Operation Northern Lights
October 11, 2010
- Mass. National Guard unit assited in drawdown of U.S. equipment from Iraq.
- Drivers get recognition for their contributions to the drawdown of U.S. equipment from Iraq.
Their torn Army combat uniforms were covered in dirt and sweat. Grease splattered over what was once a golden-sand colored pair of boots. The Kuwait heat, in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, bore down on the Mass. National Guard Soldiers of 1166th Combat Heavy Equipment Transporter Company, 164th Transportation Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade.
This was nothing unusual for the Road Hogs, a company on their eighth month of deployment to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. But this deployment was different. They were contributing to the historic drawdown of U.S. equipment in Iraq, the largest since WWII.
After seven years of war and the redeployment of the last combat brigade for Iraq, 1166th Soldiers, along with other troops, remain in Kuwait and Iraq to complete the responsible drawdown of Iraq.
The 1166th CHET Company completed the retrograde mission Operation Northern Lights (ONL) from July 7 to Aug. 16, 2010, stretching from northern Iraq to southern Kuwait.
Convoys comprised of military vehicles were driven from Kuwait to Iraq with the purpose of bringing U.S. equipment back to Kuwait to comply with the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The objective of ONL was for the 1166th CHET to assist in the drawdown by loading convoys full of U.S. equipment from four different forward operating bases (FOB) in northern Iraq and driving it to a central location in Iraq, said Staff Sgt. James Curran, assistant convoy commander, 1166th CHET, 164 TB, 1 SB. The equipment would then be driven to Camp Arifjan by a different company.
"We brought the equipment from northern Iraq to the centralized location so other convoys could pick it up and continue to transport it to Kuwait", said Curran.
In 40 days, the 1166th Soldiers completed 19 retrograde missions, drove more than 7,000 miles and transported more than 633 loads of U.S. equipment.
Their accomplishments are a result of teamwork and the ability of the Soldiers to endure unfavorable and exhausting conditions.
The company would drive to the FOB's, load the gear, sleep six to eight hours, and get right back to the vehicles and download the gear, said Sgt. John Spagna, HET operator. The company would sleep another six hours and head right back up to northern Iraq to get more equipment.
"We were pretty much on the road all the time for Operation Northern Lights, constantly picking up gear throughout northern Iraq and bringing it to the centralized location," said HET operator Spc. Jessica Pedraza.
Driving was not the only responsibility of the 1166th Soldiers. They were expected to operate and maintain their own trucks and ensure the equipment arrived safely to its next destination.
"We had to make sure our trucks were up and running," said Pedraza. "We had to make sure all of our equipment was tied down and properly stored. We hauled things as small as storage containers and as large as M1 tanks."
"We do all the maintenance on our vehicles and then what we can't do, we have our own maintenance personnel," said Spagna.
In addition to coping with the 120 degree heat and the weight from the combat gear they wore, the Road Hogs also had to face challenges such as roadside bombs and small-arms fire.
With combat troops out of Iraq, Spagna said he wanted the American people to know that didn't mean the danger was over.
Spagna and Curran said the troops who remained in Kuwait and Iraq still had jobs to do.
"We're still here," said Spagna. "There is still a lot going on in Iraq. We ran into a lot of situations that could be described as combat."
It might not be all the time, but the violence and risk are still there, said Spagna.
Curran said he was happy to be a part of the drawdown and a part of troops getting to go home to their Families.
"Other Soldiers get to go home to their Families now, while we're still here working so they can go home," said Curran.
"It feels awesome because I know I'm here for a reason," said Pedraza. "What we do isn't overlooked anymore as truck drivers."
Although tired and anxious to complete their final mission of ONL, the Road Hogs smiled and joked as they waited to get clearance to travel into Kuwait at the border between Iraq and Kuwait.
The 1166th Soldiers completed back to back missions, pulling U.S. equipment out of Iraq on a daily basis, while enduring a multitude of challenges. The challenges they overcame during ONL contributed to the success of the mission and the morale of the company.
"Operation Northern Lights was very successful because so much gear was drawn down from Iraq," said Curran. "It's knowing the job isn't done but it's getting closer."
The completion of Operation Northern Lights boosted the resiliency and love of the job for the Road Hogs.
"It feels great," said Spagna. "We did our job. The ground troops got out on their own and we retrieved their equipment. Now we're going to head back and continue our job. We like to be in Iraq, that's what Soldiers do. We go up there and we do our job."