Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stuck in Sand, Lost in Iraq: Tale of a Desert Supply Convoy ; Lt. Robinson and Her Unit Fight Quicksand of Iraqi Desert to Move Supplies to the Front

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stuck in Sand, Lost in Iraq: Tale of a Desert Supply Convoy ; Lt. Robinson and Her Unit Fight Quicksand of Iraqi Desert to Move Supplies to the Front

Article excerpt

It was 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon, somewhere in the desolate expanse of southern Iraq, and Lt. Judith Robinson was struggling to lead a convoy of 2,300-pound tractor-trailers through a quicksand of soft desert trails.

"Come on, speed up! Gun it!" she shouted, steering her Humvee gun truck like a cowboy herding cattle. Firm ground proved elusive. The trucks sank in again, furiously spinning sand.

With a desert-camouflage bandana under her helmet and an unflappable personality, Lieutenant Robinson of the 3rd Infantry Division was fighting a battle that underscores how treacherous desert warfare can be. While US ground forces seem to be marching inexorably toward Baghdad, some troops are encountering stiffening resistance and others, like Robinson's unit, are confronting a more amorphous foe - the terrain.

Her unit is responsible for moving supplies to the front, without which no combat force could long survive. As the old saying goes, "Tactics are for amateurs, logistics are for professionals." Robinson and the 1,150 men and women of the 703rd Battalion are some of those unsung pros - and all their skill and patience was tested during this 48-hour stretch.

As the sun rose a cold white over the desert Friday, her convoy of fuelers, medical vans, and huge tractor-trailers moved north. It crossed the freshly cut 12-foot berm into Iraq a few hours after the first Army combat forces, rushing to "push" them fuel, food, water, and equipment.

Robinson, a Gulf War veteran from St. Louis, rode into enemy territory with the mentality that Saddam Hussein has to go, and her job is to help that happen. Tossing sunflower-seed shells out of the window, she reacted to the war's start with a mere shrug.

As the convoy rumbled into the desert in a cloud of dust, the early hours seemed to confirm for Robinson the meaning of her mission, "Iraqi Freedom." In the first contacts with Iraqis, Bedouin sheep and camel herders emerged from their tents. One robed nomad stood by the road, waving and smiling. Another man and boy approached, asking for food and medicine. US leaflets littered the ground.

"This is liberation," said Robinson's commander, Lt. Col. Steve Lyons.

But soon, the trouble with terrain began. Outside one nomad encampment several miles inside the border, the first heavy- equipment transporter (HET), named Chief, got stuck in soft sand.

"Rock Six, this is Rock Five, over," Robinson radioed her company commander, Capt. Kenneth Letcher, using the 3rd Infantry Division's World War I nickname, "Rock of the Marne." "We've got a HET down." Then another sank in, and another.

For the next eight hours, until 2 a.m., as the main convoy moved forward, Robinson and a handful of others stayed behind to dig out the HETs, which transport everything from M1A1 tanks to giant forklifts. …

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