Base exchange rolls in with goodies
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
"It's like Christmas time with Chips Ahoy," said a grinning Matlock, 31, a medic from Joplin, Mo.
But it was the first time the base exchange had rolled into this "forward operating base" about 40 miles southwest of Kirkuk since Schofield Barracks soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, arrived last month.
"This will be the first caffeine I've had for a while," added Matlock, whose nickname is "Papa Doc." "It'll probably spin me up and keep me up all night."
At McHenry, where most members of the battalion are based, mortar and rocket attacks are more frequent than at neighboring Kirkuk Air Base. Living conditions are more austere, too.
Logistical-package or "logpack" convoys that deliver drinking water, bulk food, fuel and for this first time, some typical base exchange inventory arrive several times a week, risking the omnipresent prospect that a roadside bomb could injure soldiers making the trip.
But supplies have to get through, and soldiers like Capt. Dave Parkes, 29, a supply and logistics officer for the 1-27 "Wolfhounds," travel the route more than their fair share.
"I've been here 26 days, and I've probably gone out on 23 convoys," said Parkes, whose wife back home has a second child on the way to join their 3-year-old daughter. "We're getting to the point where I won't go every time but, for now, we're trying to get everything in place."
The supply chain is kept going by the Wolfhounds and the 225th Forward Support Battalion, which also makes regular runs from Kirkuk to keep Schofield soldiers supplied 50 miles to the south in Tuz, 30 miles to the north in Dibbis and Al Kapri, and 70 miles to the east in As Sulay.
"They're our road warriors," said 1-27 battalion Sgt. Maj. Karl Morgan.
The FOB McHenry route is considered one of the more dangerous to drive because of an anti-American Arab concentration southwest of Kirkuk but Lt. Col. Donnie Walker, the 225th's commander, said they all carry risks.
"We don't treat any of them any differently," Walker said. "... In this theater (roadside attacks) can happen along any route."
Ten vehicles made the convoy trip to McHenry, with a stop midway to refuel at Gains Mills, another outpost for the 1-27. Advance teams drive the routes and look for insurgents and improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
In addition to 5-ton supply trucks and heavily armed Humvees with .50-caliber machine guns and Mark 19 grenade launchers, the convoy includes a fuel tractor-trailer and two "smifties," Semi-Mobile Fabric Tanks on trailers that each hold 3,000 gallons of potable water.
Just a couple of miles outside the base, Parkes points out a gap in the concrete median. It came from an explosion, possibly an 82 mm mortar round, that missed a convoy the previous Sunday. Parkes was two vehicles back.
"You see the fire, explosion and black smoke. You'll feel it and hear it, of course," he said.
Farther along, Parkes notes holes along the side of a bridge where a series of daisy-chained bombs went off about 8 feet apart.
"Right here one, two, three, four, five," he says. "That was about three months ago. Pretty much destroyed the vehicle."
However, the soldiers were OK.
But a 1-27 soldier riding on a 4th Infantry Division Bradley Fighting Vehicle recently received an eye injury in the area when an IED went off.
The convoys regularly deliver "sundry packs" to McHenry with razors, shaving cream, toothpaste and baby wipes, which come in handy for tidying up, but Wednesday's trip was the first to bring base exchange items such as color TVs, flashlights, mini DVD players, PG-13-rated men's magazines and socks.
And, most importantly chips, soda, cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
"Really, as long as I bring them Copenhagen (chewing tobacco) and cigarettes, everything else is icing on the cake," Parkes said.
The base exchange may come out monthly. Some soldiers waited in line two hours to get into the makeshift BX, which was housed in a Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent. After several hours, the stock was pretty much gone.
"It's great. I've been craving junk food," said Pfc. Craig Henderson, 21, of New Albany, Ind., who was buying Doritos, a hot pot, a Kenny Chesney CD and canned tuna.
Sgt. Jay Lawrence, 28, from Twentynine Palms, Calif., was picking up Pepsi because the soldiers only occasionally get Sprite at the dining facility. He also had Pop-Tarts and cheese spread.
Lawrence said he appreciates the base exchange "because it brings up the morale in the guys and keeps them going."