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Running the roads of Basra

Post by Scott Fontaine on Jan. 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm with 1 Comment »
January 6, 2010 4:48 pm
Photo by Joe Barrentine/The News Tribune
Photo by Joe Barrentine/The News Tribune

BASRA, Iraq – Soldiers from Fort Lewis’ 17th Fires Brigade serve at 10 bases throughout Basra province, including a handful of far-flung outposts.

Keeping them supplied with food, drinks and supplies can prove to be “a total logistical nightmare at times,” the brigade operations officer said. Enter the work of the 308th Brigade Support Battalion, which runs convoys most nights of the week.

The unit hit a milestone Monday with its 100th supply run since it arrived in Iraq in August. The convoy – a flatbed truck escorted by four Mine Resistant Ambushed Protected vehicles – ferried drinks and dry goods to the base at Sa’ad in northeastern Basra province.

“You guys are the blood of the brigade,” deputy brigade commander Lt. Col. Rolland Niles said during a lunch commemorating the 100th convoy. “Without you, no one else can execute their mission.”

Battalion commander Lt. Col Michael Phillips guesses his unit will perform about another 200 convoys before the unit returns to Fort Lewis this summer. And, like any good logistician, Phliips could rattle of statistics from the unit’s first 99 missions, in which the battalion:

— Drove more than 21,000 miles
— Delivered 246 containers to outlying bases
— Delivered 290,000 bottles of water
— Delivered 89,000 pounds of ice
— Delivered 719,000 pounds of rations
— Delivered 4,000 pounds of mail

The planning work for the supply runs – known in military parlance as clips, after the acronym for combat logistics patrol – begins four days before the trucks leave the staging area at Contingency Operating Base Basra. Logistics personnel determine which goods need to be delivered to what locations, and the force protection cell works to ensure the trucks are protected as they drive.

Soldiers work to manage the warehouse storing the goods, while others analyze intelligence for threats to the convoys, load the trucks or operate forklifts. The plans are constantly in flux because of security and weather concerns.

“It’s a ton of work, but protecting convoys and making sure the good reach the bases is the most important work we do,” Phillips said.

Most of what the soldiers haul is food and drinks, from ribeye steaks to near beers. The battalion’s transport platoon, which drives trucks hauling shipping containers, consists of eight soldiers. Iraqi contractors have been shipping extra loads.

Almost all of the 199 different items the brigade handles arrive from Kuwait – hence Coca-Cola cans in the chow halls sporting Arabic writing – and gets organized at the battalion’s warehouse on COB Basra. The ubiquitous bottles of water come from a plant in nearby Tallil.

“The trucks are bringing this stuff to us all day, all night, and we’re always sending it out,” Alpha Company commander Capt. John Ray said. “It never stops. People gotta eat.”

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