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Convoy Escort Security: Safeguarding the Iraq Drawdown
CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait - It has been nearly three months since the Minnesota men and women from the Sauk Centre-based Company C, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor (Co C, 1-194 CAB), "Crazyhorse" deployed to Kuwait In July, 1-194th CAB took over the operations of convoy escort security at Camp Virginia, Kuwait During the early stages of the deployment the primary mission was short haul convoy escort security into southern Iraq Today, the mission includes both short haul and long haul convoy escort security missions, bringing us further into the belly of Iraq
As the Unit Public Affairs Representative (UPAR), I jumped in as the driver on a mission to the capital city of Baghdad in October Having done short haul, I wanted to better understand what our Soldiers experience during long haul mission as we continue to support the US commitment of departing Iraq by the end of the year
MISSION DAY 1
It was a sunny October day in Kuwait, the temperature only reached a high of 92 degrees, more comfortable than the scorching 120-degree weather witnessed here this past summer The wind blew about just like any other day here, picking up sand into the air and carrying it about like a swarm of bees, reaching every crevice imaginable
Before leaving, the "Crazyhorse" convoy escort team (CET) completed the necessary pre-mission tasks to allow for mission success; reminiscent of an October day back in Minnesota as one might prepare for a fall hunting trip or an excursion to the apple orchard with the family
Prior to the mission, Spc Stephen G Richey, New Richmond, Wis, a truck gunner for Company C, had thoughts of home The 24-year old was looking forward to seeing his wife and 5-year-old son during his upcoming rest and recuperation (R & R) leave, a benefit that is provided by the Army for deployed Soldiers
"It's crazy, if I was at home right now I would probably be winterizing equipment around the house or taking my son apple picking," said Richey "We have a mission to complete here though and the first thing to do is to conduct preventive maintenance checks on our vehicles and equipment to make sure they are mission ready for the long haul The kid and I will have to wait until next year to pick those apples"
The trucks escorting the convoy of semis are called Caiman MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles Just as the acronym suggests, MRAPs were engineered to protect Soldiers from a blast - they have a V-shaped hull that assists in deflecting an explosion beneath the vehicle if one were to occur
Many of the Soldiers in Company C have previously deployed to Iraq, including the 16-month long deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom, one of the longest deployments during the Iraq war
"During my last tour we didn't have the Caimans with us on missions," said Sgt Justin S Wells, truck commander, Princeton, Minn "After experiencing improvised explosive devices (IED's) in Humvees last deployment, I'm sure glad we have the MRAPs They are a little top heavy from all the armor and more susceptible to rollovers, but I would rather be hit by an IED in one of these any day"
After loading our gear into the trucks, the CET made its way over to a neighboring base in Kuwait where we linked-up with the transportation unit we would be protecting on this mission Our Soldiers provided the gun truck security, while the transportation unit Soldiers provided combat roadside assistance for any mechanical issues or vehicle breakdowns that might arise out on the road The next step was to conduct a convoy brief and safety brief to ensure all the Soldiers were on the same page and understood the route and the risks ahead of us
"If you have to stop for maintenance issues make sure you call up the convoy commander over the radio and inform him of the situation as soon as possible," said 1st Lt John T Meyer, Platoon Lieutenant "We need to maintain good communication at all times and you need to let us know if we need to stop right away"
The safety brief was conducted by the transportation unit convoy commander, while the convoy brief that covers enemy actions on contact and battle drills was discussed by the "Crazyhorse" CET Commander Both briefs are key components for mission success and allow for last minute changes and provide a pre-mission rehearsal between the two units If just one truck has an issue out on the road it can affect the entire convoy
With the sun setting westward across the barren desert of Kuwait, the CET was on its way to the Iraq border Later we arrived at a staging point to link up with the semis we would be escorting into Iraq A quick prayer was offered by one Soldier before we put on our protective gear and mounted the trucks Under the darkness of night we entered into Iraq Gun truck lights brightened up the road to offer the very best visual enhancement so our crews could search the stretch of path in front of them
Several times along the route the convoy slowed down and stopped to check out items of interest They turned out to be non-hostile objects and a "continue mission" order was given over the radio by the convoy commander
