AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq - Texas Guardsmen here are set to return home in August following a nine-month tour of duty escorting logistics convoys around Iraq.

Task Force Avalanche, 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment (Texas Army National Guard) primarily escorted fuel trucks from the Jordanian border to Coalition bases like Victory Base Complex in Baghdad.

The Soldiers drove over 2.5 million miles escorting 55,000 trucks, which delivered 70 million gallons of fuel to support Coalition operations. "We had a large part in keeping all the vehicles and generators running while we were here in Iraq," said Lt. Col. Mark L. Burkett, 2nd Bn., 142nd Inf. Regt. commander.

Many of the Soldiers deployed to Iraq before. Burkett, a native of Canyon, Texas who was stationed in 2005 at Tallil, said the best part of this deployment was seeing all the positive changes which took place in Iraq. "In 2005, it was the wild west. It was very difficult to move anything in from Jordan and to get it here in one piece," he said.

"It's not quite like driving I-10 back in the States, but it's getting closer. It's getting a lot closer." Sgt. 1st Class Jose M. Orozco, a platoon commander with Bravo Company, said the difference is like night and day compared to his first deployment to Iraq. "In 2004 and 2005 we were bombed nearly every day, every time we were outside the wire we found a (roadside bomb)," said the native of Hillsboro, Texas.

According to figures released by Multi-National Forces-Iraq, nationwide, attacks are at their lowest levels since August 2003, and the weekly average is 70 percent lower than it was last year. The improvement in security affects how units like Task Force Avalanche execute their mission, which Orozco said was the biggest adjustment Veterans such as him had to make. "During previous deployments, pretty much, we owned the road," said Capt. David Alderman, commanding officer, Co. B, in a previous interview. Coalition forces would often take control of intersections and not allow unknown vehicles to stray too close to their convoys, which was an unfortunate but necessary precaution at the time, he said.

Now Coalition forces share the road with Iraqis, not unlike how military convoys work in any other host nation. "As we're traveling, we'll move over, allow them to bypass our convoys when it's safe," Alderman said. "In that way, we're not hindering their movement and they're not hindering our movement." Another facet of sharing the road with Iraqis includes partnering with the Iraqi Highway Patrol and the Iraqi Police, Burkett said.

Task Force Avalanche worked with police along their routes, provided medical care to Iraqi civilians injured in an accident, and even invited Iraqi Army officers to a Texas-style barbeque. A police officer from Hillsboro, Texas, Orozco said he took particular pride in mentoring and getting to know his Iraqi counterparts. He said he had a lot of respect for what they did to help make Iraq more safe and secure.

Burkett enjoyed meeting Iraqis like the chief of police for Hit, a city in Anbar province. "He is the type (of person) that's going to make Iraq a success," he said. The Soldiers of Task Force Avalanche, 2nd Bn., 142nd Inf. Regt. were mobilized with the 56th (Infantry) Brigade Combat Team in August 2008. Falling under the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, the unit's insignia is a distinctive olive drab "T" on a blue arrowhead. They will transfer their mission to units from the Mississippi Army National Guard next month.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16