CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Qatar International Trading, the civilian trucking company that runs convoys alongside the U.S. Army every day, is an integral part of the 87th Corps Support Battalion’s distribution process in Baghdad.
But unlike soldiers, the Iraqi and third-national drivers who work there don’t wear body armor and their trucks aren’t armored. They assume huge risks and are a perpetual target for terrorists, much like those in the country’s fledgling security forces.
Despite assurances by battalion officials, who say they provide the company’s assets the same security afforded their Army drivers, a few of the civilians quit each week.
The Army declined to say the driver turnover is a result of occupational dangers, but “we have about two per week who don’t show up for work,” said Capt. Curt Hinton of Peoria, Ill., who heads the battalion’s distribution center.
“We can’t say for sure why they quit,” he added, “but there is a threat level that exists for them.”
Elements of the battalion’s 632nd and 94th Maintenance companies once provided gun teams as escorts. That task now falls to an Alabama National Guard unit at Taji, according to Maj. John Hopson of Richmond Hill, Ga., the 87th Corps Support Battalion’s executive officer.
“The QIT drivers are a part of our fleet,” he said. “We manage their convoys, and they’re very reliable. The same amount of security is provided, whether it’s for the Iraqi trucks or the Army trucks we run out. The Qatar International Trading Company is just as important as our [Army] trucks.”
About 70 Iraqi and third-national drivers enter Taji every day, said 1st Lt. Quinton Burgess, 34, of Charleston, S.C., officer in charge of the base’s QIT operation.
“These guys feel important to our overall mission,” Burgess said. “They take pride in it, and feel like they’re doing a huge part for their country and families. I have a considerable amount of respect for these guys. They take a huge risk just to get on base and deliver items to the different [forward operating bases] in Iraq.”
On the flip side, the Army takes precautions to safeguard its installations from potential terror strikes.
QIT’s drivers and cargo trailers are thoroughly inspected at the gates, said Capt. Jeremy Smith, 28, of Indianapolis, commander of the battalion’s 226th Quartermaster Company. The truckers also get tested for explosives and gunpowder residue.
“If they come up positive, they’re arrested and not allowed inside,” he added. No statistics were available on how often that happens.
“Iraqis want to take ownership of their country. This is one small example of that,” Smith said.
“You’ve got to respect them for the risks they take when they go out. That takes some courage.”