586th line haulers keep on truck'n

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
For the line haul truckers of the 586th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, Khabari Crossing, or "K-Crossing," as it's known, is the final breath before the plunge. A few hundred yards further up the road lies the Iraq-Kuwait border and past that the threats they've become familiar with over the course of their rotation.

Functioning as a combination rest stop and inspection area, K-Crossing is the truckers' last chance to relax for a few moments, check their gear and vehicles and prepare themselves for the convoy ahead.

"Basically, this is a staging area before we head in-country," said Tech. Sgt. John C. Weaver, 586th ELRS convoy commander and native of Jay, Fla. "My job right now is to get in the staging line, wait for the word to go and then we'll go up to our first destination."

The 586th is responsible for moving cargo and personnel into and out of Iraq via ground convoy. Although Iraq has become less violent in recent months, ambushes and improvised explosive devices remain a constant threat for the combat truckers, making K-Crossing the last chance to prepare themselves with some semblance of comfort.

"We do safety briefs with all the drivers," said Sergeant Weaver who is deployed from Hurlburt Field, Fla along with more than 10 other line haul truckers. "We check the vehicles out one more time before we head north, make sure all the maintenance is done. We'll take care of sensitive items like ammo and gas masks. Every time they get in and out of a vehicle, they make sure they have those items, whether they be magazines, dog tags or masks, they have to have those at all times."

For Senior Airman Jorge Campos, 70th Medium Truck Detachment maintainer, it's his last chance to make sure all the vehicles are ready for the journey across Iraq. As the only maintainer for the 49-truck convoy, the son of Hyattsville, Md., said the job keeps him on his toes.

"I take care of every single truck, from my truck down to the whites (contractor vehicles)," he said. "Every time we stop at a FOB (Forward Operating Base), I go around, checking the trucks to see if anything is wrong with them. If there is, I'll try to fix it as quickly as I can."

Armed with a small tool box and a lot of determination, Airman Campos said the job is stressful, but satisfying.

"It puts a lot of pressure on my shoulders," he said. "But it's good to know with my help we're able to go out of the FOBs on time. It's satisfying to know my trucks are rolling with no problem."

Over the course of several deployments, superstitions and traditions have cropped up aside from the normal briefings. For instance, before a convoy leaves K-Crossing, there's a prayer.

"After our briefs, we gather in for a prayer," said Senior Airman George Childres of Killeen, Texas. A veteran of 11 convoys, Airman Childres, deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, U.K., said running convoys was nothing like he imagined it would be.

"When I got to my first base at Langley, the veterans talked about it, but I didn't really pay attention," he said. "They talked about it and talked about it and talked about it. Then the deployment came up and I got tasked for it. I thought we would just be driving cargo like you would at home station."

It didn't take long for him to figure out just how different it would be, he said.

"You got to wear a vest behind a steel plate inside a truck," he said. "You have the possibility of hitting an IED or EFP (Explosive Force Penetrator), getting shot at, stuff like that. Our lives are in danger. That's basically what it is. Our lives are in danger out here, and it really didn't hit me until our first mission out here."

Airman Childres said everyone has their own tradition or good luck charm. His happens during the prayer.

"My superstition is that I always have to be on the bottom, holding everyone's hand up," he explained. "I don't know why. I've never really thought about that. It's just so everybody's in there and feeling the vibe going through everybody, keeping us safe."

Tech. Sgt. Ismael Razo, 586th ELRS assistant convoy commander, has a lucky bear. Decked out in a tweed sweater, Rupert, as he's called, goes with Sergeant Razo on every convoy.

"I got it from a care package that I got when we first got here," he said. "Ever since, I've been taking him on the road with us. I guess it's tradition. We haven't gotten attacked. Every time I've had it, nothing's ever happened. Everybody has something. One guy has a Snoopy doll."

Airman Campos received his lucky charm from his wife before deployment.

"My wife, before she deployed, gave me a little piggy," he said. "That's my good luck charm. It used to be a key chain, and I leave the pig up there, looking at me, for luck."

He said he has one more tradition.

"I kiss my wedding ring every time I leave the FOB," he added.

Although the job can be dangerous, the truckers say it has its benefits.

"I love it," Sergeant Razo said. "It's a lot of fun. We build camaraderie, and it's an experience. I love being outside the wire. I feel like I'm really doing something for the war effort."

"You get to be a leader to your people," agreed Sergeant Weaver. "That's what I like about it. I'm fortunate. I have a lot of good people out here."

Airman Childres said he's glad to see Air Force truckers are becoming more mainstream.

"In the Air Force, we can tell people we do convoys, and they look at us funny," he said. "Because we're Air Force doing a transportation mission. We're different. We're the dark horses."

Before long the word comes down to muster up for their final briefing. After a safety briefing and a short prayer, the truckers mount up and roll out, waving to the border guards as they cross the black and yellow striped line separating safety from danger...

Hopefully, with a little luck on their side.