Baptism by fire
By 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command
Jun 30, 2008 - 12:14:23 PM
24th TC keeps rolling despite mountains of challenges
Blackanthem Military News
COMBAT OPERATING BASE Q-WEST, Iraq - With almost a month left in theater, the Soldiers of the 24th Transportation Company, 1st Sustainment Brigade, can say that even though their deployment was long and challenging, it was indeed a success.
|Spc. Joseph Estep, a truck driver with the 24th Transportation Company, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, repairs a headlight before heading out on a mission June 6. The unit has been deployed to Combat Operating Base Q-West in support of Multi-National Division - North for the past 14 months and is scheduled to return Fort Riley in July 2008. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrea Merritt)|
Since April 2007, the 24th Trans. Co. has been deployed to Combat Operating Base Q-West, Iraq, attached to the 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, an Alaska-based unit, in support of Multi-National Division - North conducting line-haul and convoy security missions.
One of the unit's main missions has been escorting convoys that haul critical supplies from Harbor Gate Turkish border back to Q-West.
"One of the most critical routes we have in MND-North is their route to Harbor Gate Turkish border and back," said Lt. Col. Rodney Fogg, a Castlewood, Va., native and the commander of the 17th CSSB.
"A lot of the critical supplies like fuel, fresh fruits and vegetables, and all other types of cargo comes in at Turkey over the Turkish border at Harbor Gate, then it pushes down to Q-West, and then from here is pushed out to MND-North," Fogg added.
As transporters, they knew the possible threats they would face on the road, especially since one of the routes they traveled went through Mosul, Iraq, which is known to be a very dangerous area.
"To execute that (combat logistics patrol), you go through three to four known IED hot spots and they were traveling that route everyday," Fogg explained.
In the first few months of their deployment, from June to August, the unit experienced high IED activity on that specific route. Out of all the platoons in the company, 3rd Platoon experienced the most activity.
"Starting out it was pretty rough. The first month we had 10 or 11 IED incidents. We had an IED incident on almost every mission that we went on that first month. We found two IEDs in that time, but we had a lot more detonate on us," said 1st Lt. Luke Pratt, the platoon leader for 3rd Plt., 24th Trans. Co.
"We didn't really know what we were looking for at the time and we hadn't figured out a way for our scouts to operate with the convoy as well," said Pratt, an Oklahoma City native. "Plus the enemy was surging in its activity at that time and all of that kind of wrapped up together to a pretty rough baptism by fire."
Although being on the roads was much like being in the lions' den, 3rd Platoon proved they were able to contend with the enemy's tactics. With lessons learned the hard way, the platoon came up with strategies to counter the attacks.
By training at a practice IED lane and adjusting their convoy procedures, the platoon has been able to find more IEDs before they detonated.
"When we first started out, we only used one scout then we changed it up to two scouts to have more people look for IEDs. We went from getting hit 50 percent of the time to finding them 60 percent of the time," said Rolla, Mo., native Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Mercer, the platoon sergeant for 3rd Plt., 24th Trans.Co.
"It was a combination of getting hit so many times and then we built the light bars and then the additional training we went through to learn how to find (IEDs)," said Mercer.
The light bar is a piece of medal with adjustable light fixtures bolted to it. It shines ambient light in different directions to make it easier to spot IEDs. Another advantage of the light bar is it's dismountable, so if one scout truck is disabled it can be put on another truck and the convoy can continue.
Out of the other platoons in the 24th Trans. Co., 3rd Platoon has found the most IEDs. A few of their Soldiers received the Eagle Eyes Award, which is an impact Army Commendation Medal awarded to Soldiers who spot IEDs while on the road.
Even though 3rd platoon has had their luck of the draw on the road, each platoon has had its own challenges. Eight Soldiers from 2nd Platoon were awarded Army Commendation Medals with "V" devices for their actions August 20, 2007, where they detained five insurgents who participated in an attack on their convoy.
"They assisted the battlespace by taking the enemy off the roads and off the battlefield," said Fogg.
On account of all the adversity they encountered on the roads and their bravery in the face of danger, the 24th Trans. Co. has become the most decorated company within the 17th CSSB.
In a company of about 200 Soldiers, almost 700 awards have been submitted and more than 500 have been approved. Many of the awards have been combat-related awards such as Combat Action Badges, Purple Hearts, Eagle Eyes, and Army Commendation Medals with "V" devices for valor.
The Soldiers in the unit have also earned many non-combat related awards such as Mechanics Badges, Drivers Badges, achievement awards for high scores on physical fitness tests, good conduct medals, and other service awards.
"To me, this 656 (awards) is all about what the Soldiers did and it's my job to make sure that those Soldiers are awarded for their efforts and their sacrifices that they make everyday out here on that road," said Staff Sgt. Shamiska Reese, the administrative noncommissioned officer in charge.
"The mission is the big picture, but it's also awarding Soldiers for their efforts, whether it's combat or personal achievements that they do on their own like drivers badges for being safe out on the road or qualifying expert with their weapons," added Reese. "Those are still noteworthy things Soldiers should be recognized for, and it's all about putting forth the effort to make sure Soldiers are recognized for those achievements."
