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Twenty-five days on the road

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No one has ever claimed that conducting convoy operations through Afghanistan is a piece of cake. Soldiers who’ve only been deployed to Iraq quickly learn a valuable lesson once they land on the ground here: the rules in Baghdad or Mosul don’t apply.

The only constant in this region’s unforgiving landscape is change: that is, change in weather, routes and road conditions. This was a lesson soldiers of the 131th Transportation Company learned after they spent 25 consecutive days on the road this winter.

The company, a Pennsylvania National Guard unit attached to the 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, got a first-hand look at what was in store for them during this deployment: high elevation and uneven roads, snow and rain that turned roads icy, slippery and muddy, stalled out vehicles, and missions that have to be constantly adjusted.

Despite the challenges, the 131th TC Company successfully completed their mission, getting their supplies to Forward Operating Base Salerno and returning to Bagram Air Field safely.

“We didn’t want to leave the job unfinished,” said Staff Sgt. Erik Campbell, 131th TC Company platoon leader. “There was a sense of personal pride to get all of our trucks back to BAF.”

Col. Michael P. Peterman, 101st Sustainment Brigade commander, said incidents like this drives home the risk of modularity in units.
“For the units coming, the one question that always has to be asked if they have the right standards in place to ensure the missions are successful,” he said. “You have to look at the leaders’ efforts, and for those who will follow us, we have to ensure that the proper standards are in place on how to deal with those issues on the road.”

Campbell and 1st Lt. Tucker Smith said the first leg of their convoy went well, but then the mission became hampered by weather and road conditions.

“We experienced white-out conditions as we waited for the KG Pass to clear,” said Tucker, platoon leader with the 131th TC Company.

Pfc. John Speck, a gunner with the 131th TC Company, said there were moments that tested the unit’s patience.

“Being at the KG Pass was the hardest part,” he said. “I personally don’t mind going out on convoys because it makes the days go by faster. But it was hard with us having to stop, get out, and hook up all the time because of the weather.”

Once the weather cleared, they discovered the weather turned the roads into an icy, muddy mess. They ended up towing a host national truck up a mountain, he said.

“That became a 24-hour mission,” Smith said.

At one point, the company assisted a unit from the 1st Infantry Division who had gotten stuck in the snowstorm.

“That was definitely a high point for us. I’m sure they weren’t very happy getting help from a National Guard unit,” Campbell said.

The unit spent time at several FOBs in the area, waiting for the weather to clear and get the OK to continue on with their mission.

They worked on cross-training each other on their respective jobs, learning the ins and outs of gunner work and combat medicine.
Smith said about half the soldiers in his company had deployed prior to Iraq, and quickly noticed the differences between here and their previous assignment.

“Iraq is level country. Here, you’re dealing with different elevations, as well as going on and off the roads,” he said. “We didn’t really know what to expect during our mission. It went from get up, on to stand down.”

Smith said the unit maintained their morale by playing basketball and keeping the lines of communication open.

We made sure everyone understood what was happening and what changes were occurring,” he said. “It helped us keep our focus, especially when dealing with all the curveballs thrown at us.”

Article by Sgt. 1st Class Peter Mayes, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs