News: One more for the road: Battalion security detachment completes last mission
Story by Sgt. David Turner
By Sgt. David Turner
2nd Brigade Combat Team 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – On a hot, dusty Monday morning at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Soldiers gathered by a row of humvees outside the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Brigade Troops Battalion headquarters. Some ate their breakfasts on the hoods of their vehicles. Others chatted or drank water while they prepared their vehicles for the day's mission.
It's only 8:30 a.m., but the sun was already blazing hot. The conversation cheerful and familiar; these Soldiers have worked together almost every day for the past 13 months. Only the slightest hint showed that day was different from any other.
1st Lieutenant Matthew Shoop, 2-3 BTB Battalion security detachment officer-in-charge, gathered his Soldiers, plus a few civilians, into a huddle.
"We're going to Mahmudiyah today..." he began.
"Hooah!" a Soldier shouted enthusiastically.
"I know everybody's excited today," Shoop said. "We know what we've got to do; we've been doing this a lot. Stick with it. You guys know the dangers. Stay professional with it. We're too dang close to have something stupid happen."
Several Soldiers shouted cheerfully as they headed toward their vehicles to don their armor. They performed this routine for a little over a year now. This, however, was the last scheduled mission of their deployment.
The battalion security detachment performed over 200 missions together and covered about 14,000 miles during their 13 months in Iraq. Their primary mission was to provide transportation and security for Soldiers and civilians who work with the military, a job which takes them to all parts of the 2nd BCT's area of operations. Some of the Soldiers joked their role was a "combat taxi."
"Any time company commanders or first sergeants want to go out there for battlefield circulation, we go out with them," explained Sgt. 1st Class Darin Melton, BSD non-commissioned officer-in-charge, of Charlotte, N.C.
"We know the routes. We've been all up and down Arab Jabour, Sayafiyah, Adwiniyah – you name it, we've been there," he said.
Their last mission was to escort several members of the Baghdad-7 embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team to FOB Mahmudiyah.
"This is what we do. (Drive) around the ePRT, take them to meetings and other places," said Spc. Chad Bowman, of Scottsdale, Ariz. Bowman said he always felt safe going on missions with his team, and added "this group of Soldiers is really good. We've had no casualties. Everybody's done their job, and they've done it really well. It's a tight group."
The BSD's convoy rolled out of the gate around 9 a.m. and headed north. Shoop rode in the passenger seat of the lead vehicle. The driver, Sgt. Luisa Grant, from Los Angeles, navigated the highway and checkpoints deftly, at times crossing the median to avoid heavy traffic or passing through narrow checkpoints within arm's reach of other vehicles, barely slowing.
"I'm a very thoughtful driver when I drive at home," she said later. She showed confidence behind the wheel of her vehicle, "Lucy." A small plastic hula dancer sat on the dash next to the radio. The only other personal touch was a photo of her baby son. Grant remained calm even as other vehicles got too close and the gunner trained his crew-served weapon. Despite her manner, Grant knew that her job could be dangerous.
"I always worry about it when I go out on the road, but I try not to worry about it too much," she said.
At an intersection, the convoy headed south for several blocks in heavy traffic before turning into the entrance of FOB Mahmudiyah. Some of the passengers walked off to a meeting; others helped the Soldiers unload the cargo from the truck. Their work completed for the time, the Soldiers waited by their vehicles until it was time to return.
Grant sat in the driver's seat of her vehicle, occasionally writing or sketching in a notebook. Other Soldiers walked to the nearby chow hall as soon as it opened.
"When we sit around like this, on the FOB – which isn't very often – we mostly do this, sit in our trucks and listen to music," Grant said.
"A lot of days are just boring," said Shoop, of Kennewick, Wash. "We go to a meeting and pull security there, then, come back. Keeping vigilant and keeping a watch in the sector is a constant battle."
Soldiers stayed near the trucks, joking with each other to relieve the boredom after lunch. Sgt. Stephen Brown said his fellow Soldiers made the times here bearable.
"The best thing is definitely the people I get to hang out with," he said. "They're the ones that help keep you sane when you're having a really crappy day. They let you de-stress and calm down."
Brown, like most of the Soldiers on the BSD, has deployed before. On his previous tour, during Operation Iraqi Freedom III, he served with the Signal Corps.
"This time I'm a roadie," said Brown, a native of Phoenix.
Spc. Sean Shoephoester, also an OIF III veteran, said he felt lucky to serve with experienced Soldiers.
"We all know what to do. We've all been outside the wire," he said. His most interesting day with the BSD was when their convoy nearly ran into an improvised explosive device.
"We were ... on the way back to (FOB) Kalsu, and (an explosive ordnance disposal team) was called in to destroy an IED. I was in the fourth truck..... It was like, six or seven o'clock at night. When (EOD) got there, they couldn't find it with their robot. So they got side-by-side, hands linked, walking down the road until they walked up on the IED," he says. The convoy waited four nervous hours for the team to clear the road before they could return to FOB Kalsu.
"We've had a lot of close calls," he added, noting that the team had no casualties during the past year.
"We always say that we have guardian angels flying along with us," Grant said. "I keep thinking to myself, if I can go back home, and be like, 'I made it through three tours and did not get one casualty,' I'll be happy."
The afternoon wore on; the temperature rose, and the air turned hazy. A sandstorm threatened to change the air from amber to red, meaning from limited visibility to nearly none at all. The Soldiers took refuge in their vehicles, occasionally napping for a few minutes at a time.
Just before 3:00 p.m., the members of the ePRT returned from their meeting and the BSD prepared for the last leg of their year-long voyage together. The air was thick with sand, but the convoy pressed on. They reached FOB Kalsu without incident.
The trucks parked and the Soldiers returned to the headquarters with no fanfare or celebration. This was just like another day on the job, one day closer to home.