News: Wisconsin Guard soldiers protect Afghan drivers
Story by Sgt. Gregory Williams
Afghanistan -The lives of soldiers and host nation truck drivers are intertwined every day as they hit the road together.
The drivers depend on the soldiers for security and the soldiers depend on the HNTs to get cargo from point a to point b.
Both play an integral part of Joint Sustainment Command – Afghanistan’s mission, which is to oversee the sustainment operations and other functions in Afghanistan.
The 1157th Transportation Company provided security for 25 host national truck drivers out of Jalalabad Airfield during a recent convoy mission.
Sgt. Michelle L. Meuer, a truck commander with the 1157th TC, said no mission is guaranteed to go smoothly for soldiers of the Wisconsin National Guard unit and getting everyone to the base in one piece is always the focus of every mission.
“Out here 99 percent of the population isn’t bad, but there’s always that one percent that are looking to harm you,” Meuer said.”When I was in Iraq there was a curfew in place, but out here the traffic makes the convoys move slower, which keeps us out on the road longer and makes the mission harder.”
With cars speeding by the convoy, gunners used laser escalation force system to signal drivers to slow down in order to avoid any unnecessary accidents.
Providing security does not just mean looking out for enemy fire and dealing with drivers, it also involves providing mechanical assistance, water and food to drivers as well.
“We have to make sure the HNTs and loads get to base safely so we try to provide basic life support to the drivers,” Meuer said. “If you’re nice to them the drivers will drive better, which helps us out.”
Unfortunately for the 1157th TC, just when things were going as planned something happened disrupting the convoys movement. One of the vehicles broke down on the road causing the convoy to stop with oncoming traffic on one side and a cliff on the other.
“We inspect vehicles before we start each convoy to try to mitigate the risks, but you never know,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason R. Mattke, a convoy commander with the 1157th TC. “With the risks of attacks and unplanned incidents, we’re responsible for the HNTs and it’s all about getting them from point a to point b.
Throughout all of this, you have to make sure you’re communicating everything to the soldiers.”
Over the course of two hours, radio communication intensified between the three truck elements making sure that each vehicle had eyes on their designated HNT vehicles.
Meuer said if a vehicle breaks down, it's not uncommon for Afghan drivers to leave their vehicles to talk to one another or even converse with soldiers on the while waiting.
“They ask for cigarettes if we ever come to a halt and we’ll chat with them for a while,” Meuer said. “But when it’s time to roll, we’ll shine their trucks with a spotlight to make sure they know we’re ready to go.”
As the vehicle is fixed and the convoy starts to roll again, the 1157th TC has taken care of every situation that has come up.
The truckers finally pulled up to an entry control point after a nine-hour journey, which usually takes the drivers three hours to complete on a good day.
The soldiers have once again successfully escorted another group of HNTs, but their mission will continue until all U.S. combat operations end.
“The other day I read an article called “Afghanistan: The Forgotten War” and it made me mad because we’re out here every day,” Meuer said. “I hope people realize that soldiers are still busting their butts and that a majority of the Afghans do appreciate what we do for them.”