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Part of a convoy makes its way from Kandahar Airfield to Qalat along one of the best roads in Afghanistan.

Part of a convoy makes its way from Kandahar Airfield to Qalat along one of the best roads in Afghanistan. (Kent Harris / S&S)

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The American military relies on helicopters and cargo planes to transport much of its cargo and personnel around Afghanistan.

That’s due partly to mountainous terrain and rudimentary roads that can make even a Humvee journey of less than 100 miles a daylong affair. That’s one of the major differences between Afghanistan and Iraq — where military convoys are commonplace.

But there are places in Afghanistan where convoys make sense. And one of those involves stretches of the country’s best road — the A4 highway — in Kandahar province.

“Our mission is to resupply personnel and cargo out to Qalat,” said 1st Lt. Tim Bragg, a platoon leader with the 173rd Support Battalion, before heading out on a convoy from Kandahar Airfield early Tuesday morning.

Most of the battalion has redeployed to Vicenza, Italy. But about a dozen soldiers were left behind to run convoys out to its sister unit in the 173rd Airborne Brigade — the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment.

The route isn’t without its dangers. Roadside bombs, suicide bombers on vehicles and quick-hitting ambushes are the tactics of choice by those who attack Americans in the area. And, of course, there are regular Afghan citizens, who tend to play it a little loose when it comes to driving practices.

But Tuesday’s convoy was supposed to be its last and Bragg’s transportation platoon hasn’t suffered any casualties along the route.

“We’ve been very lucky,” he said. “We try to look like a hard target. They should know if they hit us, we’ll hit back.”

Some members of the platoon served in the battalion’s predecessor, the 173rd Forward Support Company, in Iraq. And that company wasn’t as fortunate.

Sgt. Evelyn Ortiz, who mans a .50-caliber machine gun on a Humvee, was wounded when she and two others were thrown from their vehicle as a roadside bomb exploded. She received shrapnel in various parts of her body and about a dozen stitches were required to close a wound on her forehead. She also received a Purple Heart.

Ortiz said she’s alert on the two-hour trip that her platoon has made about twice a week.

“[The road] is fairly new and in good condition,” she said. “So it’s easier to spot if someone’s dug up the road [to plant an explosive]. That wasn’t the case in Iraq.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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