FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, Afghanistan — Lt. Col. Paul Narowski knows how many thousands of miles the sustainment paratroopers of 307th Brigade Support Battalion have logged since April. He also know how many gallons of fuel and containers of ammo they have hauled, the number of vehicles his mechanics have fixed and the combat-wounds his medics have patched up.
But that misses the point, he says. They’ve done what needed to be done and that is to build a combat sustainment apparatus where before there was little to none, with scant notification of the mission beforehand. It’s what paratroopers do, he says.
The 307th’s parent organization, 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, deployed to Afghanistan in March to conduct the last major clearing operation of the war. Their target was a province in eastern Afghanistan generally unknown to the American public, Ghazni, an arid, mostly rural province of dirt farmers described by the brigade commander as “densely sparsely populated.”
Ghazni lies between the bustling cities of Kabul and Kandahar and is transversed by the country’s most-traveled road — Highway 1. It is a dangerous route, with a history of massive improvised explosive devices, catastrophic civilian casualties and a persistent insurgent presence.
The Taliban had enjoyed nearly unrestricted movement in much of the province for years, so when 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division hit the ground, the paratroopers were expecting a fight, and they got one.
“We are the people behind the scenes,” said Narowski. “It’s always good when the infantry knocks out an enemy mortar crew. But who got them the bullets? Who put fuel in their trucks? Who repaired the howitzers and supplied the precision-guided munitions?”
Every sustainment convoy is a no-fail mission, according to Narowski, who pioneered low-cost, aerial, supply-delivery techniques during an earlier deployment to Afghanistan. The trucks are too few and the road too dangerous to haul trivial items, he said.
Narowski said he never understood why rank has is privileges, but as a battalion commander responsible for the lives of hundreds of truck drivers, mechanics and medics, he finally gets it.
“There are decisions that are made by the command team that weigh on you pretty heavily,” he said.
While the 307th has yet to lose a Soldier, they’ve had several wounded.
The first time Capt. Jonathan Fernandez rolled out of Forward Operating Base Arian on a resupply mission with his company’s distribution platoon, his vehicle was struck by a large IED just a few miles from the gate. It was April 5. The company commander’s vehicle was the first in the brigade to be blown up.
Fortunately, all equipment was strapped down inside, nobody panicked and nobody was seriously injured.
Over the next four months, Company A’s truck drivers would log more than 1,200 miles and haul a quarter of a million gallons of fuel and many tons of ammunition to feed the fighting capabilities of the light infantry brigade that was conducting operations across southern Ghazni.
Today’s war machine incorporates a significant contracted civilian component, and it is not uncommon for the distribution platoon to escort 20 or more trucks owned and operated by local nationals.
Capt. Robyn Boehringer, an assistant brigade logistics officer with 1st BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. when she first arrived in country, says that maintaining good relationships with the local truckers is as necessary to logisticians as meeting with village elders is to the infantry.
”They know that road is dangerous,” says Boehringer, who was awarded an Army Commendation Medal for her work in the brigade’s pre-deployment train-up. “They don’t want to go to certain spots at certain times of the day or week or year without a military escort.”
Sometimes that means flying to meet them and promising a military escort, she said, or reassuring them that their cargo will be downloaded quickly so they can get back on the road and back to work.
Much of what 1st BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. logistics troops do happens at night when the roads are empty and the enemy is asleep.
U.S. Army Sgt. Kenneth Jones, a truck driver with a forward support company that supplies one of 1st BCT, 82nd Abn. Div.’s infantry battalions, rises at 4:30 a.m. every day to go to the gym, unless of course, he’s been up all night on a resupply mission.
From Sanford, Fla., the wiry 45-year-old former carpenter joined the Army mainly for the health care benefits for his wife’s severe medical condition. Though he’s not a big man, Jones is more fit and stronger than many of the young paratroopers with whom he works.
After breakfast, the workday usually begins at 9 a.m., with mission briefs and follows with prepping loads and vehicles. Convoys can last up to eight hours or more, depending on the destination. Some convoys are run in daylight, but many are after dark.
Boehringer has been encouraging Jones and the others to seek ways they can contribute more to the fight.
That might include hauling equipment outside their area of operation, such as back to the turn-in point at Forward Operating Base Sharana or driving clear to Ghazni City for construction supplies for a district center buildup just up the road.
Boehringer said she is very proud of her troops.
“When they’ve got everything going right, it’s almost like watching a symphony,” she said. “There is a pride, there is a bond, there is a brotherhood just like you would see in the infantry platoons, especially when they see the smiles on people’s faces when they get mail, when they get fuel so they can take showers. My Soldiers know they’re important.”