Big Wheels keep on turning…LTF 24 travels long missions to keep coalition forces moving

by Sgt. Kevin McSwain

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — They drive more in one month than most units do in a year.

The heavy equipment transporters of 96th Transportation Company have a very unique mission.

"Soldiers in this unit accomplish a completely different mission than any other unit," said Lt. Col. Edward McGinley, 24th Transportation Battalion commander. "These Soldiers' convoys span over 800 miles across Iraq during a single mission, delivering supplies from one forward operating base to another."

McGinley said some Soldiers cover more than 1,600 miles of road and across about 10 different battle spaces from the start of the mission to its completion.

Due to their logistical mission, Logistical Task Force 24 has a special relationship with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). McGinley said not only does he rely on the 96th, which is a part of 13th SC (E); he also depends on the sustainment command to secure its area of responsibility.

"We are very reliant on the units responsible for the routes in their area," he said. "We are very grateful for 13th SC (E), for their support over their entire area of operation."

McGinley said while route clearance is an important factor in how fast they can transport supplies, it is only a small part of the mission.

"Units in these areas are also defeating the enemy's efforts on main service roads," he said. "They are not only clearing routes, they are actively seeking the people responsible for the production and placing of the explosive devices."

Most of these convoys are lead by junior officers and noncommissioned officers.

"A lot of our convoys are run with a staff sergeant as the convoy commander," he said. "These NCOs step up and take on a great responsibility and accomplish each mission they are assigned."

The 96th TC's deployment rotation in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom is just as unique as their mission.

"We deploy on six month rotations and then we go home for six months," said 2nd Lt. Marri Zarlenga, 1st platoon (Outkast) leader with 96th TC.

Zarlenga, a Fairfax, Va. native, said this is the second convoy she has been in charge of this deployment, and she depends on the experience of her Soldiers to accomplish the mission.

"Many of my Soldiers are here on their third deployment and they have more experience communicating with the local nationals, who make up a large part of our convoys," she said.

If the platoon is not on the road delivering supplies to different logistical support areas, they are training for the next time they have to convoy through Iraq.

"We have to be prepared for the enemy's tactics and procedures just like every unit that goes off any base in Iraq," said Sgt. 1st Class Leslie Cook, assistant convoy commander. "The difference between us and them is the fact that we will usually see two or three different tactics due to the fact that we travel through so many regions."

He said servicemembers have adapted to every change the enemy has thought of and continue to accomplish their missions.

"In OIF III, our convoys consisted of over 100 vehicles, now we complete the same mission with less than 40," he said. "This helps protect Soldiers from unnecessary harm and allows us to move faster on our convoys."

The Soldiers of 1st platoon said the missions are difficult but they understand the importance of their success.

"It is our job to deliver supplies to the major logistical support areas in Iraq," said Zarlenga. "We sustain the sustainers."


news photo
A heavy equipment transporter, being operated by a driver with the 96th