FORWARD OPERATING BASE ECHO, Iraq -- During the battle of Najaf a group of Marines was responsible for getting troops, their gear, repair parts, food, water and countless other items to the front lines.
Barreling their massive seven-ton trucks through the streets of An Najaf, Iraq, they joined the fight by bringing much-needed supplies to the troops in the front lines.
The 67 Marines with the Transportation Support Detachment, Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 11, 11th MEU (Special Operations Capable), conducted dangerous runs during a high operational tempo, in a constantly changing environment affected by everything from sniper fire to improvised-explosive device-ridden roads.
"During the battle of Najaf we provided ground transportation for troops, ammunition and a wide number of other much-needed supplies," said Capt. Joseph M. Garaux, 27, detachment commander, TS Detachment. "We provided (Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment) with many of the things they needed to carry on the fight against the militia."
According to Garaux, a native of Canton, Ohio, the detachment was split into two teams during the battle of Najaf. One team was responsible for providing direct support to the BLT.
"The team's lines of transportation were from the Casualty Collection Point right outside the (Wadi Al Salam) cemetery to FOB Hotel," explained Garaux. "Anything that had to be evacuated, whether it was Marines or materiel, had to go through that site. They were responsible for making that happen.
The second TS team was sent wherever it was needed.
"They were all over the place. They were geared and ready for anything that was needed, kind of like a free safety," continued Garaux. "They would go from the battlefield to wherever they had to go on very short notice."
According to Garaux, since Aug. 5, the TS Detachment has delivered 720 pallets of repair parts for everything from sniper rifles to HMMWVs, M1A1 Main Battle Tanks to night vision goggles. They've logged in more than 5,200 miles in and around South Central Iraq, and transported more than 2,400 passengers.
"The TS detachment is the workhorse of MSSG-11," said Lt. Col. Ted A. Ruane, commanding officer, MSSG-11, 11th MEU (SOC). "They don't always get a lot of credit or a lot of glory for what they do, but we can always depend on them to get the job done. Nearly every other detachment depends on them."
According to Cleveland native Staff Sgt. Michael J. Helman, motor transportation chief, TS Detachment, last year during Operation Iraqi Freedom I, they weren't pushing supplies, his unit was providing convoy security for other units.
"This year we're providing security for ourselves and pushing our own logistics. We don't really rely on civilian contractors or the Army to move supplies from (up north) down to FOB Duke and then over to here," Helman explained. "Everything goes on the back of our trucks. We push it and we provide security for ourselves."
Helman said the Marines of his detachment have not faced many challenges they weren't prepared for.
"During workups and during the boat ride over here, danger-wise, we know what was out here," said Helman. "We haven't really had a curve ball thrown at us yet that we haven't faced before or haven't gone over and over with the Marines."
According to Helman, it's a learning process and since different situations may always come up, they can never be too prepared.
"There may be a curveball out there waiting for us, but right now with the group that I have I'm confident that if we run into anything we're going to be able to handle it," Helman said.
Ruane said the TS detachment is one of the most professional and experienced when it comes to providing for their own security.
According to the detachment's Truck Master, Sgt. Myron W. Bonton, 25, from Marksville, La., the biggest challenge so far has been to try to prevent things from happening before they happen.
"When you go along the routes, you try to look for certain things: what's different, how do people react when you go through there, how many people are there that day, cars on the side of the road that usually aren't there, is the place crowded today," Bonton explained. "Those are just some of the things you have to look out for. You have to try to prepare for the unexpected because you'll never know when the enemy may try to take advantage of a situation."
Even with the challenges they face on a day to day basis, Helman manages to see the silver lining.
"One of the best things about being out here, especially during combat operations in Najaf, was that it made time go by faster," said 30-year-old Helman. "You get stagnant if you stay in one spot and time seems to go by pretty slow. But if you keep going on the road, granted you may go through a lot of danger, the months go by much faster."
Lance Cpl. M. Kacy X. Grimaldi, one of the detachment's motor transport operators from Des Moines, Iowa, said her job is to move troops, move supplies, move ammunition, move just about anything you can think of, from wherever it is to where it needs to be.
"Not many people really understand how physically and mentally draining it is to drive a truck," said 24-year-old Grimaldi. "If you drive a truck or are on a gun for 20 hours straight, you're going to be tired."
That's one of the most demanding aspects of their job and one of the biggest challenges they face in Iraq, Grimaldi said.
"We have to work a lot of hours and if something needs to get moved we have to move it. There's no time for a shower, or chow, or sleep, if something needs to go, we need to go," Grimaldi explained. "You have to discipline yourself to stay awake, to take your mind off your stomach even if it aches from hunger, or off your cammies which smell disgusting, and all you want is a shower and a meal … You just have to deal with it and do the job."
Grimaldi said one of the most positive things to come from being deployed to Iraq is the closeness they've developed over the months, specifically the lance corporals.
"I never imagined I'd get so close to people in my entire life," Grimaldi said. "We've all grown so close, I know where each Marine is from, the name of their families, their friends, what they do in their spare time, what they like to eat. It's an amazing experience that I'll never forget."
Although the Marines work many long, sometimes unappreciated hours, they still maintain a positive attitude.
"I feel like we're making a huge difference here, we're putting a huge effort as far as the TS detachment is concerned," said Cpl. Rogers K. Hamilton III, 21, from St. Petersburg, Fla., and one of the detachment's line non-commissioned officers. "We're pushing out supplies from one camp to another, which in turn helps out the country of Iraq with the rebuilding efforts."
Hamilton feels that everyone in the detachment puts forth a lot of effort into their individual element.
"The drivers are always ready to go and since they each have their own truck, they really take care of it. It's not just a government vehicle, to them it's 'their' truck," Hamilton explained. "They make sure everything is good to go so that when it comes time to set up a convoy we don't have to worry about not being ready."
According to Hamilton, many of Marines in the detachment don't just do the bare minimum, they go above and beyond what's expected of them. When they see something that needs to get done, they don't have to be told, they'll just do it.
"I'm happy to serve with the people in my detachment. We've all come a long ways since last July and there's no one else I'd rather be out here with," Hamilton said.
Besides their huge ground transportation mission, the TS detachment is also responsible for establishing and operating a Refuel, Re-supply Point; Landing Force Support Party; Helicopter Support Team; Combat Service Support Area; Port Operations Group; Beach Operations Group; Aircraft Arrival Control Group; and Departure Airfield Control Group.