Oct. 3, 2011

TF 183 'CET' up for success in Iraq

By Sgt. Scott Raper   
149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Public Affairs

COB ADDER, Iraq –  Convoys loaded down with supplies and equipment travel the roads of Iraq everyday. Their goals are simply to get from point A to point B. In southern Iraq it is the mission of the Soldiers of the Task Force 183, also known as Task Force Recon, to ensure they make it safely. U.S. Forces continue to provide security for these convoys to keep up supplies for troops stationed throughout the country as well as to assist with the scheduled withdrawal by the end of 2011. For the Virginia National Guardsmen of Task Force 183 based out of Contingency Operating Base Adder, it is a mission they are determined to continue and succeed at.


Soldiers of the 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry pose in front of their truck following a convoy security mission at Camp Adder, Iraq, Sept. 23. Convoy Escort Teams or CET's operate to ensure the safety of trucks carrying supplies and equipment throughout the country. (Top to bottom) Spc. Hiywote Walelegne, driver, from Richmond, Va., Pfc. Eric Williamson, gunner, from Chester, Va., and Sgt. Christopher Purdy, TC, from D.C. (Photo by Sgt. Scott Raper, 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Public Affairs)

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Task Force 183 is made up of the three line troops and headquarters troop from the Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry, along with an infantry company and an engineer company from Fredericksburg and an infantry company from Christiansburg.

“It has been going very well, I couldn’t be more pleased with the results,” said Capt. Chris Durham, the commander of Fredericksburg-based Company A, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team. “We have very professional Soldiers, both male and female, and it’s a very positive experience for me.”

Escorting a convoy of military and civilian trucks through potentially hostile areas takes much more than a talented crew. It takes planning, briefings, rehearsals, inspections and a lot more. A five or 10-hour drive is preceded by days of preparation. To prepare is to leave no detail left out for the crews and their leadership. An understanding of the mission is ingrained with the number of trucks in the convoy, the route and what to do if something goes wrong. It is an around the clock event culminating in the Convoy Escort Teams, or CETs, departing after dark.

“They have a pretty interesting battle rhythm going, that is every single day, 24/7, convoys are moving in and out,” said Lt. Col. Bill Korsen, the commander of Task Force Recon. “I like to get out. I will integrate into the CET’s on a mission with them and go through the same operation briefs, the back briefs, the pre-combat checks, and pre-combat inspections. It allows me to see from a leadership perspective that they are getting my intent and executing it.”

The skillful Soldiers of Alpha Co. are divided up into CET’s, with several teams for each convoy. Each CET has a crew of three- a driver, a gunner and a truck commander. They train hard to know their equipment and their mission, helping each other along the way to maximize their abilities. The team usually remains the same throughout the deployment and in the same truck, so bonds are formed. Team members are more than just fellow Soldiers with the same mission, they are friends and true battle buddies.

“We have been together since our last annual training and pretty much know everything there is to know about each other,” said Spc. Hiwot Walelegne, the driver of truck 117. “I love my team, my CET and my whole platoon.”

Walelegne was born in Ethiopia and expected to become a U.S. Citizen while on deployment. Her fellow Soldiers, unable to properly pronounce her name, refer to her as ‘Wally’. While rather short at five feet, two inches, her responsibilities behind the wheel are a tall order. The Richmond, Va., resident drives the pace truck, which dictates the speed and direction of the convoy and also must scan the road for dangers the roads could have.

“It feels awesome being the driver, I like being out front,” she said. “We have been going at this a while now, we make sure we do our job and we get more comfortable everyday.”

An even ‘taller order’ is the gunner who stands in the turret of the truck roughly 12 feet off the ground. He must be the eyes of the truck to hazards from both the road and the environment around them. Pfc. Eric Williamson of Chester, Va., stands proudly manning the 50-caliber machine gun atop his truck. He watches everything go by; hoping everyone he sees is a friendly face.

“I like being in the turret. I get to look around see a lot,” he said. “It’s a different country out there, a different culture, and I get to see more than most.”

Williamson also feels his team has come together, saying there is a real good camaraderie and calling their unity ‘pretty tight’ while in Iraq.

“Deployment has been smooth. Since we trained for this kind of mission, we were ready,” he said.

A truck commander or TC is in charge each time a vehicle rolls out. For truck 117, that is the responsibility of Sgt. Christopher Purdy. It is his job to make sure the others are doing their jobs. The TC remains vigilant to the road, his crew and the radio, which constantly rattles with convoy communications. The D.C. native knows his crew and must for the benefit of the mission. He calls the crew a good team and is confident in their abilities.

“We spend a lot time in the truck together. We get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s almost mind reading at this point,” he said.

The men and women of Task Force Recon also realize the significance of the mission, a history making assignment, as U.S. forces redeploy from Iraq. The convoys they secure are changing the landscape of Iraq and shrinking the footprint left behind by eight years of war. The Soldiers of the task force are paving the way out as well as supporting the Iraqi government and assisting to ensure that there is a new dawn for the Iraqi people.

“We have an obligation to get out of here on time,” said Capt. Josh DeKeyser, commander of B Troop, 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry. “We have to do the job we are assigned, and do it well. Be proficient at it. But also be very successful in bringing everything that we are responsible for out of here and leave them set up for success.”

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