By Pamela ProperAugust 19, 2011
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- The 402nd Army Field Support Brigade is packing up after an eight year presence in Iraq. With the move comes reflection on the mission that brought so many from so far.
James Branham has made the trip to the desert five times including Desert Shield/ Desert Storm. He helped establish the Army Materiel Command's logistics support element here in 2003 when U.S. forces took over the Iraqi air base at Balad. Back then the base was called Logistics Support Activity, Anaconda and over the years it has grown into a large and important logistics hub.
When Branham arrived, under the command of Col. Robert Spidel, with a small team of logistics assistance representatives they began to set up tents, make toilets and shower facilities and design plans to improve their living and work area. At that time, Iraq was an immature theater, there were no amenities such as running water, toilets or electrical power, so they relied on LAR ingenuity to make things happen.
In addition, Branham's team staked their claim on a badly damaged structure that would become, over the years, the headquarters of the 402nd AFSB. The team slept in tents pitched in the desert sand and ate MREs next to their building project.
According to Spidel's historical report, they shoveled sand, stacked sand bags, cleaned and cabled the building with the help of hired labor from the local population. The report stated the Iraqis were very hard working people who came in the morning, stayed all day, did not take a lot of breaks and were very proactive and wanted to make things work.
Branham remembers feeling a sense of accomplishment.
"The first time I left I felt extremely good about what our team established and accomplished on our own," Branham said. "We worked as a cohesive unit doing what was necessary and best for the organization to accomplish the mission. We were all stakeholders in the decision making process to improve the quality of life, as well as establishing workflow and reporting processes. We knew the seed we planted then is what AMC Iraq has become today."
Over the years that single building would evolve into a compound of structures. Today the 402nd is moving out and their buildings, along with the rest of the base, will be given back to the Iraqi Air Force, which is slowly making a presence here.
Col. John S. Laskodi is the current 402nd AFSB commander. He is charged with reposturing the organization.
"I am extremely proud to be part of the Power Forward Team during this
historic time as we support the drawdown of forces in Iraq. The incredible
power of Army Materiel Command, synchronized through the 402nd AFSB, ensured
the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom and now Operation New Dawn. There is
no doubt that operations in Iraq and Kuwait could have been as successful
without the 402nd AFSB," Laskodi said.
And now after his fifth deployment Branham has come full circle with the AMC mission in Iraq.
"After so many deployments to Balad, Iraq, it makes me feel proud that as a LAR, I was a part of AMC history. From the establishment of LSE Iraq to AMC Forward Southwest Asia, to AFSB Iraq, and later the 402nd AFSB, and now our transition out of Iraq. It makes me reflect on the number of LARs, and leadership throughout AMC that came to Iraq and left their footprints in the sand. I can tip my hat and say "job well done - mission accomplished," Branham said.
The baton has been passed and the legacy continues for the 402nd.
"Whatever the future holds, the brigade's presence in Southwest Asia, from
its inception as LSE-Iraq in 2003 to its formal constitution as Army
Materiel Command's forward deployed brigade supporting U.S. operations in
Iraq, the incredible accomplishments of the Soldiers and civilians
comprising the brigade will forever be an enduring part of history," said Laskodi.