T-Walls: Protector and Trap
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 JUSTIN P. GARNER
Bravo Company, 15th Military Intelligence Battalion
Fort Hood, Texas
After patrolling the date groves and city streets while dealing with daily firefights and improvised explosive devices during the surge of Iraq, all we wanted was some semblance of security once we were back on our combat outposts. Unfortunately, indirect fire attacks regularly disrupted life and operations on our facilities. Therefore, when not on patrol, we spent many hours making our areas as protected as possible. We worked diligently with our combat engineers to improve our company operations and living areas, relying heavily on prebuilt T-wall barriers.
It seemed for a while that we had done a great job because our area made it through regular bombardment from mortar and rocket fire seemingly without a scratch. Eventually, the repetition of operations lured us into complacency and we quit making improvements to our facility. We would later learn firsthand that you can never be too comfortable and no facility was completely secure from danger.
It was about 2000 hours and my squad was gathered for dinner at the chow hall when the nightly round of rockets arrived courtesy of the local insurgents. We did our usual shuffle to the nearby bunker when we heard someone shouting that Bravo Troop was hit. Without hesitation, every member of the squad within earshot began running toward the command post (CP) and entered the T-wall perimeter from the westernmost opening into the area. Our CP had taken a direct hit from a 122 mm artillery rocket that landed squarely in the doorway of our executive officer’s (XO) office, which was in a containerized housing unit (CHU) shared with the commander and first sergeant.
My initial assessment told me the situation was not good. The CHU was collapsed and engulfed in flames. Our wood-framed CP was also nearing collapse, and flames were starting to reach our arms room and ammo storage area. The tightness of our T-wall perimeter restricted our ability to get firefighting equipment inside to fight the flames and extract the wounded from the CP. Additionally, the walls were trapping the heat, making the whole area feel like the inside of an oven.
Despite the intense heat and secondary explosions, we were able to extract most of our personnel. Sadly, we were unable to get to our XO. The explosion pushed him and the remnants of his office against the southern portion of our T-wall perimeter, which had no means of ingress or egress. Our XO was 24 years old, newly married and just returned from stateside following the birth of his son.
We learned a lot of tough lessons that night about survivability, site defense and, most importantly, complacency. We used those lessons to once again make improvements to our base defense plan. I also used them to influence our sites during future deployments.
I always believed you could never have too many T-walls and other concrete barriers to protect the facilities. However, a lot of factors must be considered when using them. First, ensure there are means of ingress and egress on all sides of the perimeter, even when the building doesn’t have exits on those sides. (Explosions create their own exits.) Second, ensure there is sufficient spacing between the perimeter walls and building to facilitate ingress and egress for recovery personnel. Finally, ensure rehearsals are conducted and available emergency personnel are included in all base defense operations. We never want to help the enemy do its job.