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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Guardsmen In Iraq Keep On Top Of Roadside Rescues

Here's the NewsTribune.com story:

MOSUL, Iraq – If a tank breaks down along the highway, a tractor-trailer snaps
an axle or a helicopter crashes in northern Iraq, Hitman is on the way.
You
might think of this platoon from the Washington National Guard’s 81st Brigade
Combat Team as AAA for Iraq’s exceptional needs along the highways.
The 50
soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 146th Field Artillery Regiment operate tow
trucks – flanked by armored vehicles – to recover damaged military vehicles as
they travel in convoys between bases.
“We’re there in case anything goes
wrong,” said platoon leader Lt. Jared Matheson, an Olympia resident and Tacoma
police officer. “It’s a bit of a different mission than the rest of our guys
have, and it’s definitely a different way to spend the deployment.”
About 75
percent of the 81st Brigade protects convoys of tractor-trailers that keep bases
throughout Iraq supplied. The soldiers of Hitman – also known as 1st Platoon,
Bravo Battery – deployed to Iraq believing they would do the same.
They
arrived in Mosul in October and were training to run convoys when they learned
in early December that their duties had changed.
Running a recovery service
presents a different set of challenges. Since the platoon’s missions are based
on need, its soldiers often find themselves sitting around without much to do,
followed by periods where they spend long stretches off base.
The unit
averaged about one mission every two weeks when it first arrived in Mosul,
Matheson said, but four calls have come in the past 10 days.
“The tempo is
totally inconsistent,” Matheson said, “and it’s nothing we can plan
around.”
Nor is the mission time. The soldiers can be sent anywhere
throughout northern Iraq, and the time outside the wire can vary from just a few
hours to almost an entire day.
Sgt. 1st Class Chris Bailey, a full-time Guard
soldier from Kalama, Cowlitz County, once embarked on a mission to a town near
the Turkish border that lasted 18 hours.
And the job sometimes changes when
the recovery soldiers arrive – either because of a miscommunication or because
the damage is more severe than originally thought.
On one mission, soldiers
set out believing a truck had broken down. When they arrived, they discovered
they also had to recover an Abrams tank.
The soldiers work shifts of 24
hours, followed by a day off. They respond to a fairly even mix of mechanical
breakdowns and vehicles hit by improvised bombs. Their customers are American
troops and contractor supply trucks – no Iraqi police, army or
civilians.
During down time, the soldiers work on their vehicles, watch
movies, play video games and talk online with family and friends.
And wait
for the next call, like a tow truck driver at the neighborhood service
station.
“It’s fun when you get to go out,” said Sgt. Brian Martin of
Longview, who works back home in a grocery warehouse. “Otherwise, it’s just
sitting around and waiting for the mission.”
Pfc. Johnny Phillips of
Vancouver admits that “time passes real slow” while waiting for a mission. Once
he went 25 days without a call.
But when Hitman is needed, it can be a
rush.
“When we get a call, it’s like, ‘Whoa, someone could be dying and we’re
going out there to save them,’” he said. “It’s like an emotional roller
coaster.”
blogs.thenewstribune.com/military

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