Driving big rigs on frontline
By Pfc. Abel Trevino
The front line of the war used to consist of chasing Anti-Coalition forces through cities. The front line has since moved to the highways and supply routes and the Soldiers fighting the front line are no longer exclusivley infantryman, but also truck drivers.
Soldiers from third platoon of the 660th Transportation Company drive this front line daily as they leave the semi-protected wire of LSA Anaconda and take supply routes to deliver necessary materials, primarily fuel, to various posts throughout Iraq.
"After we got here," Staff Sgt. Joshua Lucas said, "we knew we were the front line."
"If we don't go, a post will shut down," said Spc. Albert Sturgeon. "I remember when we went to [Baghdad International Airport] and [our commander] said that we had to go. The roads were black and there was a 100-percent chance we would get hit."
So vital are their missions, they face conditions like no other units. The cost for running in these conditions is high. On May 15, Sgt. James W. Harlan was killed on a combat logistic patrol.
There have been numerous attacks, equipment has been damaged and the Soldiers look weary. Yet the Soldiers still have the spirit to drive on.
"It's not a job," said Staff Sgt. Adam Cason, "it's an adventure."
One of those adventures happened to Sgt. Joshua Plumbar, who was hit by an improvised explosive device while driving a freightliner on a trip from Baghdad to LSA Anaconda.
"We were going up this bridge and there's a point in the road where it's blocked and you can tell an IED has already been there," Plumbar said. "I switch lanes, because I'm not driving near that, and right as I switch lanes KADOOSH. There's this boom and it throws me in the other seat and my [vehicle commander] against the door.
"I look in the rearview mirror, I'm dazed and confused, and we're doing about 55 or 60 and I just say 'Did we just get hit?' He looked at me and goes 'Yeah!' So I'm patting myself down and I'm like 'And I'm alright.' I was laughing just a little bit," he said.
"We're driving along and the whole time I'm thinking 'We got hit.' Then we get back to Anaconda and we stop. The tanker in front of me has a huge hole in the back of the tanker, my tanker has a hole in it, the tractor behind me was hit and my tractor wasn't touched at all. It hit right beside me, I don't know how that happened," Plumbar said.
It has been nonstop adventure for third platoon since their arrival here. Sturgeon commented that he has spent as many as 35 consecutive days on the road.
"We spend more time on the road than we do here," said Sgt. Jesse Starr, driver. "In the past two or three months, we've gotten maybe 15 days at Anaconda."
Due to their time traveling supply routes, down time has been hard to come by.
"Most of our down time is when we get our fuel downloaded at our destinations. That's our time to run to the PX. That's our chance to use the phones and things like that," said Lucas.
Mission essential responsibilities always have to be completed before they get their personal time.
"We don't have a whole lot of down time. We have to clean weapons and perform [Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services] on the vehicles. By the time all that is done, we're worn out," Cason said.
Worn out and weather-beaten, they usually find themselves sleeping beneath the stars.
"We usually sleep under our trucks," Cason said. "That's our bed."
With so much time on the road, driving has become routine until the recent death of Harlan. The shock of losing one of their own on the road shakes the relaxed attitude right out of them. Just leaving the gate has become an adrenaline rush.
"I felt like we were getting complacent, but all that has changed. That alertness is back," Lucas said. "I'm always waiting for something to happen." Other Soldiers share his sentiments and mentally prepare for potential scenarios.
"Sometimes when we cross bridges, I think 'If this bridge goes out under us, how are you going to land? What are the chances of surviving? How deep is this? If I jump down, will I live,'" Sturgeon said.
"Every situation you could possibly get in, you just think about," added Plumbar.
The potential scenarios have kept the soldiers anticipating the worst when they're on the road.
Mentally determined, the drivers commit themselves to preventing casualties.
"I think about the road because I've got two good gunners back there I don't want to injure," Lucas said.
They notice differences in the roads from day to day, said Spc. Steven Sharp.
The knowledge of a route's history gives the platoon an idea of what could be expected. "We run these routes so often that we know where the hot zones are," Pfc. Lucas Burns, gunner, said.
Through their experience on the road, they have learned some of the tell-talem signs that something is about to occur.
"If you see traffic stopped both ways, it's an IED," said Spc. John Beck, lead vehicle driver.
The platoon notices the local people's behavior and take these as warning signs.
"A majority of the time if there are no kids around, something is going to happen," added Spc. Jesse Henderson, gunner.
Daily dangers and hardships bring the company closer together. Out on the open road the Soldiers only have each other.
"We're a big family more or less," Starr said. "You don't want to go but you don't want your buddies out there without you. When you're out there on the road, it's just you and your convoy. That's all you can rely on."
Steel-jawed, Sgt. Terry Blankenship, 724th Trans. Co., gazes onward from the driver's seat of his vehicle.
Sgt. Terry Blankenship, 724th Trans. Co., prepares to pull onto the road on another convoy.
Sgt. Terry Blankenship, driver and gunner for the 724th Transportation Company enters his 915 freightliner ready to run convoys. His unit frequently comes under attack from Anti-Coalition Forces.