Escorting convoys

Written by Capt. John Qualls and Staff Sgt. Pat Caldwell July 01, 2011 03:36 pm
Guard’s role in Iraq is to provide support

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — What do we do in Iraq?

This is a good question and one asked more often than one would think. After all, we are reposturing our forces in Iraq, right? So what exactly do Guardsmen from Eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment do here?

Well, the 3rd Battalion is one of the few combat arms units remaining in Iraq, and its mission appears, at first glance, to be pretty simple. We escort convoys. Or, more precisely, we escort logistics convoys throughout northern Iraq.

What are logistics convoys? They are convoys of semis that carry everything from apples to ammunition to fuel to toilet paper. Without those convoys, almost all operations in Iraq would come to a screeching halt for the coalition forces.

There is an often-quoted saying by Napoleon that amateurs discuss tactics and professionals discuss logistics. Napoleon was not one to overlook an opportunity to make a wide, sweeping proclamation, but he was also one of the greatest military minds in history. So logistics are a pretty big deal.

Back home it is a concept easy to overlook. We go to the grocery store and what we want is there. In Iraq those groceries are not going to be there unless the convoys get through, and it is our job to make sure they do get to their destination. What we do, in other words, is very much like the actions of the U.S. cavalry in the Old West, protecting wagons as they move across the mountains.

The 3rd Battalion’s mission is really conducted at what we call the convoy escort team or “CET” level. Each team is made up of between 20 to 30 soldiers. Their cavalry horses, in this case, are called mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, which are positioned throughout each convoy for protection. Some convoys are small — say 16 trucks — while others can sport as many as 60 semis.

So far, the 3rd Battalion has logged more than 650 convoy missions since arriving in early December, traveling more than 60,000 miles. Most of these miles are uneventful, but on occasion things can get a bit hairy.

Another series of good questions are: Protect the convoys from what? Isn’t the war over? Aren’t we leaving?

Those are good questions and the answers are simple. We protect the convoys from individuals who, for lack of a better term, are troublemakers. They may just plain dislike the United States; they may get paid by some other group to set an improvised explosive device; or they may just be bored and decide to attack us. The reasons vary, but the fact is there are not a lot of these people running around.

We are leaving, but there is still a danger on the roads. The signs of our drawdown are everywhere, every day. But one other piece of our mission is to do the drawdown in a responsible manner. Simply packing up everything and leaving isn’t an option, for a lot of reasons.

The risk is always there on the road and the men and women from the communities across Eastern Oregon put their lives on the line every time they go out on a convoy. That may be the most important yet hardest concept to grasp. There are troublemakers out there. While they are very few in numbers, the damage they can cause with even one IED is serious.

While it may be hard to judge based on other outside sources, the fact is the Iraqis are taking over more and more of their own security duties every single day. It is an American operation that is winding down, and we are helping ensure that when we do leave, we depart in a responsible, respectful way.


Capt. John Qualls of Heppner is the battalion S-1 (personnel officer) for Eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry. Staff Sgt. Pat Caldwell, originally from La Grande, is the public information officer for the battalion.