By Army Spc. Elisebet Freeburg
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 7, 2009 - Earlier this year, troops from the Maine National Guard's 286th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion supported the first Afghan buildup by transporting equipment, supplies and building materials to numerous forward operating bases. They're scheduled to return home by January, but they show no signs of stopping. An element of Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan, the 286th CSSB runs regular convoys to Forward Operating Base Leatherneck in Afghanistan's Helmand province in support of the Marines and westward expansion. With President Barack Obama's recent decision to send 30,000 more troops here, the unit's missions to Leatherneck, which started weeks ago, are even more timely.
Anticipating possible future growth, senior-level leaders of Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan planned these missions based on strategic objectives of where U.S. forces should be, said Army Lt. Col. Diane Dunn, 286th CSSB commander.
"Additional troops may not go west," she said. "But for troops who do go there, this will be important." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose troops largely operate in Helmand, has said that western Afghanistan is exactly where many additional servicemembers will go. Up to 1,000 Marines could arrive by January.
Besides moving materials for tents, buildings and perimeter fortifications by military cargo trucks, troops under the 286th CSSB also provide convoy security using armored gun trucks called mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. Convoys face multiple dangers from roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, small-arms fire and vehicle-borne bombs. The security trucks roll through Afghan towns and cities while local traffic races in and around the convoy.
With the summer arrival of the 2nd Infantry Division's 5th Stryker Brigade, Dunn noticed a decline in roadside-bomb attacks on Highway 1, the country's main road from its second-largest city, Kandahar, to its largest and capital, Kabul.
"There was a time that [troops] knew when they left [the base], that they might very likely get hit," Dunn said. The scarred route to Leatherneck bears both old and fresh gouges and holes from roadside bombs. The 286th CSSB convoys bypass the charred vehicles and rubble, driving off-road, often up inclines, through dirt and desert.
On any given day, the 286th CSSB could have more than 150 soldiers on the road, Dunn said. The Leatherneck missions combine several transportation companies under the 286th CSSB, including the 737th and the 154th. One company supplies the cargo trucks, while another provides the MRAPs.
Over the last nine months, these convoys have moved building and electrical materials needed to expand numerous forward operating bases, including Lagman, Spin Boldak, Tarin Kowt, Frontenac and Wolverine. The 286th CSSB also convoyed water and food to Forward Operating Base Dwyer in Helmand province when the Marines began operations there.
"We're making sure that stuff is out there where the warfighters are," Dunn said.
Maintenance is another aspect of frequent missions. When vehicles drive daily, they need constant upkeep to keep running.
"We all are contributing," said Army Sgt. Sean Tait, a 737th Transportation Company team leader. "Our soldiers and local [employees] need their supplies, so we have a mission, and we all feel good about it."
While 286th CSSB soldiers prepare to return to Maine, they've begun a new undertaking to help the 2nd Infantry Division's 5th Stryker Brigade protect population centers. As the Stryker brigade moves to new locations closer to Afghan cities and towns, the 286th CSSB will convoy their equipment and supplies to the new localities.
(Army Spc. Elisebet Freeburg serves with Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan.)