KABUL, Afghanistan — Every day the 1st Theater Sustainment Command drive team loads into their up-armored sport utility vehicles and pick-up trucks, ready to maneuver through the busy and volatile streets of Kabul, not knowing what they may encounter as they work to ensure the people they are escorting arrive safely.
The 1st TSC, a two-star
command based out of Fort Bragg, is responsible for sustainment operations in Afghanistan, as well as the historic retrograde currently underway. This responsibility requires the command group and key staff to interact regularly with personnel from the International Security Assistance Force.
Joint Command, who are spread throughout K abul.
The drive team, known around the 1st TSC headquarters as the “Honey Badgers,” is a group of Soldiers who are responsible for moving key personnel around the Kabul cluster of ISAF bases.
Their team name came from the popular YouTube video about the honey badger. The video shows the strength of the honey badger and jokes that “honey badger don’t care,” and nothing affects him. The team feels this name characterizes their cohesive team. They are strong and can overcome any obstacle they encounter.
Throughout the winding hallways of the New Kabul Compound, servicemembers and civilians work to support the units and the Army to retrograde its equipment out of Afghanistan.
But anyone looking for the Honey Badgers, would hard-pressed to find them. They are either out on a mission, conducting training, studying the routes, or maintaining their vehicles. They must ensure they are fully mission capable and ready to move on a moment’s
Anyone who thinks that driving the commanding general around sounds like an easy mission has never driven the streets of Kabul.
“They don’t have any laws or rules as far as traffic goes,” said Spc. Michael Santillana, drive team member, 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, 1st TSC. “So everybody’s going in every direction.”
There are few traffic lights or signs, many roads are under construction and the number of cars on the road often brings traffic to a standstill. If that weren’t enough, there are also thousands of pedestrians negotiating the crowded Kabul road network, creating an additional hazard for the drivers.
“School days are probably the worst,” said Spc. Paul Land, drive team member, 1st TSC. “One, because we pass by several schools throughout the Kabul cluster area and (two), there are always kids trying to cross the streets.”
The drive team also has to contend with carts pulled by donkeys and stacked high with gear that take up space on the road. They also have to watch out for motorcycle riders who weave in and out of traffic at a high rate of speed.
As if all that was not
enough, there have been several large-scale attacks in Kabul within the last few months, and like the rest of Afghanistan, the threat is constant.
“When we identify a hostile threat, it kind of puts us on edge,” said Staff Sgt. Ruben Rodriguez, drive team member, 311th ESC, 1st TSC.
“We ran across an incident where a vehicle came side-by-side with us, and there was a (propane) tank sticking out of the back seat, and (the) back seats were ripped out. And that really put us on edge. We actually couldn’t move anywhere because we were gridlocked.”
The vehicle had all the signs of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, said Sgt. 1st Class Javier Mata, drive team noncommissioned officer in charge, 311th ESC, 1st TSC. “The guy just looked like he was looking for
something; a target. When he called that, I could feel my heart just drop. There was really no where for us to go. I was thinking in my head, ‘where am I supposed to go?’ As a leader that’s one of my fears, is the safety of my men. It’s always utmost in my head.”
When a Soldier is assigned to the Honey Badgers, they go through a comprehensive training program before they are fully certified to operate as a member of the team.
The process for training new drivers is directed by the National Security Element standard operating procedures, which requires a new Soldier to train for seven days as a vehicle commander and seven days as a driver.
“The first week initially as a (passanger or track commander) – we’re going over routes, we’re going over checkpoints,” said Mata. “But also what we
do is when we go to each forward operating base, being how sometimes we’re driving around a two star, a one star, or even a three star, you need to know each FOB where they need to go. So, it’s not only learning the routes, you also go to each FOB and we have to walk you around the whole place.”
After the first week of training is complete and the drive team NCOIC is comfortable with the Soldier’s progress, they can begin their second week of training.
“I think the easiest way for you to learn the routes, learn these different locations, is to just get behind the wheel and drive,” said Mata. “It seems to be working good for everybody.”
Mata, however, was not satisfied with the two-week training requirement. So he exceeded it by implementing a third week of training for his drivers.
“On the third week now, I not only have you driving, taking me, and giving me the tour, by the third week now, you’re also starting to brief,” said Mata, referring to the pre-convoy briefing provided by the drive team to all those going on the mission.
“So now you’re a little more involved. By this time you’ve heard the brief from myself and others – it’s pretty much memorized,” said Mata. “At times I’ll have questions for you.”
Mata will also allow those in their third week of training to select the route the team will take, and ask them to explain their reasoning. He will also
question their decisions both before and after the mission to ensure they have a justifiable reason and are confident in their decision.
Mata’s training program has paid off. In his time as the NCOIC, the drive team has had no major safety incidents and other than a small-arms fire incident in which no one was injured, they have not been victims of any would-be attac ker.
The Honey Badgers take great pride in the mission they perform for the 1st TSC.
“I think our best mission so far that we have been in was for Operation
Proper Exit,” said
Sgt. 1st Class Miguel Lopez, drive team member, 311th ESC, 1st TSC. “We were driving wounded warriors to different forward operating bases, honoring them, making sure other people … (were able to) honor them.”
Among the wounded warriors they escorted that day was Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry. By the time the mission had concluded, each member of the drive team received Petry’s coin.
“The wounded warriors were just inspirational. You know, they’ve been through so much, and yet they still have smiles on their faces,” said Land. “… To take these guys out so they can actually leave Afghanistan in a proper way instead of on a medevac. … it hit home. It was definitely one of the highlights of the tour thus far.”