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Minnesota National Guard
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 


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

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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  


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 


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 


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

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