Mechanics escort VIPs base to base

Story and photos by Sgt. Chad Menegay
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Incoming and outgoing VIPs at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, rely on a group of mechanics to safely travel the highways and byways of Iraq.

The protective services detail with the 1073rd Service Maintenance Company, 2nd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), consists of about 20 mechanics out of 25 personnel.

“That they are wrench-turners instead of drivers gives us an upper hand,” said 1st Lt. Jesse Brumbaugh, platoon leader of the PSD, and a Cincinnati native. “If something goes wrong with the vehicle, we can take care of it enough to accomplish the mission.”

The last thing a unit needs is a broken-down vehicle while carrying high-profile personnel, said Staff Sgt. Val Tyler, a squad leader with the PSD, and a St. Johns, Mich., native.

Tyler said the mechanics have a lot of experience with vehicles and understand the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles.

“They can identify a problem just by how the vehicle feels and how it responds,” Tyler said. “They’re able to recognize problems before they break down on the road. (In addition), when our guys do preventive maintenance checks and services they know exactly what they’re looking for.”

The PSD, which runs convoys during the daytime and higher traffic periods, hasn’t had any incidents on the road so far in Iraq — no rollovers or traffic accidents.

Tyler, who previously deployed with the 1st Infantry Division for 666 days, said the Status of Forces Agreement has changed the traffic dynamic in Iraq, because convoys are now integrated with civilian traffic.

“Before, the civilian traffic got off the roads or it was not a good day for them,” he said. “Now, some of them will wave as they go by, and you see the smiles. It shows there’s a paradigm shift in just the last few years, where they don’t seem as terrified of what could happen.”

Still, some local national drivers have not adapted to the new traffic accords.

“Cars will cross the median and drive 60 mph down the wrong way on Main Supply Route Tampa,” said Spc. Trevor Wright, a driver with the PSD, and a Scanton, Mich., native. “They’re still under the impression they can’t be around the convoy in any aspect, so they go around it to avoid us. It’s something you’re not used to seeing in America.”

Traffic, of course, is not the only danger for convoys in Iraq.

“If we get hit, our VIPs are the people we take care of first,” Brumbaugh said. “Everybody has got that heightened sense of security, constantly checking on things and communicating. We make sure we’re looking out for one another as much as we can to prevent any sort of enemy contact. Our sense of discipline has been maintained since day one. We still communicate far more than a lot of other convoys that are going out.”

Wright said that he keeps his eyes open for things that could possibly make the MRAP roll over or any other dangers.

“We communicate, watching for stopped or broken-down vehicles on the side of the road,” Wright said. “If Iraqis are standing on the side of the road, we watch their hands. We stay vigilant for that sort of thing.”

Drivers with PSDs have seen a great deal of Iraq from behind the windshield.

“When we first hit the ground, MSR Tampa was littered with trash and debris, old steel, old cars just strewn all over the place,” Wright said. “Over the last few months a lot of that trash has been removed. Shops are being built. It looks to be progressing. That’s an indication the country is trying to get itself back on its feet.”

 

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The protective services detail with the 1073rd Service Maintenance Company, 2nd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), drives Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles for VIPs who require ground transport from base to base. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Chad Menegay)

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Spc. Trevor Wright, a protective services detail driver withthe 1073rd Service Maintenance Company, 2nd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a Scanton, Mich., native, cleans the headlights of his Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle June 1 at Contingency Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Chad Menegay)