Veteran transporters see positive change in Iraq
November 5, 2010
- Many of the Soldiers in Company F are on their third and fourth deployments to Iraq.
- The Army has made sweeping changes to the protection and comfort of transportation vehicles since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
BASRA, Iraq - Many things have changed in Iraq since the first American forces entered the country more than seven years ago. Those changes are especially welcome by the distribution platoon of Company F, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 4th Infantry Division in Basra.
For many within the platoon, this is their third or fourth deployment. Collectively, they have driven tens of thousands of miles through some very hostile environments to deliver food, water, ammo, repair parts and equipment to the Soldiers of the brigade. Some have been driving the streets of Iraq since the very beginning.
In 2003, there were no such things as counter-IED systems, electronic warfare systems, armor kits or even a radio in every vehicle.
"No bells or whistles," said 1st Lt. Mark Klenk, then a freshly graduated private first-class with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
Back then, Klenk drove the streets of Fallujah in a fuel truck. "There wasn't anything up-armored. We had sandbags on the floor and pieces of steel attached to the doors," he said.
When Klenk, a native of North Hills, Pa., returned to Iraq in the spring of 2010, it was not the same Iraq he left behind seven years before. His distribution platoon was given mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles that could withstand massive explosions and weighed in excess of 40,000 pounds.
"That thing is huge, but you feel a lot safer in it," Klenk said.
The increased safety has changed the way supplies are delivered in Iraq. Since April 2010, the distribution platoon of Co. F has conducted more than 100 combat logistic convoys, covering more than 2,300 miles within Basra Province. The platoon delivers much needed supplies to more than 500 Soldiers at four joint security stations.
"During my first tour, we got hit the most; two or three times a week," said Spc. James Yount, a motor transport operator from San Antonio.
Today, things are a lot quieter. The distribution platoon has delivered more than 80 vehicles on flatbed trailers and 1,700 tons of water, food, repair parts and equipment to various bases in southern Iraq. The convoys travel at slower speeds and every vehicle is equipped with a functioning electronic warfare system and air conditioning.
"It was great to get air conditioning," said Sgt. Preston Williams, a water treatment specialist from Oklahoma City, Okla.
In the early days of the war, convoys seldom stopped and relied on speed to stay safe.
"We were ordered by our lieutenant not to stop the convoy for anything," said Sgt. Kyle Watanabe, a motor transport operator from Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands.
The rules of the road have changed for convoys moving through Iraq. Under the current status of forces agreement, all U.S. convoys must be courteous and share the road with the Iraqi citizens. When traveling through towns or cities, U.S. convoys are required to be escorted by the Iraqi police or army.
On the battlefield, change is inevitable, but this time change is good for Co. F's distribution platoon as it looks forward to wrapping up what will hopefully be its last deployment to Iraq.