CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- Like wagon trains of old rolling along pitted highways and dusty trails, Marine supply convoys face peril and uncertainty on the long roads of western Iraq.
Supporting units spread across an area about the size of Wyoming, Marines of Combat Service Support Battalion 7 have logged more than 140,000 miles on the road to deliver more than 6.5 million pounds of repair parts, supplies and equipment to the 1st Marine Division and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which they support.
The 1st Force Service Support Group's CSSB-7 closely mirrors CSSB-1, which supports the eastern region of the Al Anbar province, including the cities of Fallujah and Ar Ramadi.
Running regular convoys to camps as far as nine hours away is a hazardous undertaking in a conflict that has proven repeatedly that there are no front lines and no rear area.
Lance Cpl. Matt J. Spencer, a truck driver with the battalion's Combat Service Support Company 117, was manning the turret-mounted machine gun of his vehicle during a recent convoy, when an improvised explosive detonated right next to his truck.
"All I heard was a firecracker going off. Right after it happened, I thought I was blind," said Spencer, a 19-year-old native of Vassar, Mich.
The blast also hit some of the Marines riding in the back of the truck. Though it caused no severe injuries, it remains an example of the type of constant threat that prompted each of the battalion's companies to form security teams from the ranks of their drivers and mechanics.
These Marines, who aren't distracted by having to drive the vehicles, provide extras eyes for the convoy and return fire if it is attacked while en route, even to the point of dismounting the trucks and assaulting through ambushes if necessary, said Sgt. Daniel J. Traush, CSSC-123's security team commander, and a 23-year-old native of Lake Elsinore, Calif.
Even with the security teams along for the ride, the rest of the Marines and sailors in the convoy must also stay alert.
When the Marines roll through cities along their routes they are "always confident, never comfortable. We're waving with one hand, we have our finger straight and off the trigger with the other," said Capt. Albert T. Kirton, company commander for CSSC-123.
The company commanders take turns serving as convoy leaders. Kirton said that he likes to take charge of the ones that CSSC-123's security team serves on.
"I get to see (my Marines) performing in the shop and I get to see them in their (secondary) role as well," said Kirton, a 29-year-old San Antonio native.
Kirton said he is pleased not only with the performance of his Marines, but with the actions and efforts of all the Marines and sailors in the battalion.
Many of the Marines on the receiving end of the battalion's deliveries are equally impressed.
"The Marines are doing a great job and they really make a difference. If it wasn't for them, my job would be a whole lot harder, and the Division's job would be a whole lot harder," said Capt. Dan C. Wagner, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion's logistics officer, and a 34-year-old San Diego resident.