JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq- As the end of 2011 approaches, so does the push to responsibly withdraw all U.S. Forces from Iraq by the end of this year. The Tennessee Army National Guard's 230th Sustainment Brigade, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn., has been chosen as one of several units responsible for this massive task.

U.S. forces have been in Iraq for over seven years, and in that time, an enormous amount of equipment has built up throughout the country. Every piece of this equipment needs to be moved and in a short amount of time.

"We're hauling everything from armored vehicles, to parts, to shipping containers full of office supplies. Everything," said Lt. Col. Martin J. Basham, commander of Joint Task Force Hickory, and the executive officer of the 230th.

The 230th established an operations base, here at Joint Base Balad, to coordinate the extraction
of equipment from the northern Forward Operating Bases to central Iraq.

"We are collapsing the northern sector of Iraq, in to the center, and then withdrawing the equipment through the southern route," said Col. William Mark Hart, commander of the 230th.

Instead of wearing out trucks by driving 800 miles north, they are hauling equipment from the
northern FOB's down to JBB. The task force then transfers the equipment south to Kuwait or
other destinations throughout the theater. Aside from minimizing the wear and tear on equipment and personnel, this process allows for greater flexibility.

Weather and road restrictions, both in Kuwait and Iraq, could bring movements to a halt, delaying the mission.

Hart expressed by doing it this way, "It gives me more freedom of movement to get the mission accomplished."

Weather and road restrictions are not the only factors slowing this process down. Convoys have to contend with Iraqi checkpoints approximately every 20 miles, slowing the trucks to a crawl. Roadside bombs and enemy fire are constant threat factors to watch for, and the ever-imposing equipment breakdown due to increased use and the heat keeps these service members on full alert.

According to Basham, "The major factor of getting all of this equipment out and on time is getting
the paperwork right." Basham continued, "Task Force Hickory has the personnel that can go into
their system and check the Transportation Movement Request paperwork and ensure it is correct
and moving to the right location."

"The whole responsible drawdown has been referred to as eating the elephant," said Capt. Jack A. Tyer, Joint Task Force Hickory support operations officer. "We knew we could eat the elephant if we ate it in small bites and if we had enough time."

"Time has been our enemy this whole mission," Tyler said. "What we are focusing on is not getting caught up in the overall picture but what we can control, and that is our elements and making the most effective use of them. This puts the focus at the ground level where it needs to be."