War on Terrorism

Friday, October 22, 2010

Face of Defense: Army Driver Keeps on Trucking

By Air Force 1st Lt. Mark Lazane
Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team

PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 20, 2010 – Army Spc. Martin Jackson, a native of Clinton, S.C., looks particularly at ease behind the wheel of his mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle as he drives in convoys for the provincial reconstruction team here.

He should be comfortable. After all, he drives commercial 18-wheel trucks for a living when he’s not serving as a tank turret mechanic with the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 178th Field Artillery Regiment.

To hear Jackson tell it, however, the job isn’t as easy as he makes it look.

“There’s a big difference between driving these MRAPs and driving my regular big rig,” he said. “Back home, big rigs are designed so you have great visibility of the road. Here, I have to rely on my truck commander and gunner to help paint a better picture of my surroundings. Plus, the roads here aren’t ever flat, so I have to constantly keep vigilant so I don’t bounce my passengers around.”

The provincial reconstruction team’s mission, Jackson said, is to assist in the stabilization and security of Paktika, a large province on the eastern Afghan border near the Pakistan tribal areas. But rather than actively combating insurgent activity, the team focuses on improving the livelihood of the province’s people by helping them with health care, development, governance and agriculture.

Jackson said his role is to ensure his passengers’ safety as they travel to different places, whether it’s meetings with provincial government leaders or to check up on provincial reconstruction team projects.

Members of Jackson’s unit are assigned as security forces for their fellow soldiers, airmen and sailors. They act as force-protection experts, provide personal security for team members and ensure as much safety as possible during missions outside the perimeter of their headquarters.

Jackson is one of the best soldiers I have in my squad,” said Army Staff Sgt. Kenneth Messick of Spartanburg, S.C., Jackson’s squad leader. “If I need something done, Jackson’s often my man to do it. He’s definitely one of the most-trusted guys in my squad, and will work tirelessly until whatever it is he’s doing is completed.”

In addition to driving, Jackson has become one of the best maintainers of the entire unit, a job he takes just as seriously as his driving.

“I love the maintenance part of being a security force member,” Jackson said. “By helping with maintenance, I ensure that all the vehicles in our convoy are always ready for action. We have a tight schedule on mission days, so if I can lend a hand ahead of time and fix any problems before they come up, I ensure the safe travel of passengers in the convoy and ultimately that’s my job.”

Jackson’s teammates and chain of command notice his work ethic.

Jackson is very thorough in everything he does” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Jermaine Jones, a native of Greenville, S.C., and Jackson’s platoon sergeant. “The difference between Jackson and many of our soldiers is not only can he drive, but he can switch gears instantly and be just as effective at fixing the vehicle. If I ask Jackson to do something, I always know without a doubt it’ll be done on time and done correctly.”

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