FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. -- All was quiet in the HUMVEE, named Red 5, as the convoy moved down the road from the Forward Operating Base (FOB). The Soldiers knew from intelligence reports that enemy action was likely, and all four Soldiers in Red 5 were poised and ready for whatever insurgents might throw at them.
Suddenly there was the sound of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on the side of the road. The convoy moved quickly past the spot. A few minutes later, the driver of Red 5 realized that the trail vehicle, Red 6, was no longer behind them.
The decision was made to go back for the disabled HUMVEE. Once Red 5 arrived back at the scene they saw their fellow Soldiers, some pulling security and some wounded. They also were starting taking small arms fire. There was only one way out of this situation: quickly towing Red 6 to safety.
"Tell Red 4 to back up so we can hook up Red 6!"
The command came from Spc. Casey Rowland, a Human Intelligence Collector with the 373rd Military Intelligence Battalion (MI BN) based in Tumwater, Wash., riding 'shotgun' in Red 5, one of the several vehicles running through convoy lanes training.
This particular day of convoy lanes training was the culmination of three weeks of pre-deployment training at Regional Training Center-West (RTC-W), Fort Hunter-Liggett, Calif., in preparation for the battalion's deployment to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. As part of this training scenario, the convoy was 'hit' by multiple IEDs, 'disabling' the rear vehicle and 'injuring' most of the Soldiers inside. Once recovery operations started, the disabled vehicle and the vehicles that came back for the tow took small arms and indirect fire.
Rowland, from Olympia, Wash., was directing the driver of Red 5, Spc. Alvaro Nunez, also a Human Intelligence Collector, from Bonney Lake, Wash., to tell the other vehicle to back up and provide cover while they hooked a tow bar up to the disabled vehicle. Communications were down; the Soldiers in the vehicles had to communicate with hand signals and old-fashioned yelling.
All three vehicles finally departed the kill zone, caught up with the rest of the convoy, and made it safely back to the FOB.
For Nunez, the experience was a positive one and taught him to be prepared for everything during convoy operations.
"When comms [communications] go down, make sure all the vehicles know what's going on," he said after the mission was completed.
All of the training leading up to that mission also gave Nunez confidence in the unit and the mission.
"We have good leadership and that makes me feel a lot more confident," he said.
That leadership starts with the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Dustin Schultz. She has watched the battalion work its way through extensive pre-mobilization training and is pleased with the results.
"The Soldiers' spirits have remained high through all this training," she said.
"The Soldiers were thrilled to receive exceptional hands-on training, focusing on the Army Warrior Skills," she added about the final three weeks of training at RTC-W. Those three weeks included everything from training on multiple types of weapons and equipment, to combatives and land navigation.
As the battalion prepares for deployment, the Soldiers are aware that they will most likely be the some of the last military personnel in Iraq. Per the current security agreement, American forces are to be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.
"The battalion is excited about being part of a historic event," said Schultz. "The Soldiers understand their mission and are ready to support the transition of forces out of Iraq," she added.
For Rowland, still riding shotgun in Red 5, the mission is melancholy. This is his first deployment after joining the Army Reserve just a few years ago.
"The youthful side of me wishes I had been over there earlier but it's nice that we'll be the last ones in Iraq," said Rowland.
"We'll finish the job", he said.