JOINT BASE BALAD, IRAQ
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – On a day where the word “surprise” carried more than its usual weight, three members of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, 77th Sustainment Brigade, 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command got the opportunity to witness how far the Iraqi army has evolved.
The three members of the 3rd Battalion’s Company Delta were on a routine convoy escort mission when their truck struck an improvised explosive device.
“It was a very big surprise. I didn’t quite know what happened at first,” said Sgt. Justin Hoeft, a truck commander and a Pendleton, Ore., native.
Hoeft, along with Spc. William Bergstrom, a driver from Echo, Ore., and Spc. Zachary Pennington, a gunner from Hermiston, Ore., steered their mine resistant ambush protected vehicle to a stop seconds after the blast.
“It was just like a “boom,” and we thought a tire was flat,” Bergstrom said.
Minutes after the blast, Hoeft said, the Iraqi army arrived.
“They were looking at the truck. I bet there were 40 of them,” Hoeft said.
As Hoeft and his crew watched, more Iraqi army soldiers gathered, and they immediately fanned out and began to secure the area. Bergstrom said he was surprised about how fast the Iraqi army took charge of the area and their expertise was evident.
“Whoever came over here to train them did a good job,” Bergstrom said. “They searched the entire area and did a really good job.”
The Company D crew was also satisfied with what happened next.
Hoeft said the Iraqi army soldiers quickly discovered and detained two men and then the MRAP crew watched as another man walked up to the soldiers. After a brief conversation, the Iraqi army soldiers took the man into custody.
All three crew members said they were gratified at how quickly the Iraqi army soldiers kicked off their investigation.
“I was very pleased with the way things unfolded,” Hoeft said.
The convoy escort team commander, Staff Sgt. Brien Gibson, a Hood River, Ore., native, said the reaction of the Iraqi army was crucial in the wake of the IED strike, and their pride in ownership was evident.
“It was good to see,” Gibson said. “[The Iraqi soldiers] were mad that it had happened near their checkpoint. They did all the right things. When it came time to take care of business, they did their job.”
The IED strike contained all of the ingredients of a potential tragedy, but several key factors proved to be the difference, Gibson said.
“The equipment did its job. It could have been worse,” he said.
The reaction of the Iraqi army, the actions of the crew and the durability of the MRAP all combined to turn a potential negative event into a positive experience.
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