A day in the life of an Army truck driver in Afghanistan
December 10, 2010
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Garrett Bartlett has logged thousands of miles across barren landscapes.
In the United States, he drove tractor-trailers for a milk company in New Mexico on cross-country routes for two years. Now, in Afghanistan, he carries the mail and supplies vital to the well-being of Soldiers on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connolly in Nangarhar Province.
Yet, U.S. Army Spc. Garrett Bartlett just keeps on trucking.
"I enjoy trucking for the Army because it gives me the opportunity to play a role in assisting the bigger picture," said Bartlett, a native of McQueeney, Texas. "I prefer to drive for the Army because I get to share my experiences with my fellow Soldiers, rather than going it alone like I did as a civilian."
Bartlett, 25, assigned to Troop D, 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, has driven Army trucks for three years. In the third month of his year-long deployment to Afghanistan, he drives various types of vehicles from Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) gun trucks to his personal favorite, the 20-ton load handling system.
Troop D is tasked with running combat logistical patrols between FOBs Connolly and Fenty, which is about an hour away, near the city of Jalalabad. Though the drive between the bases may only last a couple of hours, depending on the size of the load he totes, Bartlett said the preparation time for the convoys makes for long days.
Besides drinking energy drinks, Bartlett said he finds ways to keep his energy up.
"We really have no choice, as our noncommissioned officers say, 'Stay alert, stay alive,'" Bartlett said. "But talking to the truck commander in the passenger seat helps a lot, too."
The afternoon before the convoy Nov. 17, Bartlett and his fellow Army truck drivers were found near the motorpool. They kept busy preparing heavy up-armored Light Medium Tactical Vehicles (LMTVs) and MRAP gun trucks for the next day's mission. He said the unit also does daily maintenance checks and services on these vehicles.
Departure time was only a few hours away, so Bartlett and the other drivers tried to grab some precious sleep before the convoy. Since the convoy was leaving FOB Connolly for FOB Fenty in the early-morning hours, Bartlett and his fellow drivers had a long day in front of them.
Before they left, a convoy mission brief was conducted by the troop's platoon leader to discuss potential threats along the route.
Just as some local nationals were stumbling into their bakeries to start making the day's bread, Bartlett and the other drivers mounted up into their vehicles and headed out the gate.
Spc. Samuel J. Bradley, of Seneca, Mo., Troop D, 1st Sqdn., 61st Cav. Regt., who drove the gun truck in front of Bartlett, handed him a muffin and an energy drink scavenged from the chow hall.
"Thanks buddy," Bartlett told his friend. "You're a lifesaver."
The streets on his way to Jalalabad were dark and bare, except for a few Afghans on bikes.
"We're lucky this route is paved," Bartlett said. "There aren't many here that are."
Just before daybreak, the convoy arrived at FOB Fenty. Bartlett took this chance to grab a catnap. He leaned back into his seat, pulled his green fleece cap over his eyes and within minutes he was asleep.
The nap did not last long, because within an hour Bartlett's sergeant was banging on the heavy LMTV door. He sat up, already knowing they were ready at the supply yard.
He took Pfc. Joseph Conlon, another truck driver with the platoon, to help load the supplies. Both Soldiers threw on their helmets and drove to the supply yard.
The yard was a maze of boxes, crates and other random bulky objects like truck engines, all offset by narrow paths and inlets. Conlon pointed to one of the piles.
"They need you to pick up all those air conditioners," said Conlon, a native of Anchorage, Alaska. "You're going to have to go by and back up to them. I'll ground guide you."
Bartlett shrugged and casually backed up his 22-foot truck and 14-foot trailer through junk piles as if he was guiding a thread through a needle hole.
A couple hours later, Bartlett's LMTV and the trailer it pulled was loaded with air conditioners, cups and building materials.
"The load is the responsibility of the driver," Bartlett explained as he yanked on a cargo strap, making sure it was fastened snug against a stack of boxes in the back of the truck. "You don't want to be that guy who has something fall out of their truck in the middle of a convoy who everybody has to stop for."
Bartlett and Conlon swarmed all over the truckbed and trailer until straps were holding the cargo in place in both horizontal and vertical directions.
Around noon, the last of the eight trucks returned back to the original parking lot on FOB Fenty loaded with supplies. The Soldiers of Troop D were given a little more than an hour to eat chow.
Bartlett was content to eat another muffin, settle back into his seat and use the opportunity to take a second nap. He had been on quick reaction force duty the night before, so he was still a bit tired.
When he awoke, the vehicles in the convoy were doing a radio check calling back and forth to one another. Bartlett chimed in that he could hear everyone "Lima Charlie" [loud and clear]. The trucks rumbled out of the gate at FOB Fenty and headed back to FOB Connolly.
Just outside of base, the city streets of Jalalabad were now bustling. Motorcycle taxis loaded with 10 or sometimes more people, and even sheep and mules, lined the streets. Bartlett weaved through them in his truck, pausing occasionally to wave at one of the many small children who jumped excitedly in the air, waving, as he drove by.
The convoy returned to FOB Connolly just after 3 p.m., more than 12 hours after they had departed. There was still work to be done.
"We've still got to unload all this stuff, making sure the right stuff gets to the right people and then refuel," Bartlett explained.
It was a long and tiring day, but one Bartlett had grown accustomed to, having made this run more than 30 times. In a couple days at most, he would be doing the same thing all over again.
But that's what Bartlett has always done. Mile after mile, mission after mission, he just keeps on trucking.