Fort Bragg riggers work long hours to send aid to Iraq
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: August 17, 2014
The call came midmorning on Aug. 7.
"Start building, and don't stop."
Those orders, according to Staff Sgt. Michael Trevino, set off a long week for Fort Bragg parachute riggers deployed to Qatar, who worked nonstop behind the scenes to prepare humanitarian assistance to be airdropped near Iraqi civilians.
Trevino, speaking from Al Udeid Air Base near Doha, Qatar, is a noncommissioned officer in charge of a 24-soldier detachment from the 11th Quartermaster Company, which is part of the 82nd Sustainment Brigade.
He spoke like a proud parent Saturday, the first full day off the soldiers have received since the humanitarian deliveries began.
"I was absolutely impressed by them," Trevino said. "What they accomplished over the course of that week was amazing."
The months leading up to the humanitarian mission were far from exciting for the soldiers of the 11th Quartermaster Company, Trevino said.
The soldiers took Army and college classes online and completed small-scale training exercises to stay proficient in their Army jobs.
But the soldiers, who deployed in January, didn't expect much. No airdrops had been prepared at their Qatari base since at least July 2013.
That changed Thursday, when the soldiers were given vague orders to start preparing water and meals, ready to eat, better known as MREs.
"It came as a pretty big shock," Trevino said. "We had very minimal warning. And we didn't know the scale."
The soldiers, all but Trevino on their first deployments, put their "noses to the grindstone" and relied on muscle memory.
The first few days were long and arduous, working in 110 degree heat alongside the air base flightline.
Eventually, the soldiers fell into a pattern, alternating 12-hour shifts to keep the operations going at all hours of the day.
The mission was open-ended, he said. And the soldiers were unsure of when the work would be finished.
The first airdrops came during the early hours of the morning after the orders came. U.S. Air Force planes dropped supplies near Iraq's Mount Sinjar, where thousands of citizens threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant were surrounded.
Trevino isn't sure exactly how many airdrops the 11th Quartermaster Company prepared.
"I kind of lost track there in the middle," he said.
But according to his numbers, the soldiers prepared 686 bundles of aid, totaling roughly 120,960 meals and 60,700 gallons of water, over their seven-day mission.
U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the humanitarian aid mission, said Wednesday that there had been seven airdrops.
"Everyone pulled through it like champs," Trevino said of the mission.
He said the soldiers were unaware of where the aid was going at first, but then began seeing media reports.
Trevino said that when media spoke of soldiers preparing humanitarian aid, the detachment took pride in knowing those references were of the 11th Quartermaster Company.
"Once they saw and heard the chatter, they knew," Trevino said. "There's only one group of people they could have been talking about."
But it wasn't a solitary effort.
Trevino said the entire U.S. military community at their Qatar base stepped up to help prepare the aid.
Airmen and soldiers alike from other units volunteered hours of their own free time to help prepare loads, stack supplies and drive forklifts, he said.
Some workers were getting as little as three hours of sleep the first few days.
And for most of the mission, the troops were working on no fewer than three planeloads at a time, taking over not only a warehouse but an adjacent storage yard.
"People would just show up in droves," Trevino said. "I'm extremely proud."
The soldiers worked in relative anonymity until photographs of them at work were released to the world.
The first pictures of the 11th Quartermaster Company at work were released late Friday.
At the time, their location was held secret because of the ongoing operation.
Now, the soldiers are slipping back into their routines. But Trevino said they were ready to resume the mission if needed.
"If it comes again, then bring it on," he said. "I believe they are prepared."