Challenging convoy prepares 96th Trans for Iraq
May 22, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Heavy Equipment Transportation trucks of the 96th Transportation Company, 180th Transportation Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), hauled 11 M1A2 Abrams tanks from Fort Hood to Fort Bliss, Texas, in a successful mission which ended with a safe return here May 15.
The more than 600 mile route may have seemed plagued for the convoy, but the seasoned truck drivers of the 96th along with a batch of new Soldiers were prepared.
With what might be called skilled professionalism, the truck drivers faced multiple breakdowns, smoking drive shafts and turbochargers, broken wheels, and even escaped a tornado by merely minutes.
Sgt. 1st Class Jamie Cox, 1st platoon sergeant 96th Trans, said she expected there to be a lot of breakdowns.
"The problem with these trucks [is that they] have never been on a mission like this."
The HETs are designed to carry heavy loads such as tanks and other large vehicles long distances, and if they are rarely used in this way, they tend to have more problems, Cox explained.
"If you do [physical training], you start out in bad shape, and the more you do it the better shape you get in. It's just like these trucks. If these trucks were on the road like this all the time we wouldn't have had the issues we've had these last two days. This is their first time out on a long haul."
The company was stop-lossed at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and it wasn't until recently that Soldiers began rotating in and out again. Many Soldiers have been in the unit for several years with multiple deployments.
"There aren't a lot of experienced guys out here. A lot of the soldiers that you see out here haven't deployed with us," Cox said, who has deployed with the unit five times herself.
"They reacted very well," she said, referring to the new Soldiers' responses to challenges along the route.
Facing adversity is nothing new to the Soldiers of the 96th, which has been deployed five times since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Usually we head east ... like way east. Fort Hood to the Middle East," said Capt. Nelson Duckson, the company's commander.
"We're always deployed," said Sgt. Trinity Guyett, a heavy wheeled vehicle operator for the 96th.
"We joke and say our home base is Kuwait, we just come back here for R&R," said Sgt. Enrique Hernandez, heavy equipment operator for the 96th.
The 96th operated out of Kuwait during its multiple previous deployments, and was used as a theater asset. They hauled various things for different branches of the military.
"We go everywhere," Cox said.
According to the various accounts of 96th's professional transporters, they have hauled Black Hawk helicopters, tanks, tank recovery vehicles, large garbage incinerators, as well as toilet paper and portable latrines.
In Iraq, breakdowns are only one of the challenges for the company, which has only had two fatalities since the beginning of the war despite numerous encounters with improvised explosive devices.
Hernandez, who was in a truck hit by an IED during his first deployment, said he would rather be in a HET because he feels it's safe.
"We're famous downrange," Guyett said about the unit's status among Soldiers deployed to Iraq.
"When you say you're with the 96th, people know who you are."
The company was awarded the Deployment Excellence Award for OIF 3 in 2005, Cox said.
The award is presented to units which have done extraordinary things during deployment, and is awarded to representatives of the unit in Washington D.C. after a lengthy board selection process, Cox explained.
The 96th received the award during a time of frequent deployments, with a schedule of roughly six months deployed with three to four months home before deploying again, Cox said.
Despite the awards and the unit's fame, Cox finds other things about the unit more important.
"The thing that sticks out in my mind the most is the camaraderie that you have while you're out there. I can't even say 'while you're out there,' because it comes back with you."