01 December 2010

Trucking and Rucking to FOB Seattle

FORT IRWIN, Calif., Sept. 28--Hitching a ride on a logistical package ("LOGPAC") is one-part hitch-hiking, and one-part Transportation Security Agency (T.S.A.) airport security rules, without the potential promise of a happy-goodtime pat-down.

If a convoy is slated to depart at 1000 hours, you have to be present for safety, intelligence, and mission briefings at least 60 minutes prior. Remember to bring all your gear and baggage. There are also rehearsals--practicing how to egress the vehicle if hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.), how to egress the vehicle if it rolls over, how to egress the vehicle in the unlikely event of a water landing. (In the Army, we like to egress stuff. Except we don't call it that.)

And inspections--checking to see if you're wearing the proper personal protective gear, such as eye-protection, gloves, and helmet.

Of course, it pays to show up at least 60 minutes prior to all that, because you need to find out who you're hitching with, introduce yourself, and apologize for carrying so much gear. Bottom line: It's the standard Army hurry-up-and-wait, but with a huge side-helping of you're-doing-me-a-huge-favor-but-please-don't-make-me-beg.

This morning, I've packed up my contraband computer kit and my small rucksack. I have a scalding cup of hot coffee from the caterer's Big Milkshake Truck. I am kicking back watching the sunrise with my feet pointed uphill and toward the sun. This particular LOGPAC is first going to travel northeast to Forward Operating Base ("FOB") Seattle, temporary home of my alma mater, the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1/133rd Inf.).

After dropping off supplies at FOB Seattle, the convoy will return here to the FOB King logistics base. Then, it will travel southeast to FOB Dallas, temporary home to the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1/168th Inf.). To cover more ground, our little embedded media circus is going to split up, half of us going with each of the infantry units.

A grumpy platoon sergeant comes over and tells me to put my cover on--I am not properly wearing my proper Army hat. "It's bugging my troops and it's bugging me," he tells me. I am in too good a mood to protest.

In the game of convoy roulette, I luck out by getting placed into an armored vehicle with a bunch of fellow merry jokesters. "I'm Brigadier Specialist Edwards," says one Spc. Matt Edwards, by way of introduction. He's traveling in the right-hand front seat of this four-seater Humvee. "The Department of Defense has designated this as a non-smoking Humvee. Please return your tray tables to the full upright position, and enjoy the crash." Obviously, these are my kind of soldiers.

The rest of the crew introduces themselves. In addition to the field marshal, there's Sgt. Aaron Phelps and there's Pfc. Kodi Robinson. They're weapons maintainers from Bravo Company, 334th Brigade Support Battalion (334th B.S.B.). "We're in armaments," says Phelps. "People give their broken weapons to the unit armorers, who usually f--- it up even more. Then, they give it to us."

Usually, the broken equipment is evacuated to the BSB, but the maintainers can also travel along with the LOGPAC as a "maintenance contact team," capable of performing some checks and services on site. Today, however, they're going along for the ride. Or, rather, they're going along in order to give the media a ride. (And it's much appreciated, thank you. Sure beats walking.)

"It's hard to stay awake sometimes, says Robinson. "It's the bumpiness of the road, the dust, the slow speed. I was slamming coffee last time, trying to stay awake."

Also along for the ride elsewhere in the convoy is Spc. Brian Willis, who is returning for duty with the 1/133rd Inf. following a medical appointment. When we get to FOB Seattle, he's got all his gear--ruck sack, assault pack, Army cot--strapped to his back. He good-naturedly refuses all offers of assistance or transportation, and trudges down the hill toward the camp to report in.

It's good to be home.

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