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After seven-months trucking through the desert, Staff Sgt. Donald Simmons leans over his 8-month-old daughter, Hannah, to kiss his wife, Petra, Thursday at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim.
After seven-months trucking through the desert, Staff Sgt. Donald Simmons leans over his 8-month-old daughter, Hannah, to kiss his wife, Petra, Thursday at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim. (Rick Scavetta / S&S)

MANNHEIM, Germany — A seven-month odyssey to Southwest Asia ended Thursday for 68th and 109th Transportation Company troops who arrived home at Coleman Barracks.

The soldiers, part of the 21st Theater Support Command, deployed to Kuwait in mid-March and moved north into Iraq in early April. Since then, they’ve helped keep supply lines running, logging millions of miles through hostile country.

“The emotional high is twofold right now,” said Capt. Ed Gawlik, commander of the 68th Transportation Company, as he dismissed the soldiers. “It’s great that everyone has returned safe to their families. But it’s sad that the time we spent together down there is over.”

The first mission for 2nd Lt. Jenny Pittman, 23, of Atlanta, was on March 25, when a 48-truck convoy traveled north into Iraq, just behind the front lines, to a truckstop named Cedar. By April 6, the 68th Transportation Company operated from Cedar, not far from Tallil air base.

Over the past few months, the truckers moved units and supplies as far as Mosul in northern Iraq, and just about every city with a U.S. troop concentration.

The 111 troops from the 109th Transportation Company drove 1.2 million miles during their 221-day deployment to Kuwait and Iraq. The 91 troops from the 68th Transportation Company logged 2.5 million miles during their 216-day deployment.

While enemy fighters would take a few shots at passing convoys, none of the truckers faced serious ambushes, Pittman said. Speed was key, she said.

“Our mission was not to engage the enemy,” Pittman said. “If we took fire, we just kept on trucking.”

Before they were released from duty Thursday evening, the troops were honored in a short ceremony held in the base gym.

“We are extremely fortunate to be bringing back every soldier we deployed,” said Lt. Col. K.M. Granfield, commander of the 28th Transportation Battalion. Granfield kept his comments short, knowing that the troops were not interested in his long-winded speech when their families were waiting nearby.

But he did quote a speech from Gen. George Patton, which he slightly modified for the occasion.

“Thirty years from now, when you’re sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great war against terror, you won’t have to say, ‘Well, I shoveled crap in Mannheim,’” Granfield said.

Finally, with words, “fall out,” wives clutching children, girlfriends and fellow troops stormed from the bleachers across the gym, meshing with the desert camouflaged-troops.

Yells of joy mixed with tears of relief as families embraced.

“I feel so good,” said Sgt. Melvin Montgomery, 31, of Gary, Ind., who was met by his wife, Sharoen, and their three children, Jalen, 9, Norsha, 5, and Ashelyn, 2. “I missed my family for so long. This is unbelievable.”

The troops will have the next few days off before starting the process of reintegration into the Army in Europe. They’ll get three weeks’ vacation, then return to their normal job of delivering mail.

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