Conditions have improved in Iraq but members of the 13th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion from Fort Benning won’t let their guard down near the end of their 12-month deployment.
“The feeling now versus a year ago is a lot more at ease,” said Army Capt. Venson Walker. “At the same time, you cannot let your guard down.”
Since April last year, Walker is among 72 soldiers deployed to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, to supply food, water, fuel and vehicle parts to other forward operating bases more than 100 miles away. Balad is about 80 miles from Baghdad.
In addition to transporting supplies, Spc. Stephanie Martin said the battalion also provides logistical support, moving equipment left behind from the region to wherever it’s needed.
Walker, 38, said his second deployment to Iraq has been smooth so far. Four months after the battalion arrived, its mission in Iraq shifted from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, ending combat operations by U.S. forces to focus on stabilizing the country.
“This tour had been pretty good,” said Walker, a native of Columbia, S.C., and the father of three children. “This tour is more of a supply and support versus the first tour.”
Soldiers under his command have been able to travel the roads to other bases without any injuries or accidents.
They have to respect certain holidays such as Ramadan and other holy days.
“Yes, we have been able to do our job, but you have to understand they have holidays that Americans have to respect,” said Walker, with 19 years of service. “There are times you can’t go out and do the things you need to do.”
Walker describes the deployment as a success because the soldiers were in Iraq when the combat operations ended.
“I would have to say with the CSSB, we not only had a successful deployment, but we also have made history,” Walker said.
Morale has been high among the battalion over the last 11 months.
“I would say morale over here has been high due to the fact that soldiers are proud of the things they have done here, representing the unit and the country itself,” Walker said.
For Martin, her first deployment as a supply specialist has been easier than she anticipated. Her unit was working 12-hour days when she arrived but now it’s down to eight hours.
Martin, 21, stays busy taking control of equipment such as radios, computers or trucks. “It gets turned in and shipped to Kuwait, distributed out from there to wherever it needs to be,” she said.
In Kuwait, the equipment is repaired if it’s broken or disposed of. “It’s a jumping off point,” she said.
A native of Titusville, Fla., Martin said she misses her family while deployed but stays close to the soldiers in Iraq.
“When we are out here, you kind of make your own family,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going on in the States. You stay busy so you don’t miss home as much.”
Throughout their deployment, Walker said the soldiers are proud of their accomplishments.
“We are proud to not only represent Fort Benning, but the whole Columbus and Phenix City community,” Walker said.