CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq - With the responsible drawdown of forces in full swing in Iraq, the U.S. military is focused on more than reducing its troop strength.
All across Iraq, the tools of war that were amassed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom sit on the remaining bases, unused as the number of qualified operators leave the country. Operations that occurred here over the last seven years required large equipment – so large that it needs a special type of transport to effectively move it from place to place.
Members of the Massachusetts National Guard's 1166th Combat Heavy Equipment Transport Company, 164th Transportation Battalion are in charge of a special type of Army transportation system – the Heavy Equipment Transport System, capable of hauling 70 tons.
Consisting of an M1000 trailer and an M1070 tractor, the CHET was originally designed to haul the M-1 Abrams tank. In today’s theater, however, it hauls any number of large rolling stock.
Stationed in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, the 1166th CCHET travelled to Contingency Operating Base Speicher seven weeks ago to support the removal of equipment from bases in northern Iraq. They are scheduled to continue their mission here for about another week before returning to Kuwait.
Since arriving to COB Speicher, the CCHET Company has completed more than 22 missions moving heavy equipment, such as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
They also provide their own convoy security with MRAP and Humvee gun trucks. Since their deployment to Kuwait in March, they have completed 117 missions and travelled more than 980,000 miles, said Capt. Axel Ruiztorres, the company commander for the 1166th CCHET.
On Aug. 14, the 2nd platoon of the 1166th brought their company closer to the one million mile-mark when they rolled out of COB Speicher and headed to Forward Operating Base Warrior. When the CCHETs arrived on base, the truck commanders got the MRAPs while the truck drivers prepared the trailer.
Working in the dark of night, the platoon secured their cargo quickly and efficiently and waited to return home the following night.
“It’s just like being an over-the-road truck driver back home,” said Sgt. John Spagna, a driver for 2nd platoon, and a truck driver in the civilian world for the past 23 years. “You sleep somewhere different every night and you’re constantly on the road.”
Spagna’s overnight driving is fueled by conversations with his truck commander, Staff Sgt. Mark Welch, listening to 1980s “hair-band” rock and drinking energy drinks.
“This is our life – drinking water, Pepsi, and [energy drinks] … and driving all over Iraq,” said Sgt. Welch, who is currently serving his second tour in Iraq.
As typical as these activities may seem for a truck driver, there is one glaring difference between driving a truck in the United States and driving a truck in Iraq.
On the way back to COB Speicher the following night, the lead gun truck spotted a dead dog in the middle of the road. The road they were on at the time was the biggest hot spot for the convoy, so they decided to call the explosive ordnance disposal unit and have them clear the area.
Over the last week, the platoon was hit by an IED or indirect fire on every mission.
“You’re worried, but not too much,” said Spanga. He said he was completely confident in the truck and felt safe inside the cabin and with good reason. The truck is made of thick steel, and is reinforced by steel plates.
“When the truck gets hit, it just scratches the paint,” he said with a smile.
The dog was not a threat. EOD determined that someone was most likely just trying to disrupt the convoy. Unphased by the event, the convoy rolled on in the dark of night and delivered their load to COB Speicher safely.
With this delivery, 2nd platoon’s mission in northern Iraq is nearing its completion. They will soon return to their home base in Kuwait and another part of their company will take all the equipment the unit has collected over the last two months down to Kuwait.
The mission is far from over for the 1166th, though. They used COB Speicher as a hub to reach the northern bases in Iraq. Once they return to Kuwait, they will continue their mission across the southern bases in Iraq – gathering all the equipment they can from these bases just as they did with the northern bases.
“It’s historical … this is a very important mission to get the troops out of Iraq,” said Ruiztorres.
With CHETs, gun trucks, wreckers and a company full of competent Massachusetts National Guard soldiers carrying out the mission, it will undoubtedly be finished quickly and safely.
“We’re from the East Coast," said Spagna. "We’re used to hard work. We’ll get the job done.”