HARBUR GATE, Iraq — Flying to Habur Gate from the south in a UH-60 Black Hawk, the scenery gradually changes from flat, tan desert sands to patchwork fields of varied shapes and shades of green to smoothly rolling hills and finally small green mountains divided into tiers by bands of brownish rock.
Habur Gate, nestled in the hills on Iraq's border with Turkey, may not sound like the typical Iraqi locale because it is unique. Here, the U.S. Army works alongside the Iraqi-Kurdistan Government to ensure the flow of supplies between Turkey and Iraq to U.S. forces.
Brig. Gen. Paul Wentz, commander of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) out of Fort Hood, Texas, visited here, Jan. 21, to assess the ongoing mission Logistical Task Force15, 15th Special Troops Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th ESC, conducts on a daily basis and to make plans for the future.
Col. Larry Phelps, the 15th Sust. Bde. commander and Greenville, Ala., native, along with other "Wagonmaster" leaders, accompanied the general.
Habur Gate is controlled by the Iraqi-Kurdistan Government's customs officials and the U.S. Army's presence is primarily for logistical support to the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, and their civilian contractors, according to the Waterford, Va., native, Capt. Estan Davis, the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 15th Special Troops Battalion, 15th Sust. Bde., and former commander of Logistical Task Force 15.
According to the New York native and Task Force 15 commander, Capt. Noah Segal, they provide refueling, maintenance, medical support, lodging, latrine, shower, meal, barber, Postal Exchange, internet, and phone services to the combat logistics patrols that pass through and keep the U.S. military's northern supply chain going.
"This is the theater's entry point from the North," Wentz said.
Segal greeted the group outside of the "Marble Palace," the nickname given to the small former mall used as the task force's headquarters building.
"[Habur Gate] is a self contained [Forward Operating Base], it's basically one building," Phelps explained.
Segal led the group to the building's large balcony which extends around the building on three sides and offers a view of the border crossing into Turkey and a scenic vista of the surrounding Kurdistan region's mountains. On the horizon, one could see the shadowy shapes of jagged brown and gray rock fade into white snow through gaps in the overcast morning sky. Below, local Kurds went in and out of the area's several shops and restaurants while the daily deluge of semitrailers crossed the border over the Habur River.
On average, Habur Gate sees 2000 trucks per month, Staff Sgt. Joe Herman, the acting non-commissioned officer in charge of the 561st Movement Control Detachment working with the task force, said.
According to Herman, a Springfield, Mo., native, 14,208 trucks passed through from May 2009 to January 2010.
"We're not just a ground mission," Herman said, explaining helicopters also stopped here on missions to and from Mosul, Iraq.
"We facilitate their travel throughout theater. Basically everything that moves in and out I count it, I control it," he said, referring to U.S. forces.
Herman also mentioned Habur Gate's civilian translator assets.
"We have some that speak Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, and English."
After visiting the balcony, the general's briefing began. The leaders discussed security, schedules, anti-contraband practices, traffic control, procedures to ensure drivers were sleeping enough, how to ensure uninterrupted fuel supply, how the drawdown of U.S. forces affected Habur Gate, and the positive effects of the mission on the local economy.
Phelps explained to Wentz that before the 15th Sust. Bde. took charge, there were longer delays and more waiting involved in getting through Habur Gate, an improvement he claimed was possible through improved relations with the movement control detachment.
Since the "Wagonmasters" gained responsibility for the Habur Gate mission, $280,000 in non-mission essential equipment was identified for turn in, Segal explained.
He also said relations with the local populace continued to improve. The task force handed out 25 boxes of school supplies for the new school year, but one Soldier took the initiative to do a little more.
Sgt. Adam Dilts, a Saint Cloud, Minn., native, and the task force's medical NCOIC here, got involved by teaching the Zerivani, part of the unofficial Iraqi-Kurdish Army known as the Peshmerga, about first aid and medicine.
Dilts said he began by teaching some Zerivani officers combat life saving techniques taught in the U.S. Army.
Shortly after teaching some of the officers CLS, there was an explosion in the Kurdistan region that killed multiple Zerivani soldiers, Dilts said.
"They expressed that the knowledge that I was giving them could have saved some lives," he said.
"I kind of took the ball and started running with it."
After that, Dilts said he expanded his efforts to include Zerivani NCOs and finally medics, giving them all the ability to return to their own troops and teach them the same life saving techniques.
As of January 2010, 70 unofficial CLS certifications were awarded to the Zerivani, Segal said.
"The locals here love us. They make life here better," Herman said.
Edward Collins, the foreman of the Kellogg, Brown and Root civilian contractors working with the task force here, explained why he thought it was good for the general and the "Wagonmaster" leadership to visit.
"You see an operation, but you don't see the detail that goes into it," he said.
"We get all the trucks together and push them down South."
He also explained one of the oddities of Habur Gate.
"This is the only place where you'll see [KBR] with military 24 hours a day."
After the briefing and lunch at the small dining facility, the leaders toured the marshalling yard where the trucks park, the communications room, the MCD orderly room, the small Morale Welfare and Recreation room, and the aid station before moving on to visit another base.