by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs
SOUTHWEST ASIA - This is the second day in a six-day journal following Airmen and Soldier truckers as they transport cargo across Iraq during the transition. -Editor.
Airmen of the 70th and 424th Medium Truck Detachment are on the roads in Iraq every day, hauling cargo and other items out of the country in support of the December 31st deadline for U.S. Forces to be out of Iraq.
Only a handful of months ago, these Airmen where driving an aircrew bus or the big white bus that takes Airmen from the base exchange to the chow hall — today they’re commanding convoys, driving cargo trucks out of Iraq.
The members of this convoy are a diverse bunch. Airmen on this mission are from the 70th MTD and are on their second or third deployment to the same location, carrying out the same mission. Their partners for this mission are Soldiers of B Troop, 1-94 Cav., Pine City, Minn. Army National Guard. The Soldiers will be providing security for the convoy in the form of mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles that are heavily armed.
Day 2: Yeah, I’m on Fire
Both Air Force and Army crews load up their trucks and gather in the staging area. Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Sielski, (known as Sgt. Ski to his crew) is in charge of the gun trucks. Before each trip, Sielski and U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. David Perez, convoy commander and native of Santa Fe, N.M. take turns briefing the Soldiers and Airmen on the upcoming leg of the trip.
This trip will take the convoy through several high threat areas, Sielski says in his brief as he goes over intelligence reports and security tactics. Perez goes on to brief the troops on procedures if there’s an attack on the convoy, communication protocol, and other relevant information.
Though the trip from the starting location to Kalsu was double the miles of today’s trip to Joint Base Balad both trips took a similar amount of time.
“Smokey-Boz,” says Air Force Staff Sgt. William Clarkson (known as Boz to his crew), a truck commander and native of Auburn, Calif., over the intercom system during the convoy.
“This is Smokey — send it,” replies Perez.
“I have smoke in the cabin,” says Clarkson.
About five seconds go by and a monotone Clarkson comes over the intercom system, “Yeah, I’m on fire.”
A pause is observed over the radio as if there’s disbelief of what was just said so casually.
Clarkson’s truck has issues with its engine , giving him having a front row seat to a light show as flames are spewed out of the passenger-side exhaust.
“All I remember is seeing flames coming up my side, yelling at (Airman 1st Class Tyler )Bartlett to pull over,” recalls Clarkson. Reacting quickly, Clarkson pushed Bartlette out of the driver door, and followed him out. “As soon as we stopped, I drop kicked him out of the truck and jumped out of his side.”
As if a vehicle catching on fire isn’t dangerous enough, the area the convoy is stopped in has a track record for an above-average amount of enemy activity. Adrenaline starts pumping through the veins of each member in the gun truck. The threat posed to the stopped, two-mile long convoy, sharpens the senses of every gunner as they constantly scan for threats.
“As soon as we heard (Clarkson) casually say he’s on fire, I sent a gun truck to his location,” said Sielski. Within minutes, the fire is out.
As the mechanics and other truckers get the crispy, burnt truck ready to move via a tow system, the gun trucks keep traffic back and the area as secure as possible. Throughout the ordeal, everyone worked together as if they had been a team for years. Everyone did what they were supposed to and it lead to a quick, safe pause in the mission.
The convoy pushes through, and continues on their way to JB Balad when another curve ball is thrown.
Sielski tells Perez that their mission has been changed. The mission for this trip was supposed to take the convoy to JBB to upload cargo then back. The convoy finds out that they are now only supposed to stop at JB Balad for the night, then proceed north to FOB Warrior to upload MRAPs, then push back to JBB to load the remaining trucks. The unforeseen change added an additional two days to the mission.
Finally, after another long day on the road, the convoy arrives at JBB as the sun begins to rise. The Soldiers again secure a place for everyone to stay as the truckers stage the trucks for the next day.