by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs
SOUTHWEST ASIA - This is the third 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 3: An Added Threat
As everyone gathers up, something huge stands out to the crew about JBB — the emptiness. Only months ago, JBB had a reputation of having one of the best dining facilities in the country. Now, food is served in little plastic bags called Meals, Ready to Eat. The place is a ghost town.
Even the truck staging area is empty with the exception of the convoy’s trucks and a crane sitting by itself, with nothing to load. The artwork on the bathroom stalls tell the story of members who are on their way out as most stalls are signed by troops and end with a “finally going home.”
The convoy prepares to hit the road. Sielski and Perez give their briefs then Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon Dejarnette (better known as De Jay), assistant convoy commander and native of Phoenix, Az., huddles everyone up and says a prayer, which is said before every leg of the trip. Religious or not, many take part. His words echo something that most deployed members can relate to — “keep us safe, and look out for our families. Help us not to be complacent.”
As everyone makes their way to the trucks, the gun trucks take part in a pre-mission routine — “Lord, have mercy on my enemies, because I will not,” says Sielski as each gun truck member toast with an energy drink which is consumed within seconds.
“AHH! Why do we do this?” exclaims U.S. Army Specialist Patrick Eaton, a gunner with the gun trucks, as the strong bite of the energy drink serves a look of shared displeasure to everyone’s face. Yet, this routine is done before every leg of the trip, just like the prayer.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” says Sielski.
The convoy doesn’t fully make its way out of the gate of JB Balad and there’s already an incident — a white truck’s driver-side window is shattered from a rock thrown by a group of local Iraqi boys.
Making their way throughout the city of Tikrit, tension is high. The roads the convoy are on border buildings with possible threats every inch of the way. Gunners constantly scan for roadside bombs and hostile people. Their spotlight cuts through the seemingly infinite amount of darkness.
With only minor incidents to report, the convoy arrives at FOB Warrior.
Though the trip is finished, going to bed is still hours away. Waiting is something every member in the convoy has mastered. Though the convoy was directed to go to FOB Warrior, it appears as though their arrival was not expected by the members of FOB Warrior. Hours pass by before the truckers finally find where their cargo is, and before the Soldiers find a place for the convoy to sleep — a basketball gym where blue workout mats are used as mattresses. The sleeping quarters serve as a testament to the lack of convoys this FOB sees.
A worker in the loading dock comments, saying they haven’t seen a convoy in their area in weeks as U.S. military forces withdraw from Iraq. Everyone in the convoy believes it.