CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION Q-WEST, Iraq - Mississippi Army National Guard members here conducted a record number of vehicle recovery missions Jan. 18-19.
The quick reaction force for recovering vehicles - a small detachment of Soldiers from C Company, 2nd Battalion, 198th Combined Arms, 155th Brigade Combat Team - completed six recoveries in two days with only a few hours of sleep.
During their first 30 days of the recovery mission, which began in mid-December, the C Company Soldiers conducted 16 recovery missions, nearly doubling the 60-day record of 10 missions for the previous unit, said Staff Sgt. Douglas S. Kilgore, a section leader for the Guard unit.
"Sometimes we're very busy, especially when the weather gets bad, and sometimes we are waiting for a mission," said Kilgore. "Three, four days we might do nothing but wait. Then we might have three or four missions in one day. The operational tempo can be extreme at times, but this has been a good mission, and so far we've had no hostile contact, though we have recovered vehicles damaged by improvised explosive devices."
The recovery QRF has to be ready to move on a moment's notice, and this means long hours inspecting and maintaining the gun trucks, said Kilgore.
"We get a mission, we have 40 minutes to be out the gate," said Kilgore. "With the convoy security mission, we prepared vehicles 24 hours before rolling out the gate, whereas here we have to be ready to roll at all times. So we spend a lot of time taking care of our gun trucks, and it's essential that everyone does their preventative maintenance, checks and services thoroughly," said Kilgore. "
Kilgore said that, functioning as a detached element from the company, the recovery QRF has a lot of independence.
"We're over here working and living in a separate building, and the Soldiers like having their own space," said Kilgore. "It helps build team cohesion, and as long as we are completing our missions and meeting Army standards, nobody bothers us."
C Company received the Q-West recovery responsibility well-into its deployment, so the unit had to re-assign Soldiers from various other tasks to fill the new requirement, Kilgore said.
"Our team is made up of any available or willing Soldiers," said Kilgore. "Some came from the company command post and had never been outside the wire. Some came from the maintenance shop. Others came from the convoy security platoons. About half my people deployed to Iraq with the 155th Brigade in '05, and that gives us a lot of experience. The veterans were a big help with the challenge of building cohesion and getting everyone on the same page. Everybody is doing great, and they all like this mission."
One Soldier who enjoys the recovery mission is Sgt. Demarquis T. Maybell.
"Before this mission, I was in the company command post and never got off the base," said Maybell, a truck commander and Hollandale, Miss., native. "It's real fun going out the wire. Sometimes our route takes us through cities, and we can see how the people interact in the market."
Another reason Maybell said he preferred the mission was that he saw tangible results.
"I like helping people on the road, and this mission helps people," he said. "We go out to help recover a vehicle, and the Soldiers waiting for us are happy to see us. And when we take care of them, we can see the results of our efforts. We go out, and we see the people we're helping."
Sgt. Joshua Tharp, a team leader from Grenada, Miss., and a veteran of the 2005 deployment, said the operational tempo of the recovery mission brought back memories.
"This reminds me of the old days, back in '05, when we'd just lay out a map and say, all right, this is where we're going, and this is how we're getting there. Let's go - simple as that," said Tharp.
The mission has its challenges as well, said Tharp.
"The other night when we ran 30 hours straight with no rest," said Tharp. "A lot of missions, the weather [is] cold and nasty, and when the weather gets bad, we get busy. We've recovered vehicles damaged by [improvised explosive devices] and breakdowns, but lately it's been weather-related recoveries - vehicles stuck in the mud."
When the operational tempo increases, getting sleep becomes an issue, said Pfc. Allen R. Stidmon, a driver from Hernando, Miss.
"When things get busy, the biggest challenge is getting enough sleep," said Stidmon. "In the past few days, we've been lucky to get four hours of sleep, but that's part of this job. I can live with less sleep. I like going out on the road, being out there doing a mission instead of staying on the base."
Staff Sgt. Daniel L. Ramseur, a gun truck commander, agreed.
"This mission reminds me of 2005 - get a mission and move out," said Ramseur. "This is completely different from the convoy security mission. We spend less time planning, and we haven't got a set schedule. Most of us spent months doing the CS mission, and that's good because we know all the roads. We know where we're going."
Spc. Arthur Carpenter, a gun-truck gunner, prefers recovery QRF to the convoy security mission.
"I like this a lot better than the convoy security mission," said Carpenter, a native of Cordova, Tenn. "Every mission is a turn-and-burn; we go out, recover the disabled vehicle and come back to base. We're not gone three, four days, staying in transient housing on other bases. Also, we don't have to deal with our Convoy Readiness Center, the long process to go on a mission, which is necessary but takes a long time."
Soldiers who previously served in convoy security platoons are happy that they no longer deal with the long planning process of the Convoy Readiness Center, Soldiers like Spc. Michael T. Hawkins.
"The best thing about the recovery mission is that we don't have to spend all that time preparing to go out the wire, doing final checks and long briefs at the CRC," said Hawkins, a Greenwood, Miss., native. "We get a mission, and we have to go as soon as possible. We get a quick brief, and we roll."
The convoy security missions restricted Spc. Undrae S. Ratliff's view of the Iraqi countryside, said Ratliff, a Soldier on his first deployment.
"The convoys could be miles long, and they moved slow, and we always stayed on the hardball roads," said Ratliff, a gun truck driver. "Those CS missions were always at night and on main highways. With the recovery mission, we go out any time, day or night, and we might be running desert trails. One night, we went into the desert to recover a couple vehicles out of the mud, and that was the first time I was out in the desert, seeing it close up, instead of from the highway. We were following a desert trail. That was pretty cool."
Spc. Jesse A. Jenkins, also a driver, said he feels safer doing the recovery mission.
"The biggest difference I noticed is that you're closer to the other gun trucks with this mission," said Jenkins. "I can actually see the other gun trucks because we're escorting only a couple recovery vehicles. Our security is tight, and the vehicles cover each other. With the CS mission, the gun trucks are separated by all the transport trucks they're escorting."
Sgt. 1st Class Tim "Sparky" Campbell, noncommissioned officer in charge, praised his Soldiers.
"I'm proud of these guys," said Campbell. "When we received this mission, I chose the NCOs and helped assemble the crews, went on a few of the early missions, but that's it. The NCOs run the show, and they have done a great job with a mission that was thrown in their lap. I help when they need me, but they don't need me. They have well-trained and motivated Soldiers. They've never missed their 40-minute window for rolling outside the wire. They've done outstanding."