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539th Transportation Arctic road warriors work as a team

 Spc. Howard Ketter
20th Public Affairs Detachment

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait A team from one of the coldest places on Earth is currently taking on the challenge of protecting other service members and themselves in the Middle East.

The 539th Transportation Company from Fort Wainwright is carrying out convoy security missions at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

There are several components of the 539th vital to the company's overall mission, including the mechanics and the drivers.

"We get to do way more here than we do in the rear," said Pfc. Richard Benavidez, mechanic.

Benavidez, who works on the M-1151 Humvee, said since the vehicles are constantly on the road, mechanics in the motor pool get more opportunities to work on different parts of the equipment that need repair from use.

Although the Soldiers had new things to learn in theater, he said the Soldiers hit the ground running.

"We began working the first night we got here," Benavidez said. "Our drivers are trained to maintain and fix vehicles also. So the workload was a little easier."

The unit trains constantly by reinforcing their skills through safety courses, learning to drive and learning to maintain and fix the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Armored Vehicles.

"Soldiers in our unit are being sent, a few at a time, to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, to learn about the MRAPs," Benavidez said.

The mechanics of the 539th are also trained and qualified to go out on missions with the drivers.

"We try to keep our Soldiers' morale up. So we take our mechanics out with us periodically so that they can experience what it's like to be out on the road," said Sgt. Marcus Young, team leader. "It's fun; we're grunts on wheels."

The drivers' jobs involve escorting convoys throughout Iraq, providing protection, scouting several routes, inspecting suspicious roadside items and maintaining communication with other convoys.

"We're armed with a .50-caliber (machine gun), which is mounted on top of our vehicle, and we all carry (M-16A2 rifles)," said Katlyn Lopez, driver.

Lopez and Young stressed the importance of safety equipment, explaining their team suffered a flare malfunction while out on a mission, and their equipment kept them from being hurt.

"The safety gloves that me and my gunner were wearing saved both of us from being seriously injured," Young said.

According to Young, the Soldiers are constantly trained and reminded to wear safety gear on and around their vehicles and to use three points of contact when climbing on them.

"We work hard to keep our Soldiers as safe as the convoys we protect," Young said.

Lopez said their work doesn't end with escorting convoys, as drivers also carry out pre-maintenance checks and services and help fix the vehicles to ensure they are ready for the next mission.

"We turn wrenches with our mechanics too. Though it's not mandatory; we're a team," Lopez said.