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Keeping Deploying Troops To Afghanistan Safe
by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ian Shay - March 1, 2014

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"Mere Chance" by David G. Bancroft

MANAS, Kyrgyzstan – As operations come to a close in Afghanistan, the transient mission at Manas Transit Center, Kyrgyzstan, has begun to steadily decrease, with many services and facilities beginning to close their doors. Many soldiers and airmen stationed here have already begun to pack their bags to begin their long awaited journeys home.

The mission, however slowed, still requires warm bodies to fill key positions. The plate carrier collection point (PCCP) warehouse is one of those important components, requiring dedicated soldiers to ensure that the men and women traveling to Afghanistan remain as safe as possible.

With soldiers of the 371st Sustainment Brigade re-deploying in early February, soldiers of the 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) have answered the call and will close out plate operations in Manas until mid March.

 MANAS AIR BASE, KG - U.S. Army Specialist Christopher Hattaway (left), intelligence analyst, Spc. Chanel Coco (center), support specialist and Staff Sgt. Anthony Sabato (right), intelligence analyst, 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), inspect and exchange plates at the plate carrier collection point on Feb. 1, 2014. They look for any rips, tears or cracks in the ceramic plating that might endanger the lives of deploying service men and women. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ian Shay)
MANAS AIR BASE, KG - U.S. Army Specialist Christopher Hattaway (left), intelligence analyst, Spc. Chanel Coco (center), support specialist and Staff Sgt. Anthony Sabato (right), intelligence analyst, 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), inspect and exchange plates at the plate carrier collection point on Feb. 1, 2014. They look for any rips, tears or cracks in the ceramic plating that might endanger the lives of deploying service men and women. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ian Shay)

"Soldiers going downrange need serviceable plates," said Sgt. 1st Class Edward Elliot Jr., operations noncommissioned officer in charge and the acting PCCP NCOIC, 143d ESC. "The 371st soldiers that were here were top notch and they drilled it into us how important this job is."

The 143d ESC sent seven soldiers to run, operate and close down the PCCP warehouse, most with limited to no plate operation experience, and all with various skill sets and backgrounds.

"They have been outstanding," said Elliot. "Not everyone has a supply background, but everyone is willing to learn and been very receptive. High motivation. We are open 12 hours a day, and we are running the entire operation with as many Soldiers as the 371st had on one shift."

The 143d team gave out praises when asked about their training and transition with the 371st SB.

"From the first day they welcomed us in," said Spc. Christopher Hattaway, intelligence analyst, 143d ESC. "There was a lot of information; It felt like they were feeding us with a fire hydrant,. What they stressed was accountability, so they there is no loss in inventory that could cost the tax payer dollars."

"The transition was very easy," said Sgt. Gabrielle Hopkins, PCP warehouse NCO in Manas and a supply sergeant and unit armorer, 143d ESC. “They [371st] stayed late nights, all the way up to the day they left.”

The 143d ESC team includes two soldiers from Intel, two with support operations backgrounds, one from operations, one communications soldier and one with headquarters company.

"This has been a great opportunity,” said Hopkins. “It brought people from different sections together, "The others get to see that supply is really a hands-on field and I enjoy getting to show other soldiers what I can do."

"We all fight the same," said Hattaway. "You do your soldier skills first, and everything falls into place."

Although the PCCP can seem dull at times, the soldiers of the 143d ESC realize what's really at stake.

"One a scale of one to ten, it's an eleven," said Hattaway. "If [deploying] soldiers are taking small arms fire or if there is an explosion . . . if they are wearing proper plates, it can save their lives."

Hattaway knows the importance these plates make as he regularly wears a protective vest when working as a police officer with Cocoa Police Department in Florida, "I do not go anywhere without [my vest]," said Hattaway. "That's the only thing between me and an active shooter that can save my life." "Getting to make sure soldiers get the same quality I get.

In less than two weeks the team has processed more than 1,400 service men and women. The process involves the inspection of each plate, swapping good plates for defective ones, making minor repairs and adding inspection stickers to expired plates.

The ceramic plates can break relatively easy, either by being banged around in a duffel bag in transient or by simply dropping one on the concrete.

"A common occurrence is soldiers dropping plates," said Hattaway. "As soon as it hits the ground, it can crack or shatter."

"Because they are ceramic, the first initial impact can cause cracks, so once a Soldier drops a plate in line, we take it." said Spc. Chanel Coco, support specialist, 143d ESC.

The team starts off by briefing the servicemen and women passing through on the process, after which they inspect each plates exterior for rip and tears in the composite backing that surrounds them, missing or expired inspection stickers and most importantly for cracks in the plates themselves.

"The last thing we do is push the plate against the table and listen for any crackling sounds, if it's cracked we pull it from service and issue a one for one exchange," said Hattaway