Iraq supply runs challenge Schofield-based brigade
The Schofield Barracks unit that provides supplies to Army installations in northern Iraq has traveled more than 3 million miles, hauling fuel, repairing parts and delivering food, medical supplies and construction materials during its first five months without suffering a single casualty.
Col. Michael McBride, commander of the 5,000-member 45th Sustainment Brigade, said he has 1,200 trucks on the road every day and his unit, the largest logistic brigade in Iraq, has logged 3,000 combat patrols.
His customers are Army bases stretched over northern Iraq in an area about the size of Pennsylvania.
As McBride's brigade reaches the halfway point in its year-long deployment, its truck drivers have hauled 56 million gallons of fuel.
"On the average, we haul about 2.5 million gallons of fuel every week" to the 17 forward operating bases in Multinational Division North, a region with a population of 10.2 million that extends north of Baghdad to the borders of Iran, Turkey and Syria.
That amounts to about 20 supply convoys every day, McBride said in a video teleconference call from Forward Operating Base Q-West.
"Supply convoys here are combat logistic patrols because the roads are very dangerous. These are not routine supply runs. We treat them as combat patrols," he said.
McBride said IEDs (improvised explosive devices) or bombs placed along the sides of the roads are the biggest threat to his troops.
Some of the roadside bombs have exploded on the trucks or in between them, McBride said, resulting in "close calls." Many of his trucks were taken off the road too damaged to drive, but "our soldiers walked away from those incidents."
To reduce the number of trucks McBride's logistic brigade has to put on Iraqi roads, the unit tries to maximize the use of CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to transport pallets of supplies.
"We believe that every pallet we build prevents a soldier from having to go on the roads," McBride said.
"We're now up to 120 pallets that we fly each and every day. We figure that keeps about 40 soldiers off the road."
Convoy routes can be as short as 40 miles or as long as several hundred miles, depending on the cargo and destination. "We travel among all of the FOBs (forwarding operating bases) in the north," McBride said, "and even make supply runs to the Turkish border."
Of the 5,000 soldiers and civilians assigned to the Schofield Barracks logistic unit, only 1,000 are from Hawaii, McBride said. The rest are active duty, Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers from Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky and Washington.
McBride said his soldiers also have been involved in training members of three Iraqi logistic brigades, each containing about 1,200 soldiers. Two of those supply units have completed their training and were transferred to their Iraqi division. The transfer of the third will occur in the spring.
The training of the Iraqi soldiers includes teaching them how to operate supply hubs, medical clinics, fuel points and dining facilities, McBride added.
In working with Iraqi civilians during numerous humanitarian missions involving the distribution of school supplies and clothing sent by people from Hawaii, McBride said the attitudes in the Iraqi villages surrounding his base are "very positive."
"We're blessed. The part of Iraq that we are in is relatively very peaceful," McBride said.
He said that one of the reason the morale of his soldiers is so high is because of the cards, letters and care packages that are sent regularly by students of Wheeler Elementary School, Hale Kula Elementary School, Kahuku Elementary and High School and Sunset Beach Elementary School, as well as members of the Koolauloa Neighborhood Board.
"The packages, cards and letters and the sentiments they expressed have been spectacular," McBride said.