By Army Spc. Sean McGuire
Montana National Guard
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq (6/15/11) – The sky was pitch black. The only illumination stemmed from hulking gun trucks lined up one after the other. For some, June 3 was just another night in Iraq, but with only a few minutes remaining for some Montana National Guard members, it’s almost go-time.
“I have a weird feeling going into this mission,” said Army Spc. John Jodsaas, a .50-caliber machine gunner, who is in the trail vehicle on this mission.
His strange gut feeling is shared by fellow “outlaw,” Army Sgt. Brandon Paye, a truck commander and the mission’s assistant convoy commander.
“There’s been a lot of activity in the southern region lately,” Paye said.
These Soldiers of Company Bravo, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 163rd Infantry Regiment, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, have been on the roads since November. Before that, they spent two months at Fort Lewis, Wash., training for their deployment, totaling about eight months away from home for each Soldier.
They run convoy escort and security missions for civilian contractors and third country nationals as well as fellow Army transportation units, who bring commodities all around United States Division-South’s area of responsibility.
Only sometimes do they have the luxury of air weapons teams providing “eye-in-the-sky” cover.
Out of all the teams in the battalion, they have one thing going for them.
“We’re still the only guys to not see contact – knock on wood,” Paye said.
While they have been lucky enough thus far into the deployment to not encounter any attacks, the Soldiers are constantly watching the roads for signs of possible improvised explosive devices as well as assisting with numerous vehicle breakdowns.
On this mission alone, Paye has stopped and dismounted three times, including one halt to sort out a fuel truck’s crossed break lines, which can cause a fire.
“There aren’t any rules on these roads. But I’d take breakdowns anytime, just as long as there aren’t any [explosively formed projectiles],” Paye said.
Everything these infantry Soldiers have seen stands in stark contrast to previous years in a country that has had a U.S. presence since 2003.
“Back in 2004 to 2005 when I was with Charlie Company, it was all about kicking down doors,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Clay Cooper, a truck commander.
Cooper’s last time with the 163rd IR in Iraq was days spent on foot and in Humvees, many without armor.
“For now, it’s about getting safely from point A to point B. It’s not a sexy job, but it’s a job and one we signed up for,” he said.
Paye, as a noncommissioned officer, is a leader in Iraq. Back home, he’s a stone mason and has a wife and an eight-month-old baby girl who was born three weeks before the unit left for pre-deployment training.
“I fell in love with having work I enjoy and still being able to serve,” Paye said. He joined the military in 2005.
As for Jodsaas, he wants to eventually enter school to become an emergency medical technician and a firefighter.
Cooper, currently with 19 years of military service, is eying retirement.
Before Paye, Cooper, Jodsaas and the rest of the 163rd IR can head home, they must keep driving on.
“We aren’t here to argue over the big picture,” Paye said. “We’re here to keep our head down and get the job done until we can go home.”
After about a year away from their significant others, children, friends and the mountains of Montana, there are mere months remaining for these soldiers here.
When they return home, they will again become masons, students, firefighters and most importantly reacquaint themselves with the life and family they left behind to serve their country.