local people from first a little hesitancy and fear, in terms of what we were going to do, to really much gratitude and thankfulness in terms of us being around.

Just yesterday I took a ride on a recon all the way up to Baghdad and was really amazed at -- along the route. The farmers were back out the field with their tractors. The kids were out playing soccer in the fields. But in every instance along the roadway and everything, all the locals were waving to us and thanking us and, you know, giving us the peace sign and everything.

So I think the message there is that as we're able to get out into the local communities now and get them back up on their feet, they are very, very thankful, and the attitude is very positive, pro- American, now.

STAFF: I think we have some reporters from CENTCOM forward in Doha joining us, too. CENTCOM, do you have somebody there?

Q: (Name inaudible) -- Houston Chronicle. When you first established your air base there, what was there? Was it just a concrete strip then? And what -- can you give me a specific -- (inaudible) -- idea what it takes to start from -- with almost nothing in establishing a working air base?

Stoltz: Well, the first day we moved in here, which was probably about the second day of the ground attack -- I don't know; it was the middle of the night when we got here -- really, the initial recon we had done, the 3rd Infantry Division had moved through the area, swept through the area, but really had moved forward and not cleared it that much. So there was a lot of unexploded ordnance in the area. There was a lot of paramilitaries still in the area -- (audio break from source) -- hidden.

There wasn't any organized resistance here at the base. Like John said, they'd all fled. But we really didn't know what the security situation was.

So the first thing on our minds when we got here was to establish a security perimeter. We parked most of the vehicles and everything on the actual runways, until we could get an EOD team in here to clear the ordnance out the area adjacent to the runways and then start from there.

So I'd say, the second day on the ground, the Air Force personnel who were here began immediately clearing the airfield of any debris and getting the assessments of the capability of the runways while we began, on the Army side, clearing the area of unexploded ordnance and putting our security patrols out around the perimeter. Almost immediately, we started to get into some light skirmishes around the perimeter with small groups of paramilitary that were trying to get back into this area to get to the weapons that they had stored here, mostly RPGs and small arms and all. But once we got our active patrols out and around the perimeter, they quickly realized they could not get in here and they fell back into the Nasiriyah area.

So I -- you know, one of the great things about this operation here at Tallil has been it really was an example of jointness working. We came in here together, the Air Force and the Army, we each had our areas of expertise and responsibility. The Air Force guys immediately went to standing up an airfield and getting it operational. The Army side, we immediately went to providing security and setting up our log bases, maintenance support, life support and those type of areas. And together, within 48 hours, we had planes landing on the ground here, as well as convoys of trucks coming through the front gate hauling supplies. And within 48 hours, we had a combat support hospital up and running here, treating wounded American personnel coming in.

Staff: Okay. Do we have another question in Doha?

Staff: No more questions from Doha.

Q: Hello. For either of the folks there, this is Brian Hartman at ABC News. There was an incident that I'm sure you're aware of on March 23rd, early on in the war, when Army's 507th Maintenance Company took a wrong turn and they were ambushed, and then some Marines were also involved in that incident. Did that affect you in your operations there in any way? Did you respond to that? Did anyone from your base participate in trying to rescue that company at all?

Stoltz: The incident with the 507th actually occurred about the same time we were coming in up here to the Tallil area. I mean, we were all convoying up from the south, coming across the desert. The 507th guys and all were ahead of us; I'm not sure, you know, by how many hours or whatever. But, you know, our understanding is the same as yours; is they got mixed up in their convoy and ended up going into An Nasiriyah, where they were ambushed. At that time, we were not set up here at Tallil; we were in the process of coming into Tallil.

The infantry company that was here with us did go over -- I guess the Marines went in, actually, and got the rest of the 507th out of Nasiriyah. And then our infantry, Mech Infantry, security force we had here picked them up, and we brought the rest of the company back here to Tallil temporarily, until we could hook them up with the parent unit that they belonged to in the corps, which was further north. But that was really about our only involvement in it, was just our security forces taking them from a handover from the Marine force, and us housing them here for a couple of days until we could get them back to their parent company.

Q: This is for Colonel Dobbins.

Stoltz: Okay, hold on.

Q: Thanks.

Dobbins: Colonel Dobbins here.

