The 233rd Transportation Company is back on the road, this time to Kuwait, where the unit will conduct convoys into and out of Iraq for the continuing exodus of U.S. forces and equipment.
About 70 Soldiers with 4th Platoon at Fort Benning left Sunday following a deployment ceremony at Engineer Field on Main Post. The company has two platoons at Fort Knox, Ky., and another based on Fort Stewart, Ga.
The full company will spend the next year performing retrograde operations, pushing Soldiers, equipment and other resources from Iraq down into Kuwait, said 2nd Lt. Karina Cuenca, the 4th Platoon leader. The 233rd made six deployments during Operation Iraqi Freedom — the first five were six months in duration, and it returned from a yearlong stint in 2009.
“We’re a (heavy equipment transport) company. We move all the big and heavy stuff,” said Cuenca, adding that unit vehicles can hold up to 72 tons. “Our missions can be anywhere from two days to two weeks, and we’ll be spending quite some time in Iraq, staying at different (forward operating bases) and going throughout the country.”
The transportation company will be based at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, as it helps move the Army out of Iraq and provides logistical support. Cuenca said the 233rd is replacing three other companies.
“We’re taking on their missions, so that’s an indication of how busy we’ll be,” she said. “The Soldiers do know we’re going to be busy. That just makes the time go by faster.” Family and friends turned out Sunday for a farewell marked by hugs, well wishes and tears. The Soldiers then departed for Freedom Hall and Lawson Army Airfield.
Sarah Hoyt did the same thing back in April, when she said goodbye to her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Hoyt, who left for a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with Fort Benning’s 497th Movement Control Team. She’s the family readiness group leader for that unit and the 233rd Transportation Company’s 4th Platoon.
“It’s been tough on some families,” she said. “For a lot of wives, it’s not their first rodeo. But it doesn’t get easier. You just learn how to cope with it better.
“For the wives who have gone through it before, I’m hopeful we can share our experience with the younger wives who really don’t know what to expect when their husbands are gone.”
Spc. Cory Gillett, 29, a heavy equipment operator, is making his first deployment to the desert. He and wife, Amber, have been married about a year-and-a-half, and she’s staying behind on post.
“This is probably one of the more difficult things I’ve ever had to do. It’s extremely tough,” he said of the separation. “I’m just thinking about how I’m going to handle the next couple months, how often I get to write home, wondering what’s gonna change while I’m gone.
“It’s a scary situation going over there for the first time. Not knowing what to expect, it’s physically and mentally draining.”
Gillett said he’d rely on his training and squad leader to accomplish the mission.
“For plenty of people, this is their fifth, sixth, seventh time over there. I’ll just go with their judgment and go with what they say,” he said. “I have no experience, whereas they have more than I’ll ever get in one trip.”
Security conditions have improved in Iraq, but convoys still face roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices, Cuenca said.
“Transportation is a very dangerous job, IEDs being our biggest threat,” she said. “Being on the road for 14 days at a time is extremely stressful. Anything on the road can be a threat.”
Cuenca also is deploying for the first time but said she’d lean heavily on her noncommissioned officers, including the platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Minter, who’s served eight times in war zones and will be the assistant convoy commander on this deployment.
“We’ve had plenty of Soldiers in this platoon who’ve been hit by IEDs before. They’ve been there,” she said. “I have a lot of experienced NCOs. I’m very confident in them.”
The mission might change after December or January, and some Soldiers in 4th Platoon could be sent into Afghanistan for part of the deployment, Cuenca said.
“Everything is mission-dependent,” she said. “Wherever the Army needs us, that’s where we’ll go.”