The 507th Maintenance Company was a unit in the American Army that was ambushed in the Battle of Nasiriyah during the invasion of Iraq as they were advancing towards Baghdad. This unit was developed and established to offer maintenance support to the 5th Battalion, which was the 52nd Air Defense Artillery at Fort Bliss, Texas. The unit was deployed to Kuwait during the build-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom in February 2003 and was later involved in the operation through which it received huge media attention. The significant media attention occurred after one of its members, Jessica Lynch, was rescued from an Iraqi hospital. Upon return from its deployment to Iraq, the 507th Maintenance Company supported Operation Enduring Freedom given the decrease of the threat of ballistic missile attacks. This unit of the United States Army was placed in a dreadful predicament by the unjustifiable desire of its command structure to advance to Baghdad.
Background on the Formation of the Unit
The formation of the 507th Maintenance Company can be attributed to its goal of providing support to the 5th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery at Fort Bliss, Texas ("507th Maintenance Company," 2013). The 5th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery that the unit provides maintenance support to is a Patriot missile unit that is located in Texas. Before providing support to the Patriot missile unit, the unit was dispersed to 2nd Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery. It also provided support to the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, which is another Patriot missile unit that is based in Texas and played a crucial support role in the first Gulf war. Moreover, the 507th Maintenance Company was attached to 31st ADA before it was deployed to Iraq in 2003. Since its formation, the unit has acted as one of the major maintenance companies of the U.S. Army given the significance of the support it provides.
The Advancement and Ambush of the Unit
In the build-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 507th Maintenance Company was deployed to Kuwait on February 20, 2003. The ground phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced on the early morning of 20 March 2003 when the United States Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and coalition ground combat forces moved into southern Iraq from Kuwait ("U.S. Army Official Report," 2013). The forces attacked Iraqi soldiers as they advanced northward in which they had covered over 200 miles within the first three days and were nearly 130 miles north of An Nasiriyah. This progression is historically unprecedented because of the execution speed and depth of penetration that were geared toward confusing the ability of the Iraqis to build up a coherent defense or counter attack.
There are two factors that contributed to the rapid, historical advancement of the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and coalition ground combat forces. First, this advancement was fueled by the use of thousands of vehicles and hundreds of aircraft. Secondly, the forces covered more miles within a short time period because of the devoted, aggressive support from logistics, maintenance, and medical units. These support units or groups were mostly moving constantly in attempts to maintain contact with the forces or units they were supporting. The 507th Maintenance Company was one of the support units that provided important services that facilitated the rapid, historical advancement.
The deployed element of the 507th Maintenance Company comprised 82 individuals and designated vehicles. They were part of the Combined Joint Task Force 7 under the leadership of V Corps and were situated at Camp Virginia Kuwait. Since its deployment to Kuwait, the 507th Maintenance Company prepared to carry out its mission of maintaining and repairing vehicles and equipment of the 5th Battalion until the commencement of the operation. This battalion was also deployed to the Operation Iraqi Freedom and to support the battle plan of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). In the initial plan, the Company's movement into Iraq was to advance from Camp Virginia to Objective Rams through Highway 1 and Highway 8 i.e. Route Jackson and Route Blue respectively ("507th Maintenance Company," 2013). The movement of unit would be under the tactical control or leadership of the 3rd Forward Support Battalion and part of the 3rd Infantry Division.
On the first day of the operation, 64 members of the unit departed Camp Virginia for Objective Rams on 33 vehicles. The other members of the Company including medics and contact maintenance teams were attached to the other units in the operation. A huge portion of the 64 members arrived at Attack Position Dawson, which was the initial immediate attack position. While in this location, the unit refueled and serviced their vehicles, rested, and received a meal. During the initial stages of the advancements, the unit was divided into two separate groups with one comprising vehicles and personnel that were not immobilized while the other had become immobilized or diverted to provide help to others with mechanical problems.
However, part of the maintenance unit was ambushed by Iraqi adversarial forces and irregulars when advancing through the outskirts of the city of An Nasiriyah, which is in southeastern Iraq. The attacked or ambushed element comprised 33 American soldiers in a convoy of 18 vehicles with only two of them being members of the support unit from Fort Bliss, Texas. The attacking forces carried out fierce attacks against the convoy, which resulted in the death of 11 U.S. Soldiers in combat or due to injuries and the capture of seven American soldiers by the Iraqi forces with the remaining soldiers rejoining friendly forces. Nine out of the 22 American soldiers were wounded in action during the attack on the convoy.
The first fierce attack by the Iraqi forces and irregulars took place at a time when one of the unit's elements was running low on fuel and returning to the intersection with Highway 16 and Highway 7. Even though vehicles were ordered to accelerate in order to avoid probable ambushes, they had different capabilities and generated huge gaps in the element. This in turn contributed to speed and confusion that made the element to miss the turn to Highway 7 and Highway 8. As they attempted to return to the intersection, one of the vehicles became disabled and the second fierce attack by Iraqi forces and irregulars took place. This led to the death of one U.S. soldier in combat while other vehicles tried to rescue the personnel from the disabled vehicle. Moreover, the other vehicle that was towing the third one was eventually disabled and its personnel rescued. The element soon disintegrated into three groups after experiencing more equipment challenges, hostile fire, and additional confusion.
After the first element of the group detached and linked up with the Marine Corps' Task Force Tarawa on Route Blue, forces were dispatched to try rescuing the remaining elements. These efforts yielded some results since 10 soldiers were eventually rescued from the second group by the Marines though some of the soldiers had been injured. However, the third group of the element was heavily engaged in the attack and suffered casualties while some of its members were captured by the Iraqi forces and irregulars. Furthermore, CENTCOM officials announced that 12 U.S. soldiers from the Company were missing including Private First Class Jessica Lynch ("507th Maintenance Company," 2013).
In the final report, out of the 33 soldiers who had entered the southeastern city of Iraq, An Nasiriyah, 11 were murdered, 7 captured, and 9 wounded while 16 emerged from the ambush. By the end of March 2003, the city of An Nasiriyah had successfully been captured by the Marine Corps' Task Force Tarawa. While Private First Class Jessica Lynch stayed at the Saddam Hospital in An Nasiriyah, a rescue operation was initiated at the beginning of April 2003. This rescue mission contributed to the retrieval of 11 bodies at the same location where Lynch was being detained. Despite the controversy regarding the actual details of Lynch's detainment by Iraqi forces and the nature of the fierce attack, the retrieved bodies were later identified to be part of the 507th Maintenance Company.
The advancement and unprecedented ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company has been labeled as a preposterous tragedy. A father to one of the soldiers who perished in the ambushed has argued that the situation was caused by the commanders' race to capture Baghdad (Starr, 2003). In his opinion, the maintenance unit was placed in a horrifying predicament or situation due to the reckless desire of its command structure to race to Baghdad. In essence, this incident highlighted some of the struggles U.S. soldiers and the coalition forces experienced in the war on Iraq. The most unfortunate aspect of this incident is that it could have been avoided if there was better planning and execution of the plans. While the 507th Maintenance Company was not the only unit that suffered severe losses in the Operation Iraqi Freedom, the factors that led to its ambush were avoidable. Some of the reasons…