"Our actions and awards speak for themselves. This unit has probably had more awards, more Purple Hearts than any other organization in a theater of operation and I'm not scared to say that. On a company level, I don't think anyone is more decorated than we are or has been through what we've been through," said Whiteville, Tenn., native 1st Sgt. Barnell Herron, the 24th Trans. Co. first sergeant.
Unfortunately, the awards did not come without sacrifices. During the time of heightened insurgent activity, about 40 Soldiers were released from theater for combat and non-combat related injuries.
A few of the Soldiers who were sent back home to recover from their injuries were key leaders within the unit including the initial company commander, two platoon sergeants, two squad leaders and four Staff Sergeants.
"We have lost a lot of senior leadership, but we haven't stopped doing a mission," said Herron.
Although this blow would have been a hard hit to most units, the 24th Trans. Co. handled the loss of higher-ranking leadership by having their junior noncommissioned officers step up to the plate to fill the void.
"When the senior leadership had went home, the next person in line stepped up and took charge and took care of everything that needed taking care of," said Sgt. Chris Vendeventer, a Carrollton, Mo., native and truck driver with the 24th Trans. Co.
Although the unit dealt effectively with the loss of senior leadership, the 24th Trans. Co. still needed replacement Soldiers to add to their personnel strength.
In January, the organization received about 40 new personnel to replace the Soldiers they lost; but unlike the seasoned Soldiers who had left, many of the Soldiers who came to the unit were new recruits straight out of Advanced Individual Training. For many of them, it was their first time away from home and their first deployment.
Before the unit even deployed to Iraq, it received 53 new privates averaging between the ages of 19 and 21, who needed to be trained, and nine months into their deployment, they had to repeat the training process with another 40 brand new Soldiers.
"This (deployment) was different because we have a lot of Soldiers straight out of AIT to start off with that came to the unit and deployed and didn't do any type of training with the unit," said Mercer. "Our first two months was just training Soldiers just to be Soldiers and to be transporters. We all learned together and grew together."
In addition to training, the veteran Soldiers also used some of their past experiences as guidance for the young Soldiers.
"I try to use my past deployments to give them an idea of what to expect, but I also tell them that each time I went over here it's been different... I just give them a basic idea of what to expect, but just be flexible and adjust to whatever is thrown at them. For the most part, they did a pretty good job," said Vendeventer, who is currently serving his third tour-of-duty in Iraq.
Despite the lack of experience the new Soldiers had, they learned quickly and adjusted well to an environment they had never known.
"When we first got here it was really stressful because we were going on missions every other day, but it was kind of nice because the tempo was so fast paced that before we knew it, six months had passed," said Pfc. Brandon Murray, a Shakopee, Minn., native and truck driver with the 24th Trans. Co.
With new recruits making up almost half of the unit, there were worries about their ability to adapt to a combat situation, but these young heroes have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can.
"They've matured a lot. They went through a lot. Not knowing if their battle buddy was going to be next to them tomorrow changes a person inside, " said Mercer. "If the leadership was lost in the convoy, the convoy would still roll on. They'd know exactly what to do without the leadership. It makes me proud to know that one day down the road that they will be in charge of somebody and I could go, "That was one of my Soldiers.'"
In all, the 24th Trans. Co. has earned the right feel proud about all they have accomplished during this deployment.
They went up against insurgents and IEDs on the road, faced losing senior leadership to combat and non-combat related injuries, and tackled the challenge of training young Soldiers for combat operations while deployed in a combat environment.
They have been able to handle every curveball that was thrown in their direction during this deployment, which will soon come to an end. The unit is scheduled to return to Fort Riley in July and they will have their heads held high when they get there.
"Without a doubt, they have very much earned their combat patch. They should wear it with pride. They have sacrificed more than a lot of other units, so we're very proud of what they've been able to accomplish with all of the challenges they faced. They have exceeded my expectations," said Fogg.
|Soldiers of the 24th Transportation Company, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, undergo an inspection before heading out on the road June 6. The transporters check to make sure they have all their necessary gear and proper equipment before the mission. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrea Merritt)||
|Soldiers of 3rd Platoon, 24th Transportation Company, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, prepare to head out on a mission June 6. The unit deployed in April 2007 from Fort Riley, Kan. Between June and August, the Soldiers faced a surge of IED activity on the routes they traveled, but have since learned how to counter to the enemy's tactics. We went from getting hit 50 percent of the time to finding them 60 percent of the time," said Rolla, Mo., native Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Mercer, the platoon sergeant for 3rd Plt., 24th Trans.Co. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrea Merritt)|
|The Soldiers of 3rd Platoon, 24th Transportation Company, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, head out on a mission to Harbor Gate Turkish border June 6. Since April 2007, the unit has been deployed to Combat Operating Base Q-West and one of their main missions has been to escort convoys to the Turkish border to pick up critical supplies. Through the last 14 months of deployment, the unit has faced many challenges, but the mission has never stopped. The 24th Trans. Co. is scheduled to return to Fort Riley in July 2008. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrea Merritt)|