Beans, Bullets and Bandages and the Red Ball Express

Dispatches from the War on Terrorism
By P. T. Brent, 9/17/2004 9:24:25 AM

In WWII the army was re-supplied by the "Red Ball Express" a euphemism for a transportation convoy company that kept the troops supplied with the essentials to life in combat, such as beans, bullets and bandages.

The 7th Trans a National Guard unit from New Hampshire is charged with this challenge in northern Iraq based out of Balad Air Force field now called Anaconda by the new landlord the U.S. Army. Normally trucking is a fairly safe and beguine profession. Not these days the Mahdi army owns the highways. While the Marines at Fallujah are running rapidly out of "class one" supplies defined as water and food. Convoys this week have been detoured, reversed course and returned to base and for the most part shot up by RPG's, IED and small arms fire.

The KBR contractors returned yesterday with an RPG rocket stuck in the fuel tank. They incurred a score of KIA's and WIA's.

Washing Machine Charlie

The nightly bomber at Guadalcanal WWII was called washing machine Charlie. His strange sounding engine was heard by the Marines on the ground as he bombed their air field each night. Here he is again at the huge supply and air field at Anaconda the Mahdi rockets, mortars and fires small arms nightly from 2100 to midnight. Their schedule is as faithful as old washing's was. They appear to retire with the exception of a few surprises during the day. The personnel live in their helmet, and armored flak jackets almost around the clock. At the Seabee's headquarters you see navy people in shorts and an eclectic array of clothing beneath their flak jackets, helmets and M16 rifles at 0100 in the morning waiting for the all clear.

One young Marine riding shot gun in our convoy as we halted for an IED the new 21st century lexicon for a roadside bomb. ( Improvised Explosive Device). This Marine would not like to be identified as he stated" the most powerful military force in the world cannot maintain control of a few hundred miles of highway." Perhaps he has a point. The ordinance personnel arrive after an hour and exploded it place. We were lucky they take daisy chains of up to two dozen and exploded them via a cell phone tied to the highway's guard rail. Concurrently firing rockets and small arms fire into the convoy. Last week the first fatality to the 7th Trans was incurred when they had several artillery shells explode at a bridge over pass killing one soldier while the other one was thrown clear as the truck went over the bridge.

One 7th Trans Sergeant said he accompanied the body to mortuary affairs in Kuwait and a friend met it in Delaware. "I never ... never want to have to do something like that again" These are citizen soldiers from small towns in or near New Hampshire. They barbeque, train and are far more bonded than most military units. As they do not transfer, but stay in the same hometown,year after year. They respect and love each other. It shows when you attend their 0550 briefing for your correspondent's emergency convoy to Fallujah with class one supplies for the embattled Marines.

They have a sense of mission and the importance attached. Later they have another briefing at 0800 with the latest road gouge. Red, amber and green are the codes. Their mission has all red highways. They discuss over passes and the remedial actions for hit trucks or soldiers. They review the rules of engagement, which are always revolving with the increased pressures coalition force are suffering. Just when we are rolling the word comes to hold up an early convoy was hit heavy. After standing by for hours the mission is scrubbed and half the trucks make a run for Baghdad only to be detoured to another base after being badly struck by the Mahdi.

It is Easter 2004 and also the first celebration of the liberation of Iraq -- however, there is little happiness at coalition headquarters because if spoken or not.

The Mahdi seem to own the highways in Northern Iraq.

P. T. Brent is a Hawaii business man and former U.S. Marine infantry veteran. He has been embedded with the Marines in Iraq and other conflict areas for the past 60 days.

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