Along the road to Baghdad, 'you never know when you’re going to get hit’
April 6, 2005
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — The 87th Corps Support Battalion operates a major distribution center for the 3rd Infantry Division’s Task Force Baghdad, hauling supplies to military installations and forward operating bases all over the city.
And each morning, its soldiers conduct battle drills before hitting the road to prepare for what they might face outside the wire. About two months into a yearlong deployment, many troops say that while incidents have been few, they are definitely something to worry about.
“That’s the first thing I think about when I get up, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed,” said Staff Sgt. Nathan Thomas, 32, of Skipperville, Ala., a squad leader for the 396th Transportation Company, 87th Corps Support Battalion, who rides in convoys about three times a week. “But you’ve got to trust in the training. You can’t rely on luck.”
Avoiding roadside bombs, grenades, car bombers and ambushes is the top challenge for all U.S. forces in Iraq, military officials say. The 87th battalion’s practice sessions, conducted at the squad level, address just about every contingency.
After team leaders outline the possibilities, soldiers are given options on how to react, Thomas said. For instance, if a Humvee rolls over a roadside bomb, drivers are told to keep going — if possible — until they’re out of the kill zone and can report the attack.
“You never know when you’re going to get hit,” said Sgt. 1st Class Rufus Lewis of Palm Springs, Calif., senior adviser for the 396th Transportation Company.
“We’re also having problems with a lot of civilian traffic, which gets thick out there. In traffic, car bombs are always possible.”
Then, there’s the matter of protecting cargo and supplies. Iraqi civilians occasionally try to grab items right off the trucks, Lewis added.
The battalion pushes up to 30 trucks a day along the route, he said. Its massive 24-hour distribution center, which stretches about a mile long, handles materials such as fuel, office supplies, barriers, wood, medical provisions and repair parts. The facility also has a receiving section.
The unit’s fleet, augmented by Qatar International Trading, a civilian trucking company, serves major U.S. military camps in Baghdad such as Victory and Liberty. Forward operating bases on the distribution list include Falcon, Rustamiyah and Honor.
At an intelligence briefing every afternoon, officials discuss danger routes and review significant events, giving convoy leaders “a vision of what they’re having to deal with out there,” said Maj. John Hopson of Richmond Hill, Ga., the 87th Corps Support Battalion’s executive officer.
In the end, though, basic fundamentals still apply.
“Here in theater, you see a lot of operators become expert mechanics. They really get to know their vehicles,” said Thomas, the convoy squad leader. “That goes back to all the training — knowing your vehicle, knowing how to use your weapon and reacting to enemy threats. It doesn’t get rid of any of the worry or anxiety, but it helps.”