I was a member of the 2222nd Transportation Company of the Arizona Army National Guard, deployed to Iraq from April through December 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). My company’s mission was primarily to transport JP-8 fuel, which is an aviation grade diesel used by virtually all the military equipment, including all ground transport vehicles, armored vehicles, and all aircraft; MOGAS; and water from Camp Cedar, Iraq, which is near the city of Nasaryah, to various locations throughout Iraq. The vehicles we used were M915s, which are a military version of Freightliner tractors and they were governed to travel a maximum of 58 miles per hour. The capacity of our tanker trailers was 7500 gallons.
Each mission required us to travel hundreds of miles through hostile territory. Without any ground or air support, we were subjected to enemy attack at any time and some of our convoys did in fact come under fire from small arms, rocket propelled grenades and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Our slow moving vehicles and our large tanker trailers made us an easy target.
On one particular mission, we departed Camp Cedar on Saturday, August 30th, on a mission to transport JP8 to Camp Anaconda, approximately 340 miles from Camp Cedar and 70 miles northwest of Baghdad, near the city of Balad. By this time during the war, Anaconda, in addition to Baghdad International Airport, had become one of the primary locations where we would deliver fuel to and we had been on this mission several times. The next morning, Sunday, at approximately 0630 A.M., after dropping off our fuel and having spent the night, on this routine mission, we left Anaconda expecting a quiet, seven to eight hour drive, back to Camp Cedar.
The time difference between Iraq and Arizona was 10 hours; Iraq being 10 hours ahead. 0630 Sunday morning in Iraq, would have been around 0830 P.M. Saturday night, in Arizona. The families of the soldier’s in our unit were back home, safe and sound; unsuspecting that some 10,000 miles away on a serene, Sunday August morning in Iraq, that they’re loved ones were about to be attacked by insurgents using IEDs.
There were 20 or so vehicles in this particular convoy. As we departed Anaconda, our convoy became split up because of another, slower moving convoy, in front of us. A couple of miles down the road, our portion of the convoy which consisted of approximately 8 vehicles, began passing the smaller, slower moving convoy in order to catch up with the rest of our convoy. As my vehicle reached the front of the other convoy, the vehicle in front of ours, finished passing and moved over into the right lane. Still in the left side, the passing lane, we saw a vehicle coming toward us, but we still had time and distance to finish passing and get into the right side lane, when suddenly, everything went dark; I couldn't see anything. In an instant, our vehicle was engulfed by a cloud of dust and smoke; I heard glass breaking as the windshield of our vehicle shattered. My first thought was that we had somehow crashed into the oncoming vehicle; then we heard the dirt and rocks, and debris, which had been blown into the air by the blasts, falling on our truck.
All of this happened in a matter of seconds. I didn't see and I don't recall hearing the blast, but my partner said that it he actually saw when, at least one of the bombs went off. We didn’t know what had really happened until the dust and smoke had settled. We found out, from the craters on the road, that there were eight IEDs which had been detonated as we were passing the other convoy. It was fortunate for us that the bombs went off while we were passing this other convoy, which shielded our vehicles somewhat from the blasts. Unfortunately, the convoy we were passing didn’t fare as well. There were numerous casualties and most of their vehicles sustained major damage in the attack.
The percussion from the blast of the bombs was so great that the glass (front windshield, rear window, door windows, door curb window) of several of our vehicles was shattered in the attack. The lead vehicle in our “split up convoy” managed to get out of the kill zone and get to a rally point. I was in the second vehicle and because of the blast was unable to get out of the kill zone, so my partner and I, and the remainder of the troops in the rest of the vehicles had to dismount and take up defensive positions. It seemed like only moments after the attack, there was a US helicopter hovering overhead, scouting the area, looking for the perpetrators. Two US Army tanks also appeared out of nowhere and provided security. The insurgents were nowhere to be found!
My partner with me on the truck was SSG Don Vallejo who was a trained combat life saver. SSG Vallejo acted quickly and treated several of the soldiers wounded in the attack. After the chaos, we regrouped and fortunately none of the members of our unit appeared to be hurt; other than possible hearing injuries caused by the blasts. I had several small cuts on my face from the shattered windshield on my truck, but nothing serious; the good Lord was busy that morning. For his actions on the battlefield, treating the wounded and possibly saving lives, SSG Vallejo was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, with “V” device for valor.
So, what started out to be another routine trip back to base camp, turned out to be a long 340 miles back, with everyone being ever more vigilant. Fortunately we all made it back safely to Camp Cedar without any more incidents. Two weeks later, a young soldier from a sister unit in our Battalion, was killed by an IED on a mission, also to Anaconda. Our unit was extremely fortunate that we made it through the war with no fatalities, and only minor injuries.
Rene E. Valenzuela
U.S. Army National Guard