Featured News

There's no such thing as a milk run in Iraq

30 May 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq - Convoys are business as usual for many of the Marines and sailors with 1st Marine Division.  That is, if business means repelling deadly attacks.

"The day you start to get complacent," warned Sgt. George L. Vega, convoy commander, "is the day something very bad happens."

Vega, of Staten Island, N.Y., is currently in charge of the daily logistics runs to Camp Ar Ramadi, a four-mile drive down the road.

Although it's an everyday job, the times for departure vary from day-to-day. This helps to reduce the enemy's ability to effectively coordinate an ambush along the convoy's route.

"Sometimes we leave in the early, early morning or in the evening," said 25-year-old Vega, who has been on more than a dozen convoys. "It really depends on what the mission is for the day."

The missions, like the departure times, change each day.

Lance Cpl. Alex N. Panas, scout observer with 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, is part of a team that provides security for incoming and outgoing convoys here. He said he's been on "so many convoys he can't even count them."

Some days, 25-year-old Panas and the other Marines convoy to Camp Ar Ramadi three or four times a day.

"Our job is to deliver and pick up supplies, passengers and any other miscellaneous gear," explained the Brick, N.J., Marine. "It's a basic logistical convoy, and we provide
the security to make sure the mission gets done safely."

Before departing here, everyone leaving on the convoy is required to arrive to the vehicle staging area two hours early. The extra time gives the Marines the opportunity to make last minute adjustments or to relax once they are ready to step off.

"As the convoy commander, it's my responsibility to make sure anyone coming on the convoy is accounted for," Vega said. "I have to get all of their personal information so we can make sure they get where they need to go."

While passengers are logged in, the vehicle drivers conduct maintenance checks to ensure all the humvees, seven-ton trucks and Logistics Vehicle Systems are up to the task at hand.

All the weapons systems are also inspected, because as .50-caliber machine gunner Lance Cpl. Christopher R. Morales put it, things can get ugly fast.

"I always dust off my weapon because I want to make sure it's cleaned, lubed and ready to fire," said 20-year-old Morales, of Baldwin Park, Calif.

Panas knows firsthand how dangerous traveling on the roads of Iraq can be. He has been involved in several convoys that have been ambushed and hit by improvised explosive devices.

Fortunately, none of the recent convoys traveling to and from Camp Ar Ramadi have received any enemy contact.

Still, the Marines know that doesn't mean it couldn't happen, so they are careful to cover all their bases before rolling through the front gate here. It makes no difference that the trip usually takes no more than 20 minutes. They realize the danger is very real.

"Before we leave, I have to give the convoy brief everyday," Vega said. "If there is any new intelligence about the enemy to pass, I brief it. Then we go over the immediate
action drills if we get hit by enemy fire."

Marines said they knew what to look for as far as enemy activity, but worried more about IEDs because of the number of ways they are hidden and detonated.

"We have to be constantly wary of anything on the sides of the roads that looks suspicious," Panas explained. "IEDs are hard to find because there's so much garbage on the roads that anything could be one."

Vega said he couldn't be happier with the Marines who convoy under his charge day-in-and-day-out through the treacherous roads.

"It's only four miles to Camp Ar Ramadi," he said. "All the Marines know they have to stay alert and be ready for anything. I hope we never get hit, but if we do, I know my Marines are ready for it."