War on Terrorism

Friday, January 28, 2011

Training, drills help protect National Guard convoy escort team

By Army Staff Sgt. Pat Caldwell
103rd Sustainment Command

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (1/28/11) - When an improvised explosive device exploded, Army Spc. Patrick Wilbern saw an orb of bright light.

“We were driving down the road and all of the sudden I see this huge ball of light,” said Wilbern, who is a driver with the Oregon National Guard’s 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

“It was overwhelming. Just the force of being hit,” he said. “I felt a tremendous pressure come down on me.”

Wilbern’s crewmate, Army Spc. Stefan Stevenot, heard a big boom and then glimpsed a massive flash.

Wilbern, Stevenot and Army Capt. Noah Siple – all members of The Dalles’ Company A, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) were moving down an Iraqi highway earlier this month on a convoy escort mission when someone triggered an IED aimed directly at their vehicle.

All three Soldiers walked away from the incident with only minor injuries.

“I was surprised,” said Siple, the commander of A Company, “It was an adrenaline rush that didn’t wear off for about two hours.”

Quick action by the crew of the vehicle proved to be the difference, Siple said.

“It is a cool thing, as a leader, to know your guys did everything they were supposed to,” he said.

Since August, 3rd Battalion Soldiers trained on how to identify, avoid and react to an IED attack.

All three crewmembers said they responded to the attack using the skills honed during months of preparation in the U.S.

“The training kicked in without delay,” Wilbern said.

Even as the light from the initial flash of the IED was still washing over the mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, Stevenot asked if Siple and Wilbern were okay. Wilbern said his crewmates’ actions proved to be pivotal in a crisis situation.

“Stevenot did everything perfect. He didn’t swerve,” he said.

All three crewmembers said the MRAP saved their lives. “It [the MRAP] took the blast and kept going,” Wilbern said.

By the time the area was cleared, the adrenaline evaporated for the crew.

“I didn’t realize my back was in pain until 30 to 45 minutes later, coming back home,” Wilbern said.

He added that while the training was essential to the crew’s survival, preparing for an IED ambush is impossible.

“You are never ready. There is no real way to react until you are blown up,” he said.

Stevenot said he was grateful his crew walked away relatively unharmed.

“We were happy to be alive,” he said.

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