Truck drivers prepare for Afghanistan

113th Sustainment Brigade
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Frank Marquez

Date: 08.20.2013
Posted: 08.22.2013 20:32
News ID: 112435
Truck drivers prepare for Afghanistan

FORT BRAGG, N.C. – With troop withdrawals planned for Afghanistan, it may seem the North Carolina Army Guard is going against the grain by continuing to send soldiers to the war-torn nation.

As Americans usher in 2014, almost 130 soldiers, mostly truck drivers, mechanics and logisticians from North Carolina National Guard’s Concord-based 1454th Transportation Company will be in Afghanistan to support the drawdown.

In preparing for the deployment to the southwest Asian nation, 1454th soldiers spent three weeks in August here.

The United States and coalition troops have kept a presence in Afghanistan for the past 12 years. In doing so, they have amassed enormous amounts of supplies and equipment throughout the country.

The 1454th will be there at a critical time as operations begin to wind down, and the nearly 68,000 U.S. troops there now will be cut in half in February and then later to an eventual troop-strength near 12,000.

The 1454th will assist in transporting equipment and supplies to various locations where they will be sent back home or to other locations around the world - no easy feat considering the austere landscape, the ever present conditions of war and a troubled political climate.

First Lt. Lee C. Smith, who took command of the 1454th in April, says his unit will likely get its final mission orders once on the ground in Afghanistan. For now, his main focus has been on preparing his troops for the nine-month deployment.

“Our operation order says container movement, and retrograde,” said Smith, about the mission. “But that can change, and likely will. Some of our challenges have been training support and furloughs, but the soldiers are in great spirits.”

The soldiers spent their annual training days getting hands-on knowledge of the latest weapons system, a palletized loading system and certifying as combat lifesavers. The unit will also undergo three weeks of validation training at Fort Pickett, Va., in October.

The unit’s soldiers learned about the deployment nearly nine months ago. First Sgt. Lloyd Payne, 37, who has deployed once to Bosnia and twice to Iraq, says there is a little apprehension about the unknown — new tactics and procedures, extreme heat and cold, not to mention the terrain.

“The mission (in Afghanistan) is winding down,” said Payne, a six-year veteran of the unit. “We will do what higher says when we get there. We will replace the unit that is there, but we may be doing something different. We'll remain flexible.”

Right now, the focus has been on soldiers who have transferred into the unit to fill gaps.

“We are working on teamwork,” Payne said. “That means finding a niche and assigning battle buddies. We’re making them feel welcome. We all know how that is being the new guy. By the time we get to our mobilization station, there should be no issues.”

Spc. Carlos Parker, 30, who will be a member of the unit’s security platoon and on his first deployment, set his mind to studying battle movements and convoy scenarios during annual training. To protect the convoys, his cohorts looked closely at what weapons systems should be used based on the threat, their type of vehicle and the terrain.

Parker, who comes from a military family, says he is prepared for the separation from his wife and three children.

“My father and grandfather served in the military,” he said. “My wife is embracing the deployment mindset and getting things in place.”

Another member of security, Spc. Amanda Sprouse, 28, grew up in the coastal town of Wilmington, but now lives in Asheville, where a contingent of the transportation company gathers for drill weekends.

She said she joined the North Carolina Army Guard after watching the soldiers respond to hurricanes as a kid.

“I wanted to be a part of that,” she said. “It just feels right, even though I got a late start.”

Sprouse admitted that she is “nervous, scared, and excited” as she tries to answer the traditional litany of questions posed by her family.

“They are asking if I am going to be safe. Will I be able to call them? I say, ‘I’ll let you know, when I know. But they are excited as well,” she said.

She added that the older soldiers in the unit have been pretty straightforward.

“They say, ‘Don’t get comfortable because you never know what’s going to happen next.’ I figure I’ll learn a lot and see a lot and come out stronger on the other side and I’ll pass that on to the next person,” she said.

The 1454th deployed in 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unit is expected to depart for Afghanistan this winter.