Truck drivers from the Nevada Army National Guard are traversing some of the world's most dangerous highways a half-world away from the Silver State.
The soldiers from the 593rd Transportation Company have reached their six-month milestone in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, driving fuel and heavy equipment tractor-trailer trucks across worn-torn Iraq.
Capt. Amadeo Flores of Sparks, commander of the Stead-based company, said many of the company's 150 troops, including some Carson City area residents, volunteered for the mission. For some, it is their second deployment.
In e-mails sent to the Nevada Army National Guard, soldiers appear to be upbeat about their 18-month deployment to one of the most volatile regions in the Middle East.
Adjusting to Iraq
Sgt. Tracy Castro, of Spring Creek, a rural area 10 miles south of Elko, said 3rd Platoon has adjusted well to all the changes in Iraq, and they train often.
"In between convoys and during any other periods of down time, training has been a major priority," Castro said.
Once the soldiers arrived in Kuwait and then in Iraq in September, Castro said the company acclimatized for a few days before training in convoy procedures, improvised explosive devices and ambushes.
Castro compared the 3rd platoon to an old 1930s sewing machine: "We are tough, reliable and able to run a stitch through anything ..."
At the same time, mechanics got the unit's vehicles back in top shape, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ben Valdez, of Las Vegas.
Valdez said they've been given new missions, including manning guard towers and training on new equipment.
Assuming more responsibility
In February, Staff Sgt. Juan Sandoval, another guardsman from Spring Creek, became a convoy commander responsible for the preparation and execution of a convoy. Instead of driving truck, he sits in the passenger's seat carrying an M16 rifle. Sandoval said he didn't realize the scope of being a convoy commander.
"We have a lot of responsibility while on the road," he said, "but there is a lot of preparation that goes into a mission prior to leaving the gate."
Before the convoy begins its mission, drivers inspect their trucks and trailers, and then pick up their loads and review battle plans for different situations.
"After the brief, the chaplain says a prayer, and then we have dinner and load our trucks and begin our mission," Sandoval said.
The 593rd MTC hauls supplies to different forward operation bases in Iraq, primarily to a base north of Baghdad called Anaconda and to the international airport 15 miles south of Baghdad. The average mission on the road ranges from five to seven days.
Most soldiers said going on a mission eliminates the boredom of remaining behind at Tallil.
"Sometimes being on the base can get boring, so we are always looking forward to getting out on the road," said Spec. Richard Samson of Reno. "Getting out on the road is exactly what we are trained to do.
"We travel at night looking down the road and the sides of the road with our dull headlights and spotlights, which are not too bright, either. We look for anything out of the ordinary that could possibly be a roadside bomb."
Spec. Jennifer Palomino, of Las Vegas, said she also prefers to be on a mission rather than at the base.
"When we are on the road, we all work together to complete a mission," she said. "Time goes by faster when we are on the road."
Although Palomino is focused on her mission's hazards, she still has time to view the beauty of the country.
"Although this country is nothing we would call home, we have seen the most amazing sunrises and sunsets," she said.
Some of the comforts of home
When guardsmen remain at camp, they have some of the comforts of home. The post has an exchange and mess hall. Small, two-person housing units have electricity, while trailers provide showers and toilets. Some bases also have nationally known fast-food restaurants like Burger King.
Other soldiers endure using more primitive "luxuries."
"Did I mention how much I hate to use port-a-potties?" penned Spec. Theresa Gutierrez, of Las Vegas. "This is exactly what I am talking about. It's the small things that you soon learn to appreciate."
Life in Iraq has made guardsmen appreciate the comforts of their Nevada homes.
2nd Lt. Frank P. Chavez, of Reno, a platoon leader who has been with the company for three years, said the unit cohesion has made the company feel like another family.
"I will not take anything for granted any more," Chavez said.
Palomino, though, said soldiers think often of their loved ones and life back in Nevada. Most of all, Palomino said, soldiers love letters.
"The most important thing in our daily life is receiving mail from home," she said. "Nobody understands or ever will understand the true meaning of a letter in the mail. And when we get packages, it feels like Christmas at our house."
• Nevada National Guard members statewide: 3,500
More than half of these are combat veterans
• Nevada Army and Air National Guard members deployed: 300
Deployments can be in Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait
• Mobilization of Nevadans began in October 2001
• Number of guardsmen who have died: 3
- 2 were shot down in a helicopter
- 1 killed when a Humvee rolled trying to avoid an IED
• Funding for the Nevada National Guard comes from the federal government
Nevada pays for gubernatorial callouts
• Commander in Chief:
Gov. Jim Gibbons
• Guard is growing
The guard is adding new units and recruiting for military police in both Northern and Southern Nevada