AFGHANISTAN - The lives of Soldiers of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 1157th Transportation Company and the civilian contractor truck drivers they escort during convoys are intertwined every day as they hit the road here together. The truck drivers depend on the Soldiers for security and the Soldiers depend on the truck drivers to get cargo from one place to another.
While most convoy missions go smoothly, they all have their bumps along the way, saidArmy Sgt. Michelle L. Meuer, a truck commander with the 1157th Trans. Co. For the Soldiers of the unit, however, getting everyone to the base in one piece is always the focus of every mission.
"Out here 99 percent of the population isn't bad," said Meuer. "But there's always that one percent that are looking to harm you. When I was in Iraq there was a curfew in place, but out here the traffic makes the convoys move slower, which keeps us out on the road longer and makes the mission harder."
With cars speeding by the convoy, gunners use a variety of devices to signal drivers to slow down or increase their distance from the convoy in order to avoid any accidents or incidents.
Providing security does not just mean looking out for enemy fire and dealing with drivers, it also involves providing mechanical assistance, water and food to the convoy drivers as well.
"We have to make sure the [civilian truck drivers] and loads get to base safely so we try to provide basic life support to the drivers," Meuer said. "If you're nice to them the drivers will drive better, which helps us out."
During a recent convoy mission, just when things were going as planned, the convoy's movement was disrupted. One of the convoy vehicles broke down on the road causing the convoy to stop with oncoming traffic on one side and a cliff on the other.
"We inspect vehicles before we start each convoy to try to mitigate the risks, but you never know," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason R. Mattke, a convoy commander with the unit. "With the risks of attacks and unplanned incidents, we're responsible for the [civilian drivers] and it's all about getting them from Point A to Point B.
In a situation like that, and during the overall mission, communication is key.
"Throughout all of this, you have to make sure you're communicating everything to the Soldiers," said Mattke.
Over the course of two hours, radio communication intensified between the unit's security elements making sure that the Soldiers in each vehicle had eyes on their designated convoy vehicles.
Meuer said if a vehicle breaks down, it's not uncommon for the local contractor drivers to leave their vehicles to talk to one another or even converse with Soldiers while waiting.
"They ask for cigarettes if we ever come to a halt and we'll chat with them for a while," Meuer said. "But when it's time to roll, we'll shine their trucks with a spotlight to make sure they know we're ready to go."
After the vehicle was fixed and the convoy started to roll again, the Soldiers had taken care of all they could along they way. Soon enough, after a nine hour journey, the truckers finally pulled up to an entry control point at their destination.
The Soldiers have once again successfully escorted another convoy, but their mission will continue with the next convoy.