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Army Logistics Contractors on Combat Logistics Patrols

Every night, Soldiers from the 15th Sustainment Brigade traveled the roads of Iraq as part of the vital logistics train that supported all coalition forces within the Multi-National Division-Baghdad (MND–B) area. Running the gauntlet right alongside them were civilian drivers. Contracted employees, manning specially designed trucks, supported the 15th Sustainment Brigade’s mission of supplying and sustaining over 75,000 combat troops that were on the ground in MND–B.

One such contractor, Steve Mathis, was not a stranger when it came to working with the military. After spending 10 years in the Army infantry, he was the civilian convoy commander in charge of making sure the massive freight haulers got where they needed to be. “[Being prior service] makes it easier for us to come out here and do what we do,” he said. “We understand what is going on, and it helps us.”

Moving everything from heavy equipment to food and water, Mathis and his partner, Mike Winters, counted on the armored International 5000–MV heavy equipment transporter to pull loads in excess of 180,000 pounds. “I’ve put a lot of stuff behind it and it hasn’t bogged down yet,” said Mathis. “I’ve taken an IED [improvised explosive device] that ripped out the engine and I’m OK. I feel safe in it.”

Within a 15th Sustainment Brigade convoy, the difference between military and civilian did not matter. The men were adamant about the fact that everyone worked together as a team and looked out for one another during the combat logistics patrols. When a military vehicle rolled over during one mission, Mathis and Winters did not even have to think about what needed to be done. With fuel leaking from the overturned truck, Mathis grabbed a combat lifesaver’s bag and ran to help extract the Soldiers. Both Winters and Mathis had completed the Army’s combat lifesaver course, adding to the medical capabilities of the convoys they supported.

In addition to bringing combat lifesaver experience to the convoys, contractors alleviated some of the burden for the brigade’s Soldiers. More trucks in a convoy meant more supplies hauled at a time, which equated to fewer runs per night. Mathis and Winters also brought additional communications systems to the convoys. While the contractors could not talk on military channels, their high-frequency radios could reach areas where troops had difficulty communicating. By placing contractor-owned handheld radios in each of the military security vehicles, the contractors acted as relay stations to contact their company’s dispatch hubs at either Logistics Supply Area Anaconda in Balad or Victory Base Complex in Baghdad. They also could assist by calling for help from quick reaction forces and explosive ordnance disposal teams and for medical evacuation.

Colonel Gregg Gross, Chief of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Distribution Management Center, said that contractors played a crucial role on the battlefield. “Contractors are part of our formation. They live, eat, work, pray, sweat, and sacrifice side-by-side with our Soldiers everyday,” said Gross. “A day without contractors is like a day without food, fuel, water, ammo, clean latrines . . . well, suffice it to say, it’s a lousy day.”

Mathis and Winters logged more than 12,000 miles after getting their new truck in August 2006. The routes they took were in some of the most dangerous areas in Iraq, but they preferred driving with the Soldiers—doing what they said comes as second nature—to everything else. Both would smile energetically whenever calls came in to take them back out on Iraqi roads.

“ We love livin’ in this truck, we love workin’ in the truck,” said Winters. “I’m happy with what I’m doing.”

Sergeant First Class Nicholas J. Conner was the Chief of Public Affairs for the 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), stationed at Camp Taji, Iraq. He is a graduate of the Army Airborne School, the Army Mountain Warfare School, and the Advanced Electronic Journalism Course.