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Commo-link protectors.

Stretched across thousands of miles of open desert, from the border of Kuwait deep into northern Iraq, is a string of communication lines that provide a vital conduit for the hundreds of supply convoys and military patrols that traverse Iraq's highways every day.

Ensuring that the communication link is never broken is the job of infantrymen of the Texas Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 56th Brigade Combat Team, who man several radio-relay points spread out along the coalition's main supply route.

The Soldiers live in fortified camps that are sanctuaries or refuges for coalition patrols and commercial convoys traveling over the MSR.

SGT David Verdine Jr., an NCO at one of the camps, said his team's primary mission is to relay information up and down the MSR, and if a truck in a convoy has a mechanical breakdown on the highway, his team will send a quick-reaction force out to provide security and recover the vehicle.

"We're like the eyes for the patrols going up and down the MSR," Verdine said. "If we weren't here, the patrols would be blind as to what's up ahead of them on the road."

Living in isolation, in an austere environment, has brought his Soldiers closer together, like a tight-knit family, Verdine said.

SPC Joel Inman is a medic at another RP. He's responsible for ensuring the health and welfare of the Soldiers who have to live in very confined spaces and, at times, have to cook their own meals and dispose of human waste by burning it.

Inman said his duties as a medic range from ensuring that everything in the living area is clean to making sure the Soldiers stay cool and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. He can also treat wounds and, when morale becomes an issue, he's there for Soldiers who just need someone to talk to.

"I had to build a lot of trust with these guys within the last couple of months," Inman said. "With the knowledge and care that I've demonstrated during the short time that we've been together, I feel like they trust me now."

For one Soldier the dangers of protecting an RP became all too real when he was wounded by a sniper's bullet during a guard watch on a 30-foot observation tower.

SPC Felix Silva Jr. thought his shift would be like any other day, but his life changed dramatically a few short hours into his watch.

As he was in the tower scanning his sector, he heard a gun shot. Within a few seconds, the high-pitched hiss of a second bullet screamed past the tower. That was when he realized someone was shooting at him.

Silva said that as he was turning in the direction of the MSR, he could see a person lying on the road firing a third round, which is when he got on his M-240B machine gun and returned fire.

He stopped firing after the shooter escaped into a crowd of people, because he didn't want to hit any innocent bystanders.

After a rush of adrenaline died down, Silva realized he'd been hit in the left arm.

The wound has since healed, and Silva is back on duty, but the one lesson he said he learned from his experience is not to be complacent.

"Granted, sometimes there isn't much happening out here, but every now and then there'll be some kind of activity," Silva said. "It could be something that ends your life. So you have to stay alert and stay on your toes all the time."

MSG Lek Mateo is a member of the Texas Army National Guard's 56th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.
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Title Annotation:communication link
Author:Mateo, Lek
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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