Q: Hi. This is Steve Trimble with Aerospace Daily. It's been about a week since real intense combat action. I'm wondering if you've got a -- sort of a first brush at what things worked for you with the A-10, what things didn't work, what things you might wish you had, that kind of thing.

Dobbins: Well, I think all the aircraft have worked well. One of the things that has helped out immensely from the air side has obviously been the ability to use GPS. And that, as General Stoltz alluded to earlier, has been a joint thing, especially with the A-10, which is always integrating with the Army. Having confidence that the ground forces are giving us good coordinates of where they are and where the target is let's us much more quickly build that situational awareness that I was talking about earlier. And by using those onboard systems that can give you queuing about things on the ground, it becomes much easier to make sure you have a common and accurate picture between the two of us. So the fact that both sides had it this time, unlike Desert Storm, where we were just starting to get that capability, gave us a whole lot better and faster capability to develop a common picture between air units and ground units.

Some of the other things that worked is there was a lot of planning that went into how we were going to attack this air war, because we knew that things were going to be happening very rapidly. And we gave ourselves a system by which we could sub-divide the country into, and had procedures already in place so that, once again, just by giving out a few numbers and letters, we could go to a geographic location and begin talking to the people on the ground, and they could have confidence that airpower was going where it was supposed to, and talking to the right people.

I suppose the last part of that is that we also had a very high intelligence picture. We had lots of assets from lots of different services and countries looking all over this area. So not only were we able to find things quickly and go to them via the global positioning system things, we were able to locate them and isolate them, to zero-in on them early. I mean, before the Army ever engaged forces, we knew where those forces were.

Q: It's Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press again. I'm wondering if either of you can put Tallil into the big picture for us. You know, for instance, we know that the former Saddam International Airport is being used as a base, and Tallil, and there's something in the north. But can we put Tallil in perspective? Is it one of six or -- tell us the scheme for using these sort of bases throughout the country.

Dobbins: Well, I'll have to try and give you what part of the air perspective I know right now. I think the Air Force plan that I know now has probably two air bases that will stay in Iraq for an amount of time. That amount of time, obviously, is an unknown, because there are many unknowns in front of us. But we would probably have one in the south, which looks to be Tallil from all indications, and another in the north. And lots of those decisions were made on the fly because when we got to Tallil, we really didn't know what kind of shape the place would be in. Obviously, having an intact runway here was a big benefit to choosing Tallil. The same would be true of whatever other location we may choose maybe further north.

There's also lots of other things, the political and economic kinds of considerations, that we don't necessarily want to impose upon the Iraqi people a huge military presence in a civilian neighborhood. So, Tallil fits south of the river. And south of Tallil is pretty much open country. So, that's something else that's probably -- we do this with Air Force bases in the States now. So, it's something -- we try to be good neighbors here to the Iraqi people, too, and try to locate where our operations will have the minimum amount of impact on the local populous.

I'll have to let General Stoltz talk about the Army plan for Iraq. My guess is he will be as fuzzy as I was, because once again, we have many unknowns in front of us that we're just trying to sort through as we find out more and more factors. Yes, General Stoltz?

Stoltz: I guess the question was what does the Army's future look like for Tallil and for other areas? I'll be very vague, like John was, too. I think the major thing we're focusing on right now is establishing a series of logistical bases that will provide sustainment support for the forces that are here while they're here, as well as be a conduit to supply humanitarian assistance and other resources to the Iraqi people to help rebuild their country.

And pretty much the same as John said; I think we're looking at having a logistics base somewhere in the south. I'm not sure if it will be here in the Tallil area or somewhere a little bit further north closer to Baghdad. And then I would assume we'll build a logistics base somewhere in the north so that we can support forces both in the north and the south. But also, and just importantly, to be able to provide supply sustainment and other resources to the Iraqi people in the north and the south, using both air and ground lines of communication.

Q: You know, General McChrystal said yesterday at the Pentagon briefing that the command center would probably move from Qatar up into Iraq at sometime, and he wasn't sure whether it would be around Baghdad. Is Tallil a candidate? Could that be the place? Or is that not --

Stoltz: I'm not sure. I didn't hear that comment and everything. But I would be surprised if they looked at trying to use Tallil for some kind of a command center for the Army perspective. I think it -- kind of to the same extent John said; it's sort of remote here where it's located. And so I would think if they were going to try to establish a command center it would be closer in to Baghdad and not in the Tallil area. But that's just my opinion and everything. I have not gotten any kind of official word on anything like that.

