Combat truckers

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jacob Morgan
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
When entertainer Jerry Reed sang "East Bound and Down," he probably didn't expect the truckers' "long way to go" would be a forward operating base in Iraq.

It's a catchy tune for a movie, but the "Bandits" in "Smokey and the Bandit" weren't exactly hauling ammunition from place-to-place in hostile territory.

Completing the line-haul tractor-trailer mission on time in Iraq brings a whole new meaning to Mr. Reed's lyrics of having "a short time to get there." However, the mission isn't always about how fast the cargo reaches its destination.

Vehicle operators with the 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron from Dover AFB, Del. have been doing convoy details since the fall of 2005, and they know the mission first-hand.

Staff Sgt. Michael Perkins and Senior Airmen Kevin Cain, vehicle operators with the 436 LRS, faced long missions, mechanical breakdowns, and roadside bomb attacks as part of their daily mission in Iraq. They not only drove tractor-trailers, but helped provide maintenance and security for the convoys.

Since 2004, Air Force vehicle operators have been tasked with helping the Army in their convoy operations.

Sergeant Perkins and Airman Cain were deployed with the 70th Medium Truck Detachment in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait from March 3, 2010 to Oct. 31, 2010 as part of this Joint Expeditionary Tasking. They served as truck commanders and vehicle operators in support of the 7th Transportation Battalion out of Fort Bragg, N.C.

"The 70 MTD completed 121 missions within the six months when we were there, which was more than 65 percent of the 7th Transportation Battalion's mission" said Master Sgt. Steven Adams, 70 MTD truck master from March 3, 2010 to Oct. 31, 2010. "The average individual mission was nine days long."

Airman Cain typically rode as a truck commander, sometimes in the lead tractor-trailer of his convoys, which had anywhere from 22 to 45 vehicles including gun trucks.

On one mission to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, a mission that is supposed to last six days, his convoy was faced with broken jamming systems, which protect from roadside bomb detonation, said Airman Cain. The rear truck had its transmission drop out of the engine compartment and his convoy was caught dragging a disabled tractor-trailer.

"We were out there with broken trucks and only one mechanic," said Airman Cain.

Airman Cain, who has minimal mechanical training, and his convoy had to replace 10 tires while under constant threat of enemy attack.

In the end, the mission lasted more than 13 days. However, the convoy and its cargo arrived safely and the mission carried on, said Airman Cain.

When Airman Cain volunteered for this deployment he had little experience. While there, he showed numerous leadership traits and remained level-headed in the face of adversity, said Sergeant Adams.

For his actions during his deployment, Airman Cain was awarded the Army Achievement Medal.

While Airman Cain met the challenges of prolonged missions with major mechanical break-downs, he never saw combat. The story is different for Sergeant Perkins.

Sergeant Perkins served as both an assistant convoy commander and loadmaster for the 70 MTD.

One morning at the beginning of a mission near Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Sergeant Perkins was sitting in the passenger seat of his tractor-trailer. As he turned to talk to his driver, the gun truck directly behind them was hit with a roadside bomb.

"I remember thinking: I hope another one doesn't go off," said Sergeant Perkins.

Just as he was hoping another roadside bomb wouldn't hit, a second roadside bomb exploded. The truck directly in front of Sergeant Perkin's truck was nearly destroyed in the blast.

"All we saw was fire," said Sergeant Perkins. "My first instinct was to speed past."

He ordered his vehicle to maneuver past the disabled tractor-trailer in front of them, and his vehicle's actions cleared the way for the rest of the convoy. He then got out of the truck to provide security, check the status of the injured and provide medical assistance. Sergeant Perkins calmly and clearly conveyed the situation to the rescue-and-recovery team.

Due to his actions, Sergeant Perkins received the Army Commendation Medal, and was nominated for the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Both Airmen of the 436 LRS distinguished themselves while deployed, said Sergeant Adams.

"[Airman] Cain is very focused," said Sergeant Adams. "He would be a great selection for assistant convoy commander in his next deployment." Airman Cain is scheduled to return to Kuwait, in March.

Sergeant Perkins, now the noncommissioned officer in charge of vehicle operations training and validation with 436 LRS, is looking forward to his next deployment.

"[Sergeant] Perkins is an outstanding leader," said Sergeant Adams. "He is very effective when it comes to taking care of his people."

With an outstanding leader at 436 LRS mentoring and taking care of his Airman, the mission should continue to run without issues.

So, as Jerry Reed would say, "Keep your foot hard on the pedal...son, never mind them brakes. Let it all hang out cause we've got a run to make."