Monday, August 20, 2007

Packing Up the Polar Bears

By 2nd Lt. Liz Lopez

As a direct result of their success in their mission to train the Iraqi Army and pass off their battle space to those trained units, the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, “Polar Bears,” 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), is relocating their headquarters from Forward Operating Base Yusufiyah to Patrol Base Dragon.
To facilitate such a large move, Company F, the forward support company assigned to 4-31 Inf., would require some additional help. For approximately one week, 3rd Platoon, Company A, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, has been located at Dragon to assist Company F with their daunting task.
When 3rd Platoon arrived on August 9, they immediately set to work relieving some of the added stress on their sister distribution platoon in Company F. The support they offered ranges from regular supply pushes to the battalion’s numerous patrol bases to visiting Yusufiyah to upload the maneuver battalion’s equipment for transfer to their new home.
With all the work involved in such a move, the platoon has been exceptionally busy. They wake up every morning at 6:00 a.m. and often do not return to their tent until after dark. It is normal for the Soldiers to go on three and even four missions each day. But, they do not complain about the extra work.
When asked about their motivation, the Soldiers are at a consensus. “I love my job” is the typical reply. In a distribution platoon full of truck drivers, they are not doing that job unless they are on the road transporting cargo and personnel.
Shortly after lunch on August 12, the platoon was relaxing in the air conditioning of their tent at Dragon after having successfully moved a tower earlier that morning. They joked and laughed with each other enjoying the spare time between missions.
That spare time was not to last. Even as they spoke, their next mission was already in the works.
Hunched over his computer not too far away, 2nd Lt. Nicholas Ingrao, the 3rd Platoon leader, worked out the manifest for the rest of the day.
It was to be a busy afternoon. The platoon would begin with a quick run to Patrol Base Inchon where they would drop off a refrigeration unit and some fuel, and then move on to Yusufiyah where they would conduct another lift before returning for the night.
As soon as they got the word, the Soldiers sobered up and prepped their trucks and their gear to move out. Unfortunately, that event would be delayed by the fuel truck, which receiving the mission at the same time as the 3rd Platoon had yet had time to fill up with the necessary fuel.
Two and a half hours later, the convoy was finally ready to leave. The drive to Patrol Base Inchon was quick. So quick, that the driver of the Palletized Load System (PLS) carrying the refrigeration unit missed the turn and was forced to back track to the gate.
Backing up a large vehicle with an attached trailer is not always an easy task, especially on narrow roads.
While backing up the PLS, the trailer veered breaking its connection to the truck. Upon entering Inchon the team attempted to recover the trailer. However, with the sun setting, they decided to leave it at the patrol base for the night and continue their mission to Yusufiyah.
The platoon arrived at Yusufiyah just as the sun was dipping below the horizon.
After multiple days of back-to-back moving operations, the base was a shell of its former self. Not only equipment and storage containers had been removed, but trailers and barriers were also missing from their previous locations.
Although it seemed like little could be left to load, the platoon had scarcely positioned their vehicles before they were given directions on how to proceed. Among the items to be transferred where ring mounts for vehicle turrets, a Mobile Kitchen Trailer, and a fuel truck.
The Soldiers got right to work loading this equipment. They already new it would be dark before they returned to Dragon, but they wanted to spend as little time as possible outside the wire at night. A couple hours later, the platoon finished loading and was on its way back.
At Dragon, the Soldiers were tired from their day’s work, but one event still hung heavily over their heads as they drifted off to sleep: the trailer they had left at Inchon would have to be recovered.
That event would be the first order of business the next morning. Immediately upon waking up, the gun trucks and the wrecker crew conducted their battle drills and prepared to move to Inchon. While they waited, the remaining Soldiers were to finish downloading the equipment they had picked up the night before.
The drive to Inchon was just as short as it had been the day prior. Upon entering the patrol base, the wrecker and its recovery crew from Company B finally got a good look at the trailer.
Thankfully, it would not be difficult recover; however, it would require the use of a tow bar, which could be heavy and tedious work. But, they had the full support and cooperation of four gun truck crews at their disposal, so the task did not take long.
After recovering the trailer, the small convoy made their way back to Dragon. Before they could get there, misfortune struck again. The wrecker got a flat tire.
With only a short distance remaining between them and their destination, the convoy decided to limp onward at a slightly slower pace.
As soon as the small contingent returned to Dragon, the wrecker crew headed off to repair their vehicle, and 2nd Lt. Ingrao went to request a replacement wrecker and crew from Company F. Meanwhile, the rest of the platoon remained on standby to move out on their next mission.
The platoon did not have to wait long. As with everything else, Company A moved with a purpose, and was soon ready to make its first trip to Yusufiyah that day.
In the light of day, the forward operating base looked even sparser than it had the night prior. Not surprisingly, most of the items left to move down to Dragon were loose and miscellaneous items which had escaped earlier pushes, including repair parts, light sets, a small forklift, and a cement mixer.
The Soldiers loaded the equipment onto their trucks as carefully as possible. Nevertheless, after they finished tying it down, the array of ratchet straps on the flatracks looked more like spider webs.
“Have you ever played Jenga?” asked Spc. Andrew Abraham, a native of Coolidge, Ariz., a PLS driver. “That’s what this is.”
Despite his allusion to collapse, Abraham was quite adept at picking the right locations to place a ratchet strap. And, as he lifted his load onto his truck, nothing even shifted.
After everything was loaded, the platoon had one more small cargo to pick up before it could return to Dragon. Waiting near the gun trucks were five personnel and their gear needing a lift down to their new patrol base.
In the recent days, this was not an unusual addition in the platoon’s load plan, and it always seemed to be added last minute.
Back at Dragon, the Soldiers downloaded what equipment they could as they waited their turn to use Company F’s single forklift for the rest. While they waited, the Soldiers used the opportunity to get some food. As soon as the trucks were emptied, they would be on the road again.
Their third trip that day passed without incident. When they returned, the Soldiers wearily took their showers and climbed into their sleeping bags for some hard earned sleep. The next day would be just as challenging with three trips to and from Yusufiyah and Dragon.
“It’s pretty repetitive, but important,” explained Ingrao of their current missions.
With the operation scheduled to end in a couple of days, the platoon will return to Camp Striker where they will once again pick up their regular schedule of Combat Logistics Patrols to provide the brigade’s forward units with needed supplies.
Although that mission would be a break from their current one, the Soldiers have not lost any enthusiasm for their current task.
From their forward position, they are making a difference to the brigade’s war fighters that they cannot make from Striker. For that kind of success, the combat logisticians in the support battalion will willingly sacrifice any amount of comfort. They have done it, and they continue to do it every chance they get.

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