Q: Good afternoon, gentlemen. This is Sondra Jontz of Stars and Stripes. Pardon my ignorance. Can you please tell me how many runways are there? How long is it? Does the facility pose any type of challenges or restrictions to what you need to get done? How are you overcoming them? And I know you can't give exact numbers; could you give me a feel for how many people are there, U.S. people?

Stoltz: Sure. I'll talk -- let me talk from the Army perspective, and then I'll let John tell you on the Air Force side. But, yeah, from the overall population perspective -- I don't have the numbers with me -- but if you include the logistical base that we have just south of here, which is part of this entire complex where we have our fuel bags for our Army fuel tankers, and we have container operations for our trucks bringing up containers, that the population probably fluctuates on a daily basis somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 total population here.

The challenges that we've had here -- and I'll speak for the Army and the Air Force on this one -- probably is providing the life support for the personnel that are here. This is a relatively austere environment. There's no electricity in terms of local electricity or water or anything that's here, any type of, you know, facilities, sewage or anything like that. So we had to come in here and pretty much set up an austere tent city kind of environment where we're using generators to provide our lights and electricity.

And we're using -- I'm sure you've all seen them, the burn-out latrines, where you've got the wooden latrines with the barrels that you burn at the end of the day for our sewage and everything. And we've got a shower unit now standing up for showers for the soldiers, but it's about every three days that you can get a shower, because that's about the amount of capability we can use with the soldiers. So in between that, they do take sponge baths.

And for a long time we were just eating MREs, and now we have our field kitchen set up, so we are feeding some of the UGRT rats (rations), and everything, for a couple of meals during the day.

But really, I think that's been the bigger challenge for us, is just getting the quality of life for the soldiers that are working here up to a standard that we'd be comfortable with.

Now, the positive side, I will tell you this from the Army and the Air Force: The soldiers here have been really heroes. They have not complained one bit. They hit the ground here running, wanting to do the work.

As John mentioned, we have done a lot of search and rescue-type stuff. We have done a lot more operations out of here than I thought we would ever do. I came here for logistics, and we've been running probably 50-50 in terms of logistics support and operational support. But the soldiers here just pitched in and did whatever it took. When they came in here to try to do the extraction for the POW in Nasiriyah, the Private Lynch, everybody pitched in and grabbed whatever trucks we had available to help out with those Special Operations guys; gave them every support we could and launched them on their way.

And so, the soldiers never have complained a bit and all. So, they've been real heroes here and everything. But again, the challenge really, I guess, is getting the quality of life up to where we'd like it to be for the soldiers.

Now, let me turn it over to John, and he can talk to you about the capabilities of the airfields and the challenges they had.

Dobbins: Okay. Well, Tallil as an air base probably started with an excellent core. It has two long runways with two parallel taxiways on either side and three relatively large ramp areas that immediately gave us one of the core needs that we had. Now, if the Army's telling you it's austere, that means it's downright primitive for the Air Force. So beyond the runways, there wasn't a lot. There were a few Iraqi buildings that we've tried to use to the best of our capabilities, but there are no power grids, there are no comm grids, there are no water distribution systems.

So when the general talks about his soldiers being heroes, the Air Force guys were doing the same thing. They hit the ground running and got the place operational by bringing in some of those bare base assets that the Air Force has for these situations, and we had fuel capability for the aircraft that were coming in here in a relatively short order. And it was that fueling capability that gave us the capability to land A-10s here, give them gas and get them back in the air. That was the first capability we went for.

As we got more -- or, in time, we were able to build more capability due to some of the coalition support we got. I have 150- man U.K. Royal Engineer squadron working for me that ended up patching up the runway and is building many of the facilities that improves the life of the airmen that were here. Many times, they were using what they would -- I guess we call it "Junkyard Wars," they call something else over in Britain, where they take parts and pieces of many different things -- and they've made showers and wash tubs and all kinds of different things that helped our people, you know, keep their health and happiness by having some better hygiene capability from that.

But my population now has grown, and it grew fairly rapidly, to about a thousand. My guess is, as I get a little more personnel support capability in here via the Harvest Falcon, tent cities and showers and laundry facilities and dining facilities, my guess is that population will probably increase to somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000.

Q: Colonel, this is Sandra again, with Stars and Stripes. Did you guys use the Ravens at first, the Air Force Ravens at first?

Dobbins: When you say "Ravens," are you talking about the combat control teams?

Q: The Phoenix Ravens, the security personnel.

Dobbins: The Phoenix Ravens. I guess I'm -- I'll have to admit I'm not familiar with that.

For security, at the very beginning, we relied upon the Army. As I came in, we brought in a combat ready group, which has a little bit of command and control and quite a bit of security forces capability. That allowed us to secure inside the perimeter and let the Army cover the outside. But I'm not sure -- I'm not familiar with the Phoenix Raven.

STAFF: Okay. Any other questions?

Q: Just one more. Hi. It's Jenny again from MSNBC. Now that you're transitioning from the combat phase to sustaining troops and getting people back on their feet, can you give us a sense of how active an operation this phase is? Is it round the clock? And do you anticipate you'll be even more busier than you were in the initial weeks of the war?

Dobbins: Well, I suppose, as hostilities are probably decreasing in intensity, that doesn't necessarily mean our operational tempo is decreasing any right here. As a matter of fact, as we gain capability, we're probably -- not probably; we are going to be giving 24/7 flying capability out of Tallil now.

And it's really not over till it's over. My guess is, there's going to be some pockets of resistance around this country for quite some time. And the problem with it being these small pockets of resistance is, we probably won't get to be the ones to choose the time or the place. So we will have to be ready most of the time. As the Army goes in to check out the areas and tries to find different things that we are looking for here, we'll probably have air power overhead almost continuously.

Now it probably won't be the things where you get a lot of weapons video from, from ordnance impact, but that won't keep us from flying the sorties up there to be ready.

So the sustainment phase that we're going into is probably going to be things that put things in position so that it's capable of transitioning and growing back into the Iraqi populace. We're going to probably -- we already have started to bring in some radar equipment that will start to divvy up the airspace again, so humanitarian assistance can -- civilian flown humanitarian assistance can be able to fly in here and still have some kind of airspace control procedures in place. And we'll probably be responsible for that for a time, until the Iraqis are able to reconstitute an airspace control system of their own.

Same thing with many of the other things here. We will probably be trying to build systems that they can take over or can replace as they reestablish the capability.

I'm not sure I fully answered your question, but --

Q: General Stoltz, could you also answer the same question?

Dobbins: You'll probably have to repeat it for him.

Q: General, I'm just trying to get a sense of, now that the major combat phase is over, how active an operation are you guys going to be having or having in the sustainment phase and getting the folks back on their feet.

Stoltz: Kind of what John just said. I mean, our OPTEMPO has not slowed down. As a matter of fact, it's picked up as we have transitioned from the hostilities to what -- we now are looking at post-hostilities. It's just the types of cargo that we're moving through here has changed. We -- you know, during the war fight, we were moving a lot of Class 5 ammunition through here to support the war fighters, and that was the top priority. And then were moving Class 1 rations and water.

Now that the hostility's over, we switched and we're moving a lot of Class 9 repair parts that are needed forward to get the vehicles up and running, maintain them. We're still moving a lot of fuel through this area, still moving the same amount, if not more, rations, because now the amount of forces in Iraq continues to grow as we're moving the 4th Infantry Division into here. So that's more mouths to feed. So we're having to bring all the food through this location to get up north to them.

And also we're now pumping in a lot of Class 8 medical supplies to -- for the local population and just starting to now see the flow of humanitarian rations that are coming in for the local personnel and populace and everything.

So really and truly, from my perspective as the Army transporter here, I'm hollerin' for more and more Army trucks to get up here so I can haul more north, even more than I was hauling during the war fight. So the tempo hasn't slowed down, it's picked up. It's just the types of cargo we're transiting through here have changed from the war fight to more of the support and assistance cargo.

Staff: Okay, other questions?

Okay, I think that's about it. General Stoltz, Colonel Dobbins, thanks for your time. All the best to you and your forces there.

Stoltz: Okay, well thank you very much for your time.