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Super Cargo helps save equipment in mishap.

Spc. Kyle Dobson awoke to a loud "BOOM!" It was distinctly the sound of metal on concrete in the predawn hours of May 30.

Dobson rushed to the bridge of the tow boat Elizabeth Huger. A nightmarish scene presented itself to Dobson, a Super Cargo escorting a task force of equipment from the 45th Infantry Brigade (Separate), Oklahoma Army National Guard, on a nine-day voyage to the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La.

Swift Mississippi River currents had pushed the tow and its bridges off course. Several barges had hit the Greenville, Miss., bridge. One barge, taking water, was listing heavily--its cargo of military vehicles slowing tilting more and more precariously.

As crewmen struggled to save barges and their cargo, Dobson watched three five-ton trucks slide into the river and disappear. In all, about nine pieces of cargo were lost.

"It made me sick to my stomach," said Dobson, a member of the 245th Engineer Co., Bristow, Okla. "It was equipment from my unit."

In the first moments, Dobson borrowed a cell phone and called his wife back home in Tulsa. In the coming hours, he would dwell heavily on his wife and two children.

Laid off just two days before the barge journey from his job making gas fireplace logs, Dobson now faced another hurdle that would stretch 24 hours.

Crewmen, of Canal Barge Co. had stabilized the listing barges and their vehicles. Now, the job shifted to moving the vehicles off the unstable barges to empty ones.

As the Super Cargo, Dobson was qualified to operate all the vehicles--mostly High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles and five-ton trucks. Now, he had to move 23 vehicles from their precarious perch to safety.

"Fearful" is how Dobson describes the next hours.

"I was thinking of my wife and kids the whole time," said Dobson.

Dobson had a key supporter--a barge crewman with previous U.S. Marine Corps experience.

"He served as ground guide," said Dobson. "I couldn't have done it without him."

One miscalculation and the vehicle with Dobson at the wheel might plunge into the 60-to-120-foot deep river waters.

One by one, some easier than others, Dobson safely drove the vehicles off the listing barges.

Two weeks later, Dobson rode the returning barge fleet back to Tulsa.

Dobson's friend, Cpl. William Sherrill, looks admiringly at him. Sherrill, aboard the tow Bull Calf, missed the mishap. His barge flotilla safely cleared the bridge a short time before the accident.

On the Arkansas River, the barges maintained a speed of seven knots, said Sherrill. On the swiftly running Mississippi River, the speed jumped to 11 knots.

"It has been this way since Mark Twain's time," said Sherrill. "A big river has big stories."

The incident has a silver lining for Dobson. At least two Tulsa employers have offered him jobs after a news article detailing his actions was printed in his hometown newspaper, the Tulsa World, said reporter Rob Martindale.
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Publication:Translog
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:489
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