|TF 1-34 in Kuwait Readies for Home |
TF 1-34 in Kuwait Readies for Home
By Joe Burlas, Army News Service.
Camp Doha, Kuwait -- (ANS) December 7, 2001 -- With just a few more vehicles to ready for storage in the desert sands of Kuwait, the soldiers of Task Force 1-34 are preparing to go home -- but not without the personal thanks of the Army's top soldier.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki talks to soldiers of Battery B, 6-52nd Air Defense Artillery and 1-34th Infantry (Califormia National Guard) at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, located about 40 miles from Iraq.
Photo by Joe Burlas
Making his third stop of five in Kuwait Dec. 6, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki thanked the "Centurions" for validating pre-positioned war stocks of M1A2 Abrams tanks, M2A2 Bradleys and a variety of other combat vehicles. They did this, he said, while overcoming the oppressive heat of a desert summer and helping to train Kuwaiti Army units during a five-month rotation from the 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.
Arriving in country last August, heat was a major opponent facing the troops in the sandy desert, according to TF 1-34 chaplain, Capt. Grady Gentry. Assigned as the chaplain to Fort Riley's 1st Engineer Battalion when the task force advance party left, Gentry said he got just a couple of days notice that his pastoral duties were needed by the 1,500-strong Kuwait-bound team.
"I was on one of the last planes to come over in late August," Gentry said. "When I got off the plane, the temperature was 146 degrees. I didn't think we would last long in the dry heat, but we learned quickly how to survive and function in it."
Part of that survival was drinking lots of water at every opportunity. As Shinseki visited the task force motor pool, stacks of water bottles abounded beside parked vehicles. And despite temperatures in the 60s during the chief's visit, the water bottles were still heavily in use due to the arid desert conditions.
During the deployment, the task force's two tank companies and scout platoon clocked 31,510 accident-free kilometers on their M1s and the infantry company with the scout platoon logged 17,866 accident-free kilometers on its Bradleys. Three of the tank crews snared the coveted perfect 1,000 score on their armor crew qualification tables in the desert heat. And, the task force averaged a 96.1 percent operational rate on all its equipment.
While all the task force's vehicles came out of Kuwaiti depot storage 100-percent mission capable, it took some time to keep it that way -- just like doing preventative maintenance checks and services when needed on any Army vehicle back in the States, said Sgt. Matthew Montoya, senior medic with Company C, TF 1-34.
"It's all about attention to detail," said Montoya, an Operation Desert Shield veteran who had operated in very similar terrain, if not some of the very same ground a little more than 10 years ago. "I've enjoyed passing on my desert experience to the troops who haven't been here before."
Learning how to operate tactically in the desert was the most interesting part of the unit's mission for Spc. Justin Westbrook, a Bradley gunner with the scout platoon. "With Iraq just down the road, this has been very much a real-world mission to deter aggression," he said.
And while Westbrook said he has enjoyed the training, he also said he is ready to go home.
Most TF 1-34 soldiers will re-deploy back to Fort Riley later this month in time to enjoy the holidays with family and friends. A small trail party will tie up loose ends at Camp Doha and return in January.
"Whenever I think of these soldiers -- and I know I will for a long time to come -- I will always remember them for the faith, strength and dignity they have displayed over the past five months," Gentry said.
(Editor's note: This is the second article from ARNEWS senior correspondent Joe Burlas on a whirlwind tour with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki visiting units in CENTCOM and the Balkans.)