Convoy escort team provides base security
Story and Photo by Cpl. Richmond Barkemeyer
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — As the United States continues preparing to draw down troops and equipment from Iraq, more and more assets not currently needed are being shipped throughout the country using the Iraqi Transportation Network, an Iraqi civilian-operated commercial organization.
Once those assets arrive at Joint Base Balad, members of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) are on hand to ensure security measures are met, and cargo reaches its intended destination.
“The days are busy and hot, hot and busy,” said Sgt. Eric Bell, a squad leader with the 512th Quartermaster Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th SC(E), and a Miami native.
The 512th Quartermaster Co. recently took over the mission of escorting convoys through the various security checks put in place by the 13th SC(E).
When a convoy arrives, all trucks and drivers are inspected and verified before Soldiers with the 512th Quartermaster Co. escort them to the cargo receiving and shipping point. Once all the trucks have been offloaded, the convoy will be escorted back to the entry control point, Bell said.
The whole process takes about three hours from start to finish, Bell said.
“As far as base defense goes, they’re one of the front lines,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Kohles, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of force protection with the 13th SC(E), and an Apalachin, N.Y., native. “They receive the convoy trucks and move them through all the force protection equipment and security measures that we set. It takes a lot of focus, and a lot of attention to detail, and they’re doing a great job.”
Part of the convoy escort mission for the 512th Quartermaster Co. is simply waiting for all the trucks scheduled to arrive that day to show up. This often means spending hours in the blazing sun, Bell said.
“That’s one of the toughest parts of the job, just being out in the heat all day,” Kohles said. “They don’t have access to the air conditioning or a lot of the creature comforts that most of us take for granted. We’re always trying to make their lives a little easier by giving them some shelter, or just a place where they can get out of the sun for a little while.”
Downtime for the Soldiers sometimes coincides with downtime for ITN drivers who are waiting for the rest of their convoy to arrive. Members of the convoy escort team often spend that time socializing with the Iraqis.
“They may not even be thinking about it, since they’re usually focusing on the job at hand, but every moment they spend interacting with the Iraqi truck drivers helps to build U.S.-Iraqi relationships,” Kohles said. “They represent the Army and the United States very well.”
Over the next several months, as the movement of materials out of Iraq intensifies, so will the demands on the convoy escort team, Kohles said.
As U.S. operations begin to draw down, the team will become even busier , he said.
The 512th Quartermaster Co. is getting ready for the increase in activity, Bell said.
“JBB is a hub for all the cargo moving through the country,” he said. “Now we’re getting a lot of the empty containers. Every day is different, but I’m expecting the numbers to really start going up.”
Despite the heat and long hours, the convoy escort team of the 512th Quartermaster Co. continues to focus on the mission at hand.
“I’m a Soldier, and I’m here to do a job,” Bell said. “I’ll do it the best that I can.”
Sgt. Arielle Gates, a squad leader with the 512th Quartermaster Co., 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a New York City native, gears up May 27 as her team prepares to escort an Iraqi Transportation Network convoy. The 512th recently took over convoy escort duties on Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Richmond Barkemeyer)