Support unit's behind-the-scenes work in Iraq is essential
FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSTAMIYAH, Iraq — The soldiers of the 26th Forward Support Battalion aren’t your prototypical Army fighters.
But for the soldiers of this unit, which provides most of the essential support services for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division of Fort Stewart, Ga., neither scorching heat, raging sandstorms, demanding schedules or limited resources can stay them from their daily duties.
The unit’s support team, which is situated on a small, relatively quiet forward operating base east of Baghdad, provides medical, postal, finance, supply and maintenance services for the entire brigade, which is scattered throughout the eastern Baghdad area.
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Michael Armstead said that the battalion keeps very busy in its behind-the-scenes role.
“We are busy 24 hours a day,” he said. “It’s a tough mission, but they do it day in and day out. The support they give allows [combat units] to focus on the combat mission.”
Those thoughts were echoed by Company C commander Capt. Laura DePalma. The medical company runs a busy aid station at Rustamiyah, tending to soldiers and civilians with ailments both minor and life-threatening.
“They couldn’t do this without us,” she said. “Not only do we do the aches and pains at sick call, but our providers save lives.”
Healing the ill in the field is no picnic in the park, said Dr. (Lt. Col.) George Patterson.
“It’s practicing very different medicine,” he said. “I’ve grown as a physician. I’ve had the chance to see more trauma than I’ve ever seen as a family practice doctor in the United States.”
Those in the other units say they, too, have had to adapt to the demanding environment.
“We’re the ones behind the scenes pulling late hours like the combat units do,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sally Burroughs, commander of Company A, which orders, stores and ships supplies — everything from Meals, Ready to Eat to Humvee tires to cleaning supplies — to every unit in the brigade.
Lt. Jerry Solis, commander of the 729th Adjutant General Company — a postal unit from 2nd Platoon, 376th Personnel Support Battalion, 63rd Ready Reserve Command, a Reserve unit from San Diego — said his downrange mission is pretty similar to his civilian job: at home, he’s a mail carrier.
At home, though, “I don’t have to wear body armor when I leave the gate,” he joked.
While many soldiers in the unit acknowledged that their jobs aren’t what many civilians think of when they think of the Army, they defended their duties as essential.
“There’s nothing sexy about maintenance,” said maintenance Company B shop officer Capt. Dawn Hurley, whose company handles everything from vehicle air-conditioning units to Humvees to night vision devices.
“But if there wasn’t maintenance, [troops] wouldn’t be able to roll,” added company commander Capt. Julie Burmeister.
Armstead said the unit’s high morale can be attributed to one primary factor: job satisfaction.
“They really like what they do,” he said. “They like what they deliver to the fight. And no one can belittle that.”