KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan. - The roads of Afghanistan present many challenges, whether it’s driving through a rocky mountainous terrain, a crowded intersection or looking for hidden improvised explosive devices by the roadside.
For the Soldiers of the 781st Transportation Company, an Alabama National Guard unit, the mission to sustain the warfighter takes precedence over fear and hesitation. The 781st TC transports retrograde cargo from Kandahar Airfield to various forward operating bases, or FOBs, throughout Afghanistan.
On a recent mission to Forward Operating Base Walton, the unit had to deliver Stryker parts and multi-class items, which in the eyes of the Soldiers is a mission critical.
“I take so much pride in this job because I’m helping to transport items that the Soldiers out in the field need,” said Spc. Daniel Patterson, a truck driver with the 781st TC. “People just look at us as truck drivers, but our missions are a necessity because nothing moves unless we move.”
The Soldiers of the 781st TC feel that even though many of the missions conducted outside the wire are predominately infantry and explosive ordinance device related, truck drivers never receive the attention that other military occupations get.
Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Anderson, a palletized load system truck commander, 781st TC, said he’s served in the U.S. Army for 39 years. Anderson has taken part in the Vietnam War, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and has watched the battlefield evolution of what the Army calls a truck driver.
“In the last 39 years I’ve seen it all, but the difference is that we’re fighting an enemy who’s much more fierce and aggressive”, Anderson said. “These insurgents don’t fight with fear, but we’re always ready for the challenge and that has always made our Army stronger.”
With that strength, the 781st TC has completed more than 30 missions in the three months they’ve been on Kandahar Airfield, transporting everything from weapons to commodities, no matter how dangerous the routes.
“Honestly my first mission I was scared and my nerves were so far blown, but even though you don’t know what to expect you have to do it,” Patterson said. “I trust the vehicle I’m in and the equipment is phenomenal.”
At FOB Walton, the Soldiers worked fast and efficiently to unload and upload cargo making their mission seem like another day at the motor pool back home.
“You have to watch out for your loads and make sure that you can handle it that’s the only real hard part,” Anderson said. “Once you’ve done all the training all you have to make sure is that you do whatever it takes to complete the mission.”
For the 781st TC it doesn’t matter if a Soldier has done multiple tours or if they come from a military family, every time they leave Kandahar Airfield complacency isn’t an option.
“My grandfather was a Marine and my uncle was in the Navy, so being a part of the drawdown process is a great duty,” Patterson said. “My job is to help sustain other FOB’s, so Soldiers depend on me to get their mission done, which I always have to focus on being ready.”
The routes the Soldiers of the 781st TC travel will constantly change, but not the mission, which is to sustain those in the battlefield.
No matter the road or how dangerous the path, the 781st TC are the torches that light the way to freedom.