Tougher job of sending gear home awaits division
May 12, 2003
KUWAIT CITY — Transportation troops working dockside are expected to receive this week the final batch of combat equipment headed for Iraq.
On May 4, 1st Armored Division tanks began rolling onto Kuwaiti docks, marking the tail of the combat serpent launched against Saddam Hussein’s forces
“Now, we’re seeing the tail end of the 1st AD,” said Col. Tony D’Aquila, commander of the U.S. port operation. “We should see no more inbound units.”
Next comes the task of loading gear from units that saw action and are headed home — something that will be much more difficult than the unloading operations over the past six months, D’Aquila said.
Each vehicle must undergo maintenance and customs checks.
“That takes more time,” D’Aquila said. “Plus, there is the packing and positioning of stuff, backing in and using a forklift to do the last bits of shoving.”
Still, the 3,500 troops supporting the port operation have loads of experience to fall back on.
The command began operations in October. Since then, it has received the equipment for every combat unit in Iraq, including 52,000 wheeled vehicles, 4,200 tanks and armored personnel carriers, 800 helicopters and 33,000 shipping containers full of gear.
The monumental task went with virtually no serious accidents.
One 5-ton truck with a trailer attached lost its brakes, rolled from a ship and plunged into the harbor, said Maj. Glen Cunningham, 41, of Daphne, Ala., an Army reservist from the 1184th Transportation Terminal Battalion.
“There was no driver,” Cunningham said. “We fished the truck out later.”
Only four to six ships can dock at any one time at the small port, about 25 miles south of Kuwait City.
The 143rd Transportation Command, an Army Reserve unit from Orlando, Fla., links soldiers arriving by plane with their equipment arriving by ship, D’Aquila said.
The transportation troops also sustain frontline units, delivering everything from food to spare parts that arrive at the port.
As 1st AD moves into Iraq, the soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division are expected to return to Kuwait, and eventually to Fort Stewart, Ga. Other combat units are also expected to withdraw soon.
Last week, the 950-foot cargo ship USNS Mendonca arrived to unload some of the 1st AD’s tanks.
The ship, by coincidence, is named for Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Leroy Mendonca, a 3rd ID soldier who died during the Korean War defending his unit’s position, which allowed his fellow troops to withdraw.
Fifty years later, the ship bearing his name is unloading tanks to relieve his division, which led the recent fight to Baghdad.