Posted: Mar. 18, 2003 Keep on truckin'
An Army transport unit faces sand dunes and other obstacles
BY JULIAN E. BARNES Julian E. Barnes, a U.S. News senior editor, is reporting from Camp Arifjan, the Army's logistical hub, where thousands of reservists and active-duty soldiers provide support for combat troops in the field.
CAMP 93, KUWAITJust 30 miles from the Iraq border, Sgt. Troy Sorenson loosened the chains holding an 83,000-lb bulldozer to the bed of his 48-wheel heavy-equipment transporter. With a loud clank, the chains fell to the trailer bed. The monstrous bulldozer pulled forward, splintering a protective layer of wood as it rolled down the trailer ramp and off into the desert.
Every day of the week for the past two months, Sorenson and the other 33 members of the 3rd Platoon of the 96th Transportation Convoys have driven over clogged highways and wide-open deserts. They have hauled tanks, bulldozers, and oversized forkliftsthe heavy equipment of the American war machine. Monday, on the eve of near certain war, the platoon's mission was to pick up the four bulldozers that belong to Navy Seabees from Camp Fox, a Marine base, and take them forward to Camp 93, named after the United Airlines flight that crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
Logistics has become a high-technology-infused science, as military leaders have used innovations in civilian business practices and electronics to transform the ways materiel and men are moved to the front. Satellite tracking systems record the movement of trucks, digital tags embedded with computer chips reveal the content of steel containers, and sophisticated war rooms match available supplies with the needs of combat units at the front.
(Julian E. Barnes for USN&WR)
But for all the technological advances, the backbone of the supply line remains the classic military convoy. Bringing cargo to the front still requires a line of trucks. And Middle Eastern deserts have proved challenging for the convoys. The soldiers of the 96th must deal with late-night dust storms, reckless Kuwaiti drivers, and the soft sand that can suck in and trap heavy trucks. About five times in the last two months the 3rd Platoon's 48 wheelersHets to soldiershave become mired in soft Kuwaiti sand. Some Hets have sunk 4feet down. "We got one stuck so deep it took 40 minutes to get out," said Sgt. Timothy Brinson, 24. "We had a tank on the back, so we dropped and had the tank pull us out."
Until now, the work in Kuwait has mostly been a jobalbeit one with grueling hours. But the mission of the 96th Transportation Company is about to get a lot more dangerous. The 96th and other transportation companies are likely to move forward soon from their base in the rear, Camp Arifjan. The military's plans for a lightening fast move to Baghdad will stretch supply lines. And pockets of resistance may find their best chance to counterattack will be to strike at American supply lines, attempting to disable or destroy convoys.
Many of the members of the 3rd Platoon joined the Army to learn a skill, get an education, or earn money for schooling. Sorenson hopes to go to school with the Army. Brinson wanted experience as a truck driver. Specialist Joseph Salyer wanted to hone his mechanical skills. Private 1st Class Christopher Smith lost his job at a lumber mill and signed up for the military on September 5, 2001.
As war draws nearer, the Platoon leader, Lt. Pilar Delima, works hard to make the men and women under her think of their work as having larger meaning. "We all know we are here for a reason," she says, "to serve the country and defend what we have."
Delima, a native of Colombia, became a naturalized American citizen in May 2000. To the soldiers the overt appeal to patriotism is particularly effective coming from her. And it is something they seem to relish. "We can say we did our part in history," Sorenson says. "Motivation is everything."