96th Trans called on for fifth time in three years

by Spc. Fabian Ortega
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) PAO

Their mission: Sustain the front lines; carry the load to the last tactical mile. Nobody on Fort Hood has done that more often than, perhaps one of the most deployed active units in the Army, the 96th Trans.

The 96th Transportation Company, 180th Transportation Battalion, 64th Corps Support Group, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom Saturday.

This marks the unit’s fifth rotational tour to the Kuwaiti desert in support of OIF since Jan 2003.

Before 9/11, some went 20 plus years without ever enduring a hardship tour, for the 96th Trans, deployment’s have become the norm, just another temporary duty assignment with higher stakes.

“It’s my fifth deployment (with the 96th Trans) since January 2003,” said Staff Sgt. Wilfredo Mojica Jr., a motor transport operator with the 96th Trans.

“Four deployments going on five,” said Staff Sgt. Jack S. Pitts, a motor transport operator and driving instructor with the 96th.

“I’ve been with the (96th Trans) since 2000 and I’m going on my fourth deployment,” said Sgt. Cory S. Young, a light wheel vehicle mechanic with the Trans and father of two.

For these Soldiers and others within the unit, being assigned the 96th Trans is not only a job, it’s become a lifestyle.

Gearing up and prepping for future deployments has consumed them after returning home from deployments, leaving little time to fully reintegrate back into normal societal living.

According to Young, that’s not such a bad thing. Young believes this has allowed the 96th to quickly establish a battle rhythm soon after arriving in a theater of operations.

“As soon as we touch ground we are rolling,” said Young, speaking of deployments past. “We are the best at what we do,” he said. “We know the roads in (Kuwait and Iraq) like we know the roads (in Central Texas),” said Young.

Cpt. Jami L. Kahne, commander of the 96th Trans, said she will not allow the 96th Trans’ knowledge and intimacy of the roads they travel in theater bate them into complacency.

A lot of the soldiers are so young, but they handle the mission so maturely, said Kahne. 
Kahne has teamed experienced vets with inexperienced youth to help emphasize the dangers that lurk when complacent attitudes set in.

One of those experienced vets is Mojica.

Mojica, a veteran of 16 years, has plenty of experience driving the terrestrial desert sands of Kuwait and Iraq and also has plenty of experience handling deployments. Mojica has deployed not only to Southwest Asia four times, now five, but has deployed to South America, Europe and assisted in Humanitarian Relief operations.

Mojica, 96th Trans’ second platoon sergeant, said he knows what his job is.

“Most challenging aspect of my job is ensuring that every Soldier is ready to (deploy),” Mojica said. “I, (along with other leaders), am constantly prepping young Soldiers, feeding them enough information so there is no element of surprise (when they arrive in country),” said Mojica.

That element of surprise is often an improvised explosive device, or what has frequently been referred to by the press as a road side bomb. It was once thought to be the number one contributor to military fatalities in Iraq, according to a Newsweek article published in March 2006.

This has led Mojica to categorize his unit’s mission from transporters to, a phrase he coined, “InfraTrans,” stating that the 96th Trans is on the front lines of battle alongside infantry units.

“A lot of (service members) know we are only there six months,” said Mojica. “But everything that they have in Iraq comes (via) a truck. (Service members) have to understand that when they are eating meals, or utilizing equipment, they are getting those meals and equipment from the back of a truck. Those are truck drivers bringing them supplies. They have to know that we are on the front lines (as well),” Mojica said.

Mojica acknowledged that the conflict in Iraq has evolved and progressed into a more dangerous mission for transportation units.

“It’s a lot more dangerous now than it was before,” said Mojica.

Mojica praised the Army’s way of defeating the threats in Iraq.

“The (heavy equipment transport vehicle) is money well spent protecting Soldiers,” said Mojica.

The HET vehicle is primarily used to haul M1 Abrams Tanks around. With a 70-ton payload and a load-leveling hydraulic suspension, the HET transports, deploys, recovers and evacuates combat-loaded battle tanks, as well as other heavy tracked and wheeled vehicles.

The HET is heavily up armored making it the safest vehicle out on the road, said Mojica.

In 2005, the military spent $3.3 billion to defeat IEDs, mostly for improved armor and better technology.

As the war progresses, so does the 96th Trans.

Their transport capabilities have landed them the responsibility of moving two of the most storied units on Fort Hood in and out of Iraq. The 96th Trans will spearhead the 4 Infantry Division’s transition out of Iraq, transporting equipment and vehicles, while importing the 1st Cavalry Division’s equipment and vehicles into theater, setting everything in place for a smooth transfer of authority.

“We will fall under Logistics Task Force 24 while deployed and will support the transition of all coalition forces in and out of Iraq and Kuwait,” said the commander of the 96th Trans.

Friends and family gathered at the 13th SC (E) Kieshnick Physical Fitness Center Saturday to bid farewell to their loved ones in the 96th Trans during a deployment ceremony.

At the ceremony, rear commander for the 13th SC (E), Col. Cassandra V. Roberts, praised the 96th’s professionalism and commitment to the mission.

“I want you to understand something, no matter how much experience you have in theater, it’s different each time,” said Roberts. “But I know you are professionals and I don’t have to worry about (the 96th Trans) accomplishing the mission,” Roberts said.

The 96th Trans will provide heavy lift transportation support in theater.

 

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