JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Every day, local-national convoys with the Iraqi Transportation Network travel through an entry control point to get onto Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
Soldiers with the ITN escort platoon, 699th Maintenance Company out of Fort Irwin, Calif., are responsible for escorting the ITN drivers and vehicles during their time at JBB.
When vehicles arrive on base, they are staged in the frustration yard. The drivers then wait in the holding area until all the drivers and trucks in the convoy have been verified.
"We organize them by (transportation movement request) and make sure we have the right trucks going to the right places," said Pfc. Joseph Holland, an ITN escort with the 699th.
The 699th provides for the basic needs of the drivers, said Spc. Tyler Norris, an ITN escort with the platoon and a Las Vegas native. The drivers receive water while they wait to get back in their trucks, he said, and if the drivers have to stay overnight in the frustration yard, the unit provides meals.
This partnership with the Iraqi trucking companies led to an intermingling of cultures between Soldiers and local nationals, said Holland, a Columbus, Ohio native.
"Working with the Iraqis really broke down a lot of cultural barriers and learned biases," said Holland. "A lot of people think they're all terrorists and fear them, but that's not the case. They're a great group of individuals."
Waleed Shaker Youssef, a driver for the ITN and native of Baghdad, said, through an interpreter, he has worked with Soldiers at different bases for five years and has enjoyed the experience.
Norris said the language barrier can be challenging at first.
"Most of them understand us," said Norris. "We use a lot of hands and arm signals, and understanding Arabic is a lot easier than actually speaking it."
He said most communication is easy enough when gestures fill in the blanks, but there are times they need a translator to convey specific instructions.
The Iraqis are not as different from Americans as some would think, said Holland. There are more similarities than differences, he said.
After drivers have been cleared through security, 699th Soldiers escort them to the central receiving and shipping point, where they wait until their trucks are ready to be loaded, said Norris.
The long hours involved with escorting the ITN drivers are part of a working relationship, Norris said.
The drivers have been given an opportunity to make an honest living through the partnership, said Youssef.
"As far as Iraqi to American, American to Iraqi, they understand our concepts, our goals and what has to go on," said Norris.