Year of the NCO, Engaged III Corps Leaders
February 9, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - A fresh winter rain from the previous night has turned Camp Taji into a pool of wet, sticky mud.
Comparable to the slippery blizzard conditions experienced in some parts the United States, the slick mud on the large camp causes traffic to become lethargic, and Soldiers can be seen wearing waterproof boots, walking gingerly through the slosh as they make their way to work.
Everything slows down.
Sgt. Craig Priest, who is now on his third deployment to Iraq, knows the "rainy season" better than most, and while most of the operations on Camp Taji become sluggish because of the muddy conditions, it's just another day in the warzone for Priest and the rest of his transportation platoon from Company A, 404th Aviation Support Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad.
As the CAB's only pure transportation asset, the platoon is responsible for any and all ground transport required by the "Iron Eagle" brigade, said 2nd Lt. Clayton Eiland, transportation platoon leader.
These operations can be as simple as moving a few tires from one point to another and can be as complicated as moving hundreds of 4,000 pound blast barriers to different locations around the brigade area on Camp Taji.
Rain or shine, day or night, Priest's platoon is always on the move. The seven-year veteran's typical workday starts around 8:30 a.m. Without delay, he checks the platoon's mission tracker to see what's on tap for the day. The tracker includes basic information such as what type of items they have to move, the quantity, and pick-up and drop-off locations.
"There are days when we have multiple missions," Priest explained. "Our first mission is almost always conducted in the morning, the second after lunch and, if a night mission is required, we ensure we have personnel ready to complete the operation."
At any given time, the platoon has M1088 tractor trucks ready to roll. Each of the platoon's trucks are equipped with large flatbed trailers capable of hauling anywhere from 22 to 34 tons of conventional or containerized cargo within the confines of the camp.
After checking the mission tracker, Priest sends one of his drivers to prepare the truck and ensure the vehicle has no deficiencies. Priest then personally checks it himself to make sure his Soldier didn't miss anything before setting out on mission.
Once the wheels are rolling, the rest of the mission simply entails meeting up with the operator of the cargo loading vehicle, moving to the pick-up location, loading the cargo and then moving it to the drop-off site.
But it's not always that easy.
More recently, in accordance with the CAB's force protection initiative to ensure the safety of Iron Eagle Soldiers, the platoon was tasked to transport more than 100 two-ton cement blast barriers to different locations around the brigade's airfield on Camp Taji.
"During the barrier mission, we pretty much ran operations around the clock," he said. "We had a day shift and a night shift to ensure the barriers were placed in the correct areas and were the correct size; that went on for about a week."
During that one-week span, Priest's platoon averaged approximately six missions a day while moving back and forth, picking up and dropping off the 20-foot, 4,000-pound blast walls. He described the mission as the busiest his platoon had been since it arrived in June; and just like any hardcore truck driver, he likes to be busy.
"I love spending my time outside all day working with the vehicles, working with the Soldiers, because that's just the type of person I am," he said. "I'd rather be physically active compared to spending time in the office.
"With my job, there's always something new, some new experience. Whether it is maneuvering the vehicle through a certain area, loading strange equipment that requires special tie downs... there's just so much stuff involved with it. You're constantly moving, thinking and assessing the situation to ensure everything is done correctly."
During an early January mission, Priest and Pfc. Brandon Geiger, his driver, completed the platoon's 500th transportation mission for the brigade while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was a milestone the team had originally set out to accomplish in 12 months but completed in about seven.
The fact is, the guys are busy, but Priest wouldn't have it any other way.