For the men and women of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), it is all about the roads.
Good roads, bad roads, narrow roads or pathways pockmarked with vestiges of an eight-year war. Empty roads that stretch into the horizon; highways packed with traffic that twist and turn and then shoot straight into the Iraqi desert like asphalt daggers.
The corridors the soldiers of Task Force Viper travel every day while guarding convoys are at best, an ample serving of the mundane and, at worst, a unique form of risk.
For every Convoy Escort Team, the focus narrows. Abstract issues such as politics and foreign policy evaporate. The roads bestow their own logic; the rules are simple, the risk always present.
Countless man-hours of planning are front-loaded into every convoy escort mission, and while the hand of humans is evident, it would be hard to escape the realization that simple luck plays a far more significant role.
Every road transmits its own array of exclusive guidelines and procedures. Some roads are more dangerous than others. In the end the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion secure their only real significant letter of transit when they reach the end of another mission.
Capt. Noah Siple calls them “Road Warriors.” Siple, a Caldwell, Idaho, native and the commander of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), said his soldiers are a special collection of men and women from across Oregon.
“They are living the life of a road warrior. They have to be self-sufficient,” Siple said of his soldiers in Company A.
That distinct form of self-sufficiency plays into another key attribute of the 3rd Battalion: it's Cavalry heritage.
According to 3rd Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Phil Appleton, the rich tradition of the U.S. Cavalry plays a pivotal and often overlooked role in his unit’s success.
“Within the battalion there is a sense of drive, professionalism and pride,” Appleton said. “The Cavalry spirit is alive and well. It is a sense of independence that requires a person to have initiative and perseverance.”
Appleton said the 3rd Battalion is very much a reflection of specific values connected to the region of Oregon it represents.
“Eastern Oregon is populated by rugged, tough people. They are the types that join the battalion,” he said.
Many of the soldiers in the battalion acknowledge they have a serious commitment secured in the past through the Cavalry tradition.
Sgt. Jack Evers, a former La Grande, Ore., resident who now lives in Portland, said the fact the 3rd Battalion calls eastern Oregon home pays dividends in terms of cohesion.
“Everyone has a connection to each other. The guys are from the same area. And there are different occupations, from bricklayer to communications specialist,” Evers, an assistant convoy commander in Baker City, Ore.’s Company F said.
Initiative is a crucial ingredient to the success of the convoy escort teams. Because of its distinctive mission in central Iraq, the 3rd Battalion must depend on the resourcefulness of its junior leaders according to the unit’s operations officer, Maj. Martin Nelson, of Pendleton, Ore.
“We rely on their leadership to prepare, plan and execute the mission,” Nelson said.
The pace can be a grueling one. Each convoy escort team spends hours preparing for even the simplest mission. And most missions, while seemingly routine, are never effortless.
Each company in the battalion, along with the battalion leadership, must deliver a choreographed production every time a convoy escort team goes out on a mission.
“There is a huge effort to track, manage and coordinate thousands of soldiers in the operational environment every day. We do a lot of planning and coordinating every day,” Nelson said.
While the mission is all about the roads, it is also very much about meeting deadlines, Nelson said.
“You start putting the pieces together. Then you have to line up all the start times. If you are going to have a helicopter fly to cover for a convoy, for example, we have to know exactly when to start,” he said.
During every convoy escort mission, 3rd Battalion leaders must also evaluate and examine the level of potential danger.
“We understand it (the risk) well before we leave. But at some point you have to start the mission, and you have to accept the risk,” Nelson said.
Appleton summed up the battalion’s mission in local terms.
“Imagine Wal-Mart’s transportation facility in Hermiston. Instead of seeing single trucks on Interstate 84, they would conjoin, say, 15 trucks. We’d meet them at a big parking lot. We’d inspect the trucks and then escort them through the Blue Mountains as if bandits were going to rob them,” he said.
While U.S. forces are no longer taking an active combat role in Iraq, there are still individuals committed to creating chaos, Nelson said.
The ones who must ride down the roads every day understandably take a more subtle view of the level of risk.
Article by 3rd Sustainment Brigade