"This war has been going on for nine years, a lot of trash has accrued on the side of the road," said Pfc Sergei N Sergeev, driver, St Cloud, Minn "Shredded tires, bottles and plenty of garbage - it's scattered all over the place which doesn't help when we are trying to keep a vigilant eye out for IED's We often have route clearance teams clear the road in front of us, but that hasn't happened yet tonight"
After driving for hours, the convoy came to a midway point to rest overnight As they unloaded their gear, the CET made certain their trucks were in mission ready mode for the next departure Our team checked into billeting and found rooms where we could rest our eyes It didn't take long for the billets to become as quiet as a local library back home Convoy escort security can be mentally and physically draining; racking out on a cot was some of the best sleep I have received over here
MISSION DAY 2
Following some much needed rest, our crews awoke, conducted personal hygiene, met at our trucks and prepared the vehicles and mission essential equipment for the next leg of the mission A stop at a deep freeze trailer was made to gather the frozen necessity of ice to keep the beverages in the coolers chilled
After leaving the billets and reconnecting with the trucks, Crazyhorse was given a green light to get back on the road to continue the mission Multiple times along the route the convoy came to a stop One stop came at an Iraqi checkpoint and another stop happened at a point along the route where there was a removal of an IED spotted by another convoy traveling in front of us
Sgt Tristyn J Runia of Duluth, Minn was the commander of the scout truck for this mission
"It's a huge responsibility to be in the lead truck because the security of the convoy depends on our actions," said Runia "My gunner, driver and I need to be scanning our sectors at all times If we become complacent at any point in time it could be very damaging to the rest of the convoy, they depend on us since we are in front and in charge of finding and pointing out suspicious objects of interest"
The IED discovered on the route was cleared by a US Army explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team through a controled detonation - a stark reminder of the dangers and threats "Crazyhorse" faces each time we go up into Iraq Hours later the convoy reached its destination in Baghdad safely
MISSION DAY 3
With a population estimated at 7 million, the area in Baghdad where "Crazyhorse" arrived appeared to be quiet and peaceful Signals of the war drawing to a close could be observed by the lack of troops in the area A sign along the road near the base post office read "closing soon"
The Soldiers had enough time in Baghdad to shower, eat and catch some sleep A handful departed to visit the nearby palaces once occupied by the country's former dictator Saddam Hussein
I had the chance to view the inside of an abandoned palace built on top of a man-made hill After the initial Iraq invasion, this palace was used as a headquarters for the US Army Shifting of the earth caused the foundation to crack beneath and the inhabitants had to move their operations to a new headquarters As I walked through the building I realized this would be an event that would stay with me for years to come
I'm old enough to remember the images on television when Saddam gave the order to commit genocide on his own people by use of chemical weapons My family didn't own a TV for a few years following, but when we liberated Kuwait it drove my mom to buy one so we could watch the news again It felt surreal to be walking through the same rooms where Saddam once lived The man my generation grew up identifying as evil was long gone, but still his presence was left behind in the palaces he built
After viewing the emptied colossal structure, it was time to head over to the tents to regroup with the rest of the team The Soldiers had to refocus their minds back to the mission at hand for it would be another long drive We eventually left Baghdad escorting semi-trucks full of equipment and supplies that needed to be removed from Iraq This third leg of the trip took nearly ten hours to complete, arriving at a base where we pulled in and rested
MISSION DAY 4
On the last day, we endured another ten-hour drive to Camp Virginia from a southern Iraqi base The last leg of the trip was plagued with very slow speeds and vehicle breakdowns, which greatly added to the duration of this trip Finally, the "Crazyhorse" Soldiers arrived back to their base, unloaded their trucks and conducted post-mission tasks before they got a chance to crawl into their beds The men and women of Company C were happy to be back after completing another successful mission
"It's what we do It's our job to protect these convoys as they go in and out of Iraq," said Sgt Runia "Each person in our company has a role and the success of our mission depends on their job performance Crazyhorse is performing outstanding I can say I am proud to be a part of this unit"
Commander of Company C, Capt John M Hobot, recalls deploying to Iraq earlier when "Crazyhorse" was sent as part of the troop surge
"As I travel out on these long haul missions with my CETs, I often visit the same bases I went to in 2006-2007," said Hobot "Some of these bases in Iraq used to resemble a small US city and today they look more like a desert ghost town of Arizona It is a bizarre feeling to think that many of us were here just four years ago supporting the troop surge and today our mission is to support the drawdown, it still takes some getting used to, even though we have been doing this mission for three months"
What happens after December 31, 2011 is not really something "Crazyhorse" thinks about They are focused on the mission at hand One thing is certain, Company C will continue to push on and fulfill the purpose of the current mission, providing short haul and long haul convoy escort security for thousands of trucks traveling in and out of Iraq, aiding in bringing about an end to one of the longest wars in US history
10 Oct, 2011
By Spc Zachary K Mangas
Co C 1-194 AR (CAB)
Unit Public Affairs Representative
Posted: 2017-04-28 12:38 PM MANKATO, Minn. - Commissioned leaders of the Minnesota National Guard convened for the 112th General Conference of the National Guard Association of Minnesota at the Verizon Wireless Center and Hilton Garden Inn, Mankato, on April 22, 2017.
The annual gathering of association members - who serve as advocates for the needs of Soldiers, Airmen and their families - includes a business meeting, commanders march, formal dining event and transfer of responsibility to the chapter's new president.
The day's event began with a business meeting, which focused on the association's mission of educating and informing legislators on the issues facing the current and future role of the National Guard in serving Minnesota communities. The strategic planning meeting was attended by Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, his staff and unit commanders.
Posted: 2017-04-26 02:09 PM CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The Department of Defense announced that Camp Ripley was selected as the winner of the Secretary of Defense Environmental Award for Natural Resources Conservation, Large Installation.
The awards recognize individuals, teams and installations for their exceptional environmental achievements and innovative, cost-effective environmental practices.
"The winners' efforts strengthen the Department of Defense's position as a resourceful environmental steward, both at home and abroad, and demonstrate our continued commitment to fulfilling mission needs through advanced environmental practices and technologies," stated James A. MacStravic, performing the duties of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
Posted: 2017-04-26 10:57 AM COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. - Staff Sgt. Nicquie Neely has been working with victims of sexual assault for four years in the Minnesota National Guard and also volunteers as a victim advocate in the community. As a victim advocate, it's her job to believe and support victims through a difficult process that can often involve extensive medical care and legal proceedings.
"Ever since I joined the Guard and heard about the SHARP program and learned what a victim advocate was, I always wanted to be one," said Neely. "And then I learned that you had to be an E-6 to be in that position, so the minute I got promoted I asked my commander if I could go to the training."
Neely is a combat medic and the full-time training and administration NCO with Company C, 134th Brigade Support Battalion. In addition to military victim advocate training, Neely also attends regular training with the civilian organization she volunteers for - SOS Sexual Violence Services in Ramsey County.
Posted: 2017-04-24 10:43 AM Washington - Members of the Minnesota National Guard and the Air Force Reserve traveled to Washington D.C. with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (also known as the JCRC), to visit the Holocaust Museum, April 4, 2017, to honor the victims of the Holocaust. Also, traveling with this group were St. Paul and Minneapolis police officers along with students from various high schools around the state. For those in uniform that day, it was an opportunity to see, hear and experience the stories of victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
Each Service member who attended was asked to bring back a summary of their experience in the form of a presentation, professional discussion or briefing to their respective unit in order to help other Guard members better understand and remember that horrible event, to honor the courage of the victims and survivors, and to remain vigilant as members of the U.S. military.
"The honor and privilege of accompanying members of the Minnesota National Guard to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. met so many goals," said Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the JCRC. "I wanted to reinforce the importance of the commitment of the U.S. military to democracy. After all, it was the Allies that defeated Nazi Germany and ultimately put an end to the Holocaust."