War on Terrorism

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Face of Defense: Deployed Soldier Keeps Wheels Turning in Iraq

By Army Sgt. Jason Dangel
Special to American Forces Press Service

Jan. 22, 2009 - A winter rain from the previous night had turned the camp here into a pool of sticky mud. Soldiers wearing waterproof boots walked gingerly through the slosh as they made their way to work, and traffic moved slowly over a slick surface. Army Sgt. Craig Priest, on his third deployment to Iraq, knows the rainy season and its effect on vehicles here better than most as the transportation noncommissioned officer for the 4th Infantry Division's Company A, 404th Aviation Support Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade.

As the brigade's only pure transportation asset, the transportation platoon is responsible for all ground transport required by the "Iron Eagle" brigade, Army 2nd Lt. Clayton Eiland, platoon leader, from Whitehouse, Texas, said.

These operations can be as simple as moving a few tires from one point to another and can be as complicated as moving hundreds of 4,000-pound blast barriers to different locations around the brigade area.

Rain or shine, day or night, Priest's platoon is always on the move.

The seven-year veteran's typical workday starts early. Each morning, he checks the platoon's mission tracker to see what's on tap for the day. The tracker includes basic information such as what type of items the soldiers have to move, the quantity, and pick-up and drop-off locations.

"There are days when we have multiple missions," the Georgetown, S.C., native explained. "Our first mission is almost always conducted in the morning, the second after lunch and, if a night mission is required, we ensure we have personnel ready to complete the operation."

At any given time, the platoon has M1088 tractor trucks ready to roll. Each of the platoon's trucks are equipped with large flatbed trailers capable of hauling anywhere from 22 to 34 tons of cargo within the confines of the camp.

After checking the mission tracker, Priest sends one of his drivers to prepare the truck and ensure the vehicle has no deficiencies. He then personally checks it himself to make sure nothing was missed before a soldier sets out on a mission.

Once the wheels are rolling, the rest of the mission simply entails meeting with the operator of the cargo-loading vehicle, moving to the pick-up location, loading the cargo and then moving it to the drop-off site. But it's not always that easy.

More recently, in accordance with the CAB's force protection initiative to ensure the safety of Iron Eagle soldiers, the platoon was tasked to transport more than 100 2-ton cement blast barriers to different locations around the brigade's airfield.

"During the barrier mission, we pretty much ran operations around the clock," Priest said. "We had a day shift and a night shift to ensure the barriers were placed in the correct areas and were the correct size; that went on for about a week."

During that span, Priest's platoon averaged about six missions a day while moving back and forth, picking up and dropping off the 20-foot, 4,000-pound blast walls. He described the mission as the busiest his platoon had been since it arrived in June; but just like any hardcore truck driver, he said, he likes to be busy.

"I love spending my time outside all day working with the vehicles, working with the soldiers, because that's just the type of person I am," he said. "I'd rather be physically active compared to spending time in the office.

"With my job, there's always something new, some new experience," he continued. "Whether it is maneuvering the vehicle through a certain area, loading strange equipment that requires special tie downs ... there's just so much stuff involved with it. You're constantly moving, thinking and assessing the situation to ensure everything is done correctly."

During a mission earlier this month, Priest and Pfc. Brandon Geiger, a 20-year-old driver from Woodland, Mich., completed the platoon's 500th transportation mission for the brigade while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was a milestone the team originally set out to accomplish in 12 months, but completed in about seven.

The platoon's soldiers may be busy, but Priest said he wouldn't have it any other way.

(Army Sgt. Jason Dangel serves in the 4th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade.)

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