Keeping Precious Cargo Safe
March 17, 2008
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - The day started for a group of convoy security Soldiers before the sun crested the horizon. It didn't end until long after the sun had set.
The mission played out like they had trained - like they had done before.
The troops with 2nd Section, 2nd Platoon, Headquarters Support Company, Task Force Dragon, Fort Bragg, N.C., are tasked with keeping select servicemembers and civilians safe while taking them through the streets of Baghdad to their desired destinations.
Dawn starts for the Soldiers of the "Cold Steel" platoon inside their company headquarters.
Sgt. Matthew D. Chance, lead vehicle commander and Vallejo, Calif. native, went over what was going to happen on the first run.
"Specialist Williams, first truck goes down, what do we do'" Chance asked Spc. Christopher Williams, one of the vehicles drivers.
Chance was happy with Williams' answer. Then it was Staff Sgt. Steven C. Manuel's turn to brief the crew on the mission.
"We'll be heading out [Entry Control Point XYZ], we have [X] amount of passengers ...," said Manuel, who is the convoy commander and hails from Fayetteville, N.C.
Then it was time for the Soldiers to load up, pick up the passengers and hit the roads of Baghdad.
Trip one headed to the International Zone and was completed without incident. Passengers were offloaded while others waited to get on board the armored bus that would take them from the IZ to Camp Victory. In the meantime, the Soldiers took time to joke around during their 20-minute break before the next run started.
Many of the troops were sporting mustaches in a spoof on college basketball's "March Madness," which sees the top college teams compete for a championship title this month.
Second section is taking part in "March Mustache Madness." A good portion of them are on the second week of growing their mustaches.
So far, one soldier is taking the crown. Pfc. Sergio D. Robles, a gunner from Andrews, Texas, is growing a mustache that has the rest of the crew envious.
"Just look at that thing," said Sgt. Jeremy L. Gunter - one of the section's drivers - of Robles mustache. "It looks like he painted it on."
After a few minutes of laughing at each other's mustaches, the crew was on the road again. Not long went by before their return trip was complete, again without incident.
A similar scene would be played out a few more times that day, minus the mustache talk. Sometimes the Soldiers barely have time to grab something to eat during lunch due to keeping on schedule. Sometimes they get to eat in the IZ's dining facility.
"Sometimes we can't wait on food - it's turn and go," Manuel said.
That's how the lunch run went this day. The troops missed out on their normal indulgence in fine cuisine.
"See that right there'" Manuel pointed in the direction of the IZ's dining facility - one which the troops hadn't any time to enjoy. "That's THE place to eat."
A few Pop-tarts would have to do for some once the troops made it back to headquarters.
Back at headquarters, the Soldiers take time to relax for a minute, eat some snacks or partake in what has most of the section claiming, "I've got next!"
"Ever since we put in this ping-pong table, you can't get these guys off it," said Company Commander Capt. Robert Day.
"All day long I here 'ping, ping, ping, ping' - it's going to drive me nuts," Day said part in jest, part in worry. "But the guys need a chance to unwind for a minute and decompress. You can't train every minute of the day."
But they make time during their schedule to ensure their skills are honed.
The troops run convoy security for a couple of days before they break the monotony by spending another two days as the company's quick reaction force. The rest of the week is spent as a personal security detail or conducting maintenance and training. The pace doesn't slow once the rotation ends, however, because they have to start it all over again. This holds true for the rest of the platoon as well as others in the company who rotate schedules alongside 2nd Section.
"We had to break up the schedule for the guys," Day said. "After two days on the road, they are just zombies. This way they can do other things, take care of personal business and get training and maintenance in as well."
The scheduling format pays off, Day said, and that was proven on the road.
The Humvees constant preventive maintenance checks and services keep them running smooth, and the sharp and rested crew was able to finish out the day with an out-of-the-ordinary run.
A special envoy of Korean soldiers needed to get to their embassy in Baghdad, and it was up to 2nd Section to get the job done.
After meeting up with the Korean liaison and picking up their passengers, 'Steel' was on the road again.
The embassy was in a section of Baghdad with routes that weren't familiar to the unit. A reconnaissance patrol earlier in the week put them in the vicinity of the embassy, so they were familiar with the area.
"We would've never found this place without these guys," said HSC Executive Officer 2nd Lt. James Benson, of the Koreans leading them to their Embassy.
The troops helped offload the Koreans baggage upon arrival and some kind words of thanks were exchanged before the troops were off again to take their last convoy security run home.
Ultimately, the day's mission was accomplished in professional fashion. Four trips outside the gate saw more than 50 passengers safely to their destinations.
But the beginning of the mission started farther back than that morning's breakfast.
Getting ready for a mission of this nature began stateside for the unit, which is made up mostly of non-combat arms Soldiers.
Before deploying in January, the HSC troops got word they would be handling a convoy security mission, Day explained.
They conducted lanes training at Fort Bragg before moving on to Kuwait, where they spent roughly two weeks honing tactics, techniques and procedures, said Sgt. 1st Class Alan L. Sutton, platoon sergeant, 2nd Plt., who hails from Houston.
"We earned our money in Kuwait," he said.
And the training is paying off, he added, because "these guys are focused; they have adapted to the battlefield and are doing an outstanding job."
Proof of Sutton's statement could be seen during their convoy mission. The Soldiers would constantly talk on the airways to keep each other aware of what is happening on the road.
Chance's voice would ring out every couple of seconds to all the other vehicles in the convoy.
Everything from a soccer ball on the right side of the road to a dog on the left was known by the trail vehicles before they ever came upon them.
"When it comes to the tactical side of the house - these guys are on it," Sutton said of his crew.
And that means good news for the section's precious cargo.