U.S. troops turn to skies for safe supply route in Iraq
CAMP ANACONDA, Iraq — Somewhere along a major road in Iraq, a U.S. convoy coming home from a firing range comes to a dead halt.
Engineers have discovered a roadside bomb moments before the convoy would have come upon it.
Technicians explode the 155 mm howitzer shell, which turns out to be daisy-chained to something else that goes “boom.”
The incident shows that driving on Iraqi roads is still perilous more than three years after the beginning of the Iraq war.
To avoid roadside bombs, the logistics folks at Camp Anaconda are turning the air into a major highway for supplies by flying to bases instead of driving.
Another plus: Parts shipped by air take about three days to reach their destination, compared with between five and seven days by ground, said Maj. Doug Levien, 33, of Logistical Task Force 548, which is part of the 10th Mountain Division.
Levien, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said that Camp Anaconda operates a large depot from where parts such as engines, tires and transmissions are shipped all over Iraq.
Since October, the task force has vowed to send everything possible by air, and the Air Force has vowed to ship as many pallets as the task force can build, he said.
“It’s a matter of if you build it, they will come,” he said.
Shipping by air took 3,876 vehicles off Iraqi roads in January, and that translates into 162 convoys, or 6,137 passengers, according to figures provided by the task force.
In February the number of vehicles taken off the road increased to 4,198, which is equal to 175 convoys, or 6,646 passengers; and in March the task force took off the road 4,592 vehicles, equivalent to 191 convoys, or 7,270 passengers, the figures show.
Since October, the number of pallets shipped by air has increased from one to two a day to between 25 and 35 daily, said 2nd Lt. Ted Mataxis, 29, accountable officer for the 400th Quartermaster company.
Mataxis, of Pinehurst, N.C., said the majority of items shipped from Camp Anaconda are flown.
Of the roughly 500 items shipped from Camp Anaconda per day, between 425 and 450 go by air, he said.
One way the Air Force has been able to transport so much more cargo by air has been by developing a “hub-and-spoke” system, whereby cargo and passengers travel to Camp Anaconda and are transported throughout Iraq by C-130 Hercules aircraft, said Lt. Col. Dan Dagher, commander of the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.
“The C-130 is capable of carrying six pallets or 92 passengers (or combinations thereof),” Dagher said in a Thursday e-mail. “With eight C-130s, we can conceivably carry 48 pallets per sortie. So our limiting factor is the number of sorties we can fly per day.”
Increasing the amount of cargo shipped by air 16-fold posed several challenges, such as having air crews fly 10 missions a day as opposed to three, Dagher said.
“The solution is to highlight the change and identify risks before they become dangerous,” he said.
Since the squadron works closely with the Army, it’s easy for air and maintenance crews to understand the importance of their work, he said.
“When you see the faces of the men and women as they drive these convoys back through the gates of Balad, and you see the wash of relief that comes over them because they know they survived another day on the roads in Iraq, it gives you a real sense of how important airlift is in this theater and what we are trying to do here,” Dagher said.
“It makes our job a lot easier helping keep them off the roads.”