Mark Taylor, OOIDA Member since 1998
On April 3, 1860, the men of the Pony Express began their mission to carry the mail from St. Joseph, MO, to Sacramento, CA. The ads posted by the U.S. government recruiting riders said they must be “willing to accept death,” as the job took them to the most dangerous places in the country, facing Indians and many other hardships.
Fast forward to 2004 and Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is 0400, and the men and women of the 1544th Transportation Company, Illinois National Guard, are beginning their day at the Baghdad International Airport at the Joint Military Mail Terminal Iraq.
Alongside them are American contract drivers from Kellogg, Brown & Root. All the KBR drivers are civilians. All have wives, children, mothers and fathers at home. Their job is delivering the mail across the most dangerous place on Earth — Iraq. The danger does not detour them from their duty. They know that more than anything else, the most welcome sight to our heroes in uniform is that of their mail convoys. That letter from home, the packages full of cookies, photos of a new baby and other treats in the mailbags are eagerly anticipated.
The men and women of the 1544th have a special bond, one of a close-knit family. They have trained together, shared each others’ joys and heartaches. They have comforted each other when they learned one of their own will not be returning from the ravages of war.
The 1544th experienced, within the first 24 hours after arriving in Baghdad, the realities of war. It was within that short time frame that they took their first casualty due to an incoming enemy mortar. During the following weeks, the heroic men and women faced the full spectrum of what Iraq had to offer — improvised explosive devices, small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
Working alongside the 1544th are highly trained, professional American truckers employed by Kellogg, Brown & Root. The KBR drivers are committed to ensuring that the mail missions within Iraq are successful. KBR drivers have, along with their military counterparts, made the ultimate sacrifice for the mission. There is an unspoken respect and admiration for the expertise and contributions made by all — Guardsmen and KBR. Brothers and sisters they have become in the face of danger.
In the beginning of their time in Iraq, our military was battling remnants of Saddam Hussein’s army and a rag-tag group of radical Muslims. As the months went on, the enemy evolved into trained terrorists imported from other countries. These terrorists use unconventional, cowardly methods — hiding behind masks, innocent Iraqi civilians and holy shrines.
On April 8 and 9 this year, 13 members of the 1544th in three gun trucks held off 200 enemy insurgents so that the American drivers could get their precious cargo — letters from home — through the kill zone and to our troops. The 1544th and KBR took no casualties.
Living up to the motto of the 1st Calvary Division, “Professional, Polite, Prepared to Kill,” the 1544th is always alert — searching for planted improvised explosive devices, seeking enemy combatants hiding with RPGs and observing anything suspicious. Even the most ordinary object could bring death and destruction.
In a war zone, leadership is survival. Each member in the convoy making the mail runs must be able to take control of every situation in a precise, professional manner. Their very lives depend on the actions of their partners beside them. This makes 100 percent dedication to the mission and to each other critical.
On May 23, a military mail convoy came under attack by enemy insurgents outside Fallujah. Both the 1544th and KBR worked diligently to ensure safe transport for the dead and wounded. While under fire, they opened a burning mail trailer to retrieve as many precious letters and packages as possible. The mission in Iraq will be a success because of the selfless dedication and professionalism of both military and civilian KBR truckers.
Editor’s note: Mark Taylor is an OOIDA member from Warren, AR. He is currently in Iraq driving a truck for Kellogg, Brown & Root.