News: Base defense Marines thank local truck drivers for continued hard work
Story by Staff Sgt. Juan Vara
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Daily, hundreds of Afghan truck drivers face the dangers of terrain and Taliban as they make their way from distribution points across Afghanistan to deliver supplies and equipment to the troops at Camp Leatherneck.
Marines from Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan's Base Defense Operations Center, a part of the Brigade Headquarters Group, paused to recognize the dedication of the truck drivers with a luncheon Sept. 30.
"You guys have a tough job," said 1st Lt. Benjamin Harris, base defense commander, as he addressed dozens of drivers gathered in an area outside the camp. "You face a great deal of danger. I've seen the bullet holes in your trucks. I want to thank you for bringing in supplies and equipment for us and help us be able to provide security for where you live."
Approximately 50 truck drivers stopped by the makeshift dining facility in the truck staging area, known as the soak lot, outside the camp's main entry point. Marines served rice, chicken curry, flat bread, fruit, and jelly donuts. British Army soldiers provided the food, prepared by cooks at Camp Bastion.
Master Sgt. Thomas Veenstra , base defense operations chief, worked with Harris and British officers to coordinate the luncheon not only as a small token of appreciation, but as an opportunity to introduce the truck drivers to new processes and personnel in the soak lot.
Scheduling issues and the availability of truck drivers delayed the event, originally scheduled to coincide with the conclusion of Ramadan as an "Eid ul Fitr" or feast to break the fast.
"I'm glad the third time we were able to pull it off," said Harris, "because we wanted to thank the drivers for the dangers they face, but this was also an opportunity to formally introduce them to the new parking attendants."
Recently, brigade leadership hired a group of Afghans to assist with sorting out the trucks and searching the drivers, a labor-intensive security process.
Prior to hiring the new attendants and implementing new processes, Marines from the BDOC headed to the soak lot twice a day to search trucks, cargo and drivers and escort them into the camp. The new attendants will reduce the wait time, streamline traffic flow and enhance overall security, according to Veenstra.
"Things were disorganized," said Harris. "These attendants organize everything before my guys show up and everything is a lot more effective."
Gullam Farooq, a truck driver, spoke on behalf of the drivers who attended the luncheon, saying they were thankful for the food and proposed having similar events on a regular basis.
Having regularly scheduled events would benefit both sides, according to Harris, as coalition forces interact with local truck drivers on a daily basis and events like this strengthen their relationship and help build the trust that will make the soak lot a safer place for everyone there.