By Army Spc. Elisebet Freeburg
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 20, 2009 - As combat missions increase in Afghanistan, a Maine National Guard battalion here is getting increasingly busy delivering supplies to forward operating bases under dangerous conditions. Riding in mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, also known as MRAPs or "gun trucks," soldiers of the 286th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion escort Afghan army "jingle trucks" and military palletized load system trucks, all loaded down with U.S. military cargo. The convoys take the equipment to forward operating bases, sometimes through narrow city streets or in difficult terrain, always under the threat of enemy fire and facing the possibility of breakdowns or needing to take an alternate route.
The number of troops moving into Afghanistan is expected to grow to more than 60,000 by the end of the year. With them comes an increased demand for supplies. Because of austere and difficult terrain, Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan, the U.S. logistics command here, often moves large cargo to forward operating bases through logistics convoy missions, called combat logistics patrols.
"There is a warfighting effort going on in this theater, and someone has to get supplies and things a frontline soldier needs to him," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Byron T. Mills, a transportation platoon sergeant with the battalion.
The 286th, a National Guard battalion and element of the sustainment command, runs combat logistics patrols to many locations in southern Afghanistan, including forward operating bases Lagman, Ramrod, Wolverine and Ghazni. Building materials, mail, ammunition, vehicles and food supplies are among the cargo.
"Anything to sustain the maneuver units up front," Mills said.
Once a unit's supplies diminish to a certain point, the command plans a combat logistics patrol. Numerous such patrols have been conducted in Helmand province lately due to the recent influx of Marines there, he said.
The patrols to Helmand were done in four phases to deliver equipment to Marines at Dwyer and Leatherneck. During the first phase, troops delivered power generation equipment to Leatherneck, where they rested overnight. The next day, they drove to Dwyer, delivered fuel system supply point equipment and slept for the night. The third day, the patrol returned to Leatherneck, loaded special operations equipment and departed back here as their final phase.
The command also met a critical need with two missions the 286th took to move about 60 MRAPs to Marine units in Helmand province, where they were sent to ward off roadside bomb attacks.
Soldiers of the 286th generally convoy one to three times per week, with some patrols lasting as long as four days, Mills said.
Besides MRAPs and cargo trucks, patrols include at least one wrecker in case it's necessary to pull cargo trucks out of loose sand and up steep hills.
Before a combat logistics patrol, soldiers must prepare their vehicles, individual and crew-served weapons and personal equipment by completing pre-combat checks. Troops also ensure that cargo trucks have adequate fuel and that the freight is strapped down securely. Each gun truck carries at least a driver, truck commander, gunner and assistant gunner.
"We have a defensive posture," Mills said. "But if someone were to have hostile intent against our movement, we are equipped to eliminate or reduce the threat."
Even with precautions, the patrols are dangerous because of the threat of roadside bombs, snipers and ambushes, particularly during the possibility of mechanical breakdowns or flat tires.
"Someone's got to do it," said Army Spc. Robert Mitchell, a 286th assistant gunner. "I don't mind coming out here and doing my duty, because I signed my name on the line voluntarily."
(Army Spc. Elisebet Freeburg serves with Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan's public affairs office.)