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Thread: Support Troops: Unsung Heroes
08-30-07, 07:37 AM #1
Support Troops: Unsung Heroes
SUPPORT TROOPS: UNSUNG HEROES
By RALPH PETERS
August 30, 2007 -- BAGHDAD
THE Army's Maj. Gen. James E. Simmons is a country boy from Arkansas who likes to go fishing in one of Saddam's artificial lakes with NCOs from the Kentucky National Guard.
He's also the deputy commanding general for support of Multinational Corps, Iraq. In English, that means he's the Bagh-daddy with deep pockets who keeps our troops armed, equipped, fueled, fed, repaired, protected and able to fly. He also oversees intelligence and counter-IED operations - the struggle with roadside bombs.
The numbers alone suggest the magnitude of the work done by the 35,000 troops under his command:
* We use 1 million gallons of fuel per day in Iraq. Speaking of a famous World War II logistics effort, the general said, "We do the entire Red Ball Express every day."
* The general has between 3,100 and 3,200 trucks on the road each night, hauling supplies from Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey.
* His "loggies" move and process 1,000 containers and pallets every week.
* They protect all of the major and alternate supply routes in Iraq.
It's an enormous mission, and there's a big story in the human and materiel costs. For example, Simmons has a combat brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division under his command to provide route security. During their deployment, the brigade will put up to 5 million miles on their vehicles.
And it's terribly unjust that the sacrifices of our support troops go ignored by the big-star media. For just one example, a single military-police battalion lost 37 soldiers killed in the course of their tour. But what do we all hear about their valor?
For their part, the "EOD boys," the troops who detect and defuse bombs, face deadly, nerve-wracking work in Iraq every day - but they'll get no rest when they get back to the Land of the Big PX. They'll be thrown almost immediately into a little-known role supporting security operations for the presidential campaign, 24/7.
Yet, despite working 16- or 18-hour days, seven days a week in Iraq, most support units exceed their re-enlistment targets.
The entire effort works because of the selfless dedication of our troops, but leadership certainly plays a role, as well. And Gen. Simmons is no desk jockey. (To be fair, we have very few "chateau generals" left - the war weeded them out.) He's in the field with his subordinates at least five days a week.
And this Arkansas Razorback isn't a yes-man, either. He speaks out. While the general believes that the Army has its logistics model about right, he's adamant that "we have to have a more capable wheeled-vehicle fleet for the 21st century."
And he shakes his head in hardly concealed disgust when he talks about trying to wage war by peacetime contracting, accounting and inventory regulations. Yeah, you can get there from here - but it wastes time, effort and lives. And it doesn't save the taxpayer money, either.
By the way, Simmons is so highly regarded by his Army peers that he was brought back to this same job a second time. That's rarer than an objective analysis of the situation in Iraq on Capitol Hill.
One of the general's rubber-meets-the-road commanders, Lt. Col. Darrell Duckworth, is the kind of man you just plain like at the first handshake. He's as eager as an Eagle Scout - and as serious as a church deacon when it comes to his pride in his soldiers.
During an all-too-brief encounter in Baghdad, "Stagecoach Six," the commander of the 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, was anxious to tell me how his 700 soldiers support 73,000 troops in the field.
Duckworth's 68th is the kind of hard-working outfit you won't see on TV. Running the biggest fuel farm in Iraq and moving a million gallons through on an average day doesn't make for dramatic footage. But just try doing that kind of work in the Baghdad heat. (A cool snap set in yesterday - the temperature would only reach 113 degrees.)
But pumping gas is far from all that Duckworth's Demons do. They also manage Iraq's biggest container and receiving point, as well as running the Army's largest ammunition supply point - in addition to 11 other primary missions.
They organize the construction of Forward Operating Bases; provide major spare parts to over 100 battalions; deploy to remote sites to do forward maintenance; and put together support packages for our engagement with Iraqis (food, toys, cement, you name it).
Sound exhausting? Grueling? Thankless? The battalion reached its re-enlistment goal for the entire year in August.
No, this isn't the stuff that ignites the talk shows or attracts blockbuster budgets in Hollywood - but try going to war without these guys and gals.
On the subject of "gals," Gen. Simmons is also proud of the strides female soldiers have made in confirming their vital roles during this conflict: "We're close to a purely standards-based Army," he said. Looking ahead, he believes that virtually all jobs and positions will be open to all soldiers on a competitive basis, regardless of gender.
But Simmons isn't only proud of the women who wear our country's uniform. He's disappointed that the media ignore the many bona fide heroes of this war, troops as courageous and selfless as any in history.
Wrapping up our late-night, we're-all-beat-but-determined-to-go-on meeting, the general said, "This is a heroic generation."
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