News: Commander maps careful route for gun crew's return
Story by Staff Sgt. Les Newport
By Staff Sgt. Les Newport
76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
MOSUL, Iraq - Capt. Mathew Haywood has an obvious disdain for idleness that may grow out of only a passing acquaintance with rest. As commander of A Battery, 163rd Field Artillery Bn., Haywood, from Carmi, Ill., has a precisely defined mission: to keep his three platoons operationally prepared to provide security escorts for logistical convoys. He wastes little time.
A Battery, armored in Evansville, Ind., keeps a demanding schedule, often operating with just enough time between missions to catch up on rest. When Haywood has more time, he uses it to push his unit through additional training and pull deep maintenance on his gun trucks.
"I have platoon leaders give me what they think they need to work on," said Haywood, "Occasionally I'll dictate, but I want them doing their jobs."
That training can include combat lifesaver training, mass casualty exercises, reaction alert exercises to reinforce perimeter security and more. But Haywood says the primary training remains focused on conducting successful convoy security missions.
"That means hunting improvised explosive devices," said Haywood, admitting it is not an easy job, especially on routes that his platoons must share with the local populace.
"It's one of the big issues and we train to do the right thing. I give platoon leaders a different vignette every day, and they have to come up, as a team, with a right answer," said Haywood. "There isn't one single right answer, but there are wrong answers. If they give me a wrong answer, then we talk."
He said that really hasn't been an issue and believes his crews know the right way to handle themselves on missions, and just as importantly, they know why. Credit for dramatic reductions in violence directed at coalition and Iraqi security forces has been given to more accommodating procedures on supply routes. Haywood wants his crews to sustain that momentum.
But Haywood's priorities shifted recently when a truck crew of second platoon returned without their armored vehicle and with an experience they train for, but would prefer to forego. The crew's truck was lost to an improvised explosive device.
"This is the biggest hit we've taken," said Haywood. "Our main effort is the maneuver platoons, and we can't afford to lose one Soldier."
The crew, Sgt. Patrick Weber, truck commander; Cpl. Korey Mauck, driver; and Spc. CJ Johns, gunner, returned to Forward Operating Base Marez and were taken immediately to the Combat Army Service Hospital.
"They were waiting for us," said Weber, an non-commissioned officer that inspires confidence in his fellow Soldiers according to Haywood. "They took our vitals, x-rays and had us do a bunch of neurology tests. That one doctor poked me everywhere," laughed Weber.
Fortunately, the three checked out with minor injuries and instructions to return for follow up. They reunited with a relieved yet still anxious A Battery. "They we're huggin' on us," said Johns, the youngest of the three. "They told us 'don't do that again'," added Mauck. And Weber somewhat grudgingly admitted to some emotional moments, but defended them among family.
For both Weber and Mauck, it was the second time around, Weber's vehicle struck in a 2003 deployment and Mauck's truck was struck earlier in this deployment, a recognition neither wears comfortably. Within hours of the latest strike, the two NCOs were consulting with Haywood on measures to mitigate the risk of future incidents.
The crew credits their training and equipment with nothing less than saving their lives and say that although the procedures can be testing and the equipment uncomfortable, the effort is well worth it. Haywood instructed them several times to let every other crew know it.
The gun crew also expressed appreciation for the other truck crews of second platoon who came to their aid. Stunned and disoriented from the blast, Weber said they probably spent too much time on the scene and credits Sgt. Carol Brown with taking control and getting them to safety.
"He was yelling at us to get in the other trucks and threatened us with article 15s if we didn't," said Weber. "We realized we probably weren't being very helpful," said Weber. "[Brown] was right."
Two days later Weber, Mauck and Johns took meals to second platoon as the unit prepared for another security mission. Mauck said they felt guilty even though the stand down was ordered by Haywood. There were more arm hugs then a hasty retreat before emotions got the better of them.
The crew returned to duty, but only after several counseling sessions with Haywood would the commander give them the go ahead.
"[Haywood] said we had as much time as we needed," said Weber.
Haywood said that there has to be an understanding that Soldiers are prepared to return to duty, an understanding that goes beyond the one on one counseling sessions following an incident like an IED.
"I can afford to give them the time they need," said Haywood. "But the Soldier, his platoon, even the battery needs to be confident that everyone is prepared to handle the mission."