CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- While some Marines are combating threats in the insurgent-ridden streets of Fallujah and Ramadi, Marines here are braving Iraq’s roadways to provide essential supplies to forward operating bases in western Iraq.
Marines with the 1st Force Service Support Group travel daily to deliver everything from food and water to mail and supplemental items, such as magazines, cigarettes, even alarm clocks and sodas.
The responsibility of delivering these supplies – one of two ways for Marines in remote areas in western Iraq to receive these provisions – lies in the hands of 1st FSSG’s Combat Service Support Company 119.
Since arriving here in August, CSSC-119 Marines have logged in nearly 170,000 miles of road time and put in an average of 90 hours a week to get the job done. This translates into a workload which often times leaves little more than 10 hours a day to eat, shower, relax, and sleep, before it’s time to hit the road and do it all over again.
The Marines here know that if they don’t do their job, then the Marines with 1st Marine Division won’t be able to do theirs, said 1st Lt. Chris J. Lefebvre, CSSC-119’s executive officer.
“They haven’t failed yet,” he said.
Although the Marines here have not encountered as many improvised explosive devices as units further east – luckily none with dire results - the threat of enemy contact, along with the dangers associated with CSSC-119’s fast-paced operations, is always there, said Lefebvre.
“Marines are going out there and facing the threats that come with convoys – the heat, the distance – it’s incredible,” said Lefebvre, a 25-year-old native of Hollywood, Md.
The mission – 500 miles away
Recently, 2nd Platoon, one of two CSSC-119 sub-units responsible for conducting convoys, was tasked with making a supply convoy to Camp Korean Village, a nearly 500 mile drive, round-trip.
The two-day trek is the longest of six regular convoys CSSC-119 is tasked to make.
At 7 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2004, the Marines of 2nd Platoon muster behind the gates of CSSC-119’s motor pool, where the dozen or so military and civilian trucks are staged. They load their personal items, such as hygiene gear, clothing, food and water onto their individual vehicles. They check the air pressure and fuel levels of their vehicles. They mount the heavy machine guns, grenade launchers and other weapons used to provide security against any possible enemy threats during the trip.
An hour later, 1st Lt. Marykitt Haugen, convoy commander, conducts role call and gives a pre-convoy brief to the Marines regarding the planned convoy route, road safety precautions, radio call signs, and convoy procedures.
A chaplain gives a group prayer for the Marine’s safety. The Marines “mount up” in their vehicles, and begin the long haul. Like a line of railroad cars tagging behind an engine, the convoys’ larger vehicles follow several High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles, or “Hum-vees,” mounted with crew-served machine guns for security.
“They say complacency kills, and I dig that,” said Lance Cpl. Brennan M. Rahmaan of Little Rock, Ark., one of the convoy’s drivers.
Working on the third month of his second tour of duty in Iraq, Rahmaan, along with the other handful of Marines who are serving their second tour in the desert, have proven to be an invaluable source of experience for the CSSC-119, said Haugen.
Following major combat operations last year, Rahmaan, 27, ran convoys from Kuwait to Baghdad, often times serving as the convoy commander, a responsibility usually given to Marine officers or staff noncommissioned officers.
“Those guys (Marines on their second tour of duty in Iraq) are huge for us because we have a lot of kids here with not much experience,” said Haugen, a 23-year-old native of Gillette, Wyo. “There are no words for how much they are worth.”
The key to a successful convoy mission is staying alert at all times, and not allowing the often mundane drive to detract from situational awareness, said Rahmaan, 27.
“This is your life here,” said Rahmaan. “If I slip and don’t see something, that truck three or four back could get messed up. Later, I could be thinking, ‘Man, I could have prevented that.’”
Rahmaan, who joined the Marine Corps three years ago to “get off the streets” of his hometown, can’t emphasize enough to his fellow Marines: complacency kills.
During the pre-convoy brief, Haugen reiterated to her Marines the need for total awareness on the road: “This is a danger area, keep your dispersion,” she said, pointing to a specific roadway on the map of the Camp Korean Village convoy route. “Stay alert.”
A dangerous job on dangerous roads
Within 10 miles of the departure point, the convoy encounters their first unforeseen obstacle in the trip: a seven-ton truck carrying large containers of water has overturned onto the side of the road. When the truck’s central tire inflation system malfunctioned, the rustle of the thousands of gallons of water it was hauling caused the truck to shift off the road and flip over, throwing the Marine manning the machine gun from the turret.
The truck is completely upside down in the sand. Many on the scene speculated that if the truck had flipped one more time, it may very well have crushed the Marine who was thrown from the truck’s machine gun turret.
During the entire evolution, Marines armed with M16 service rifles surround the scene to provide security for the Navy corpsmen tending to the accident’s victims. Haugen calls in for a helicopter medical evacuation.
“Some things you just can’t prevent,” Rahmaan said, rattled after his friend was flown away. “When we first got here (on the accident scene) we had to make sure the Marines were safe. They’re alive. After that, push on. Focus on the mission.”
The Marines don’t leave anyone, or anything, behind.
“It’s the unexpected breakdowns that equal more time outside the wire,” said Rahmaan. “A three hour convoy can turn into a 10 hour convoy.”
Back on the road, the drive is quiet for many miles. The only sounds are the dull roar of vehicle engines and the quiet hum of radio traffic. After two hours of driving, the monotony of the road starts setting in. Backs and knees begin to ache, but the mission is underway and the Marines continue to drive on as the sun begins to set.
“The knees just ain’t what they used to be,” Rahmaan hollered to a fellow Marine when the convoy took an all-too-quick break to stretch their legs and repair wiring on one of the trucks.
The convoy arrives at Camp Korean Village around 8 p.m. The Marines stage the trucks in a dirt parking lot and turn off their lights for the night.
An hour later, with the vehicles parked in an orderly fashion, Staff Sgt. Rodney Garcia, the assistant convoy commander, gathers the troops for an evening brief on the first half of the convoy. He informs them that their injured comrades from earlier in the day are all right. One suffered a minor shoulder injury. The other had a bruised hip and fractured wrist.
“Say a prayer for them for a quick recovery,” the 30-year-old Del Norte, Colo., native said.
The Marines set up camp with the trucks in the parking lot. They slept on cots in the sand next to their vehicles.
Mission complete, on the road again
At 5 a.m., the Marines are awaken boot camp fashion – another Marine shouting “Reveille!” several times until all are awake.
It’s still dark when they awake, and they get dressed and take care of their personal hygiene in the dark. As the sun begins to rise and shed light on the camp, they set to work – four hours of unloading the supplies off their trucks.
By the end of their task, the Marines of 2nd Platoon have re-supplied Camp Korean Village with everything the Marines operating there need.
“The convoys are the most cost effective means of re-supply for us out here,” said 3rd Light Armor Reconnaissance Battalion’s Sgt. Maj., Leland W. Hatfield.
With their mission of delivering the supplies complete, the Marines start the nearly 250 mile trek back to Al Asad. Although the return trek proved to be uneventful, the Marines remain ever vigilant to ensure a safe return home.
“It gets monotonous, but we know our jobs are important in Iraq,” said Haugen.
As the convoy of now-empty trucks passes through Camp Korean Village’s sandbag and concertina wire-laden gate, a large wooden sign in plain view leaves a final stenciled reminder to those leaving the protection of the Marine camp – “Complacency kills.”
Hours later, 2nd Platoon passes through Camp Al Asad’s gates. The convoy makes its way through the roads here until it reaches its starting point: CSSC-119’s motor pool.
After unloading their helmets, protective vests, weapons and personal items from their vehicles, the Marines clean and gas up each vehicle in preparation for the next convoy, which begins the next morning at 7 a.m.
“The Marines are doing this day in, day out, no questions asked,” said Lefebvre. “They continue to amaze our leadership daily.”
After mustering 2nd Platoon again, Haugen and Garcia take role call a final time and dismiss the Marines.
Signs of exhaustion from the past 34 hours’ activities, apparent during the long drive back from Camp Korean Village, begin to fade from the Marines’ faces as they realize they are now officially “off work,” or on “liberty,” as the Marines call it.
That is at least until the next day - and the next convoy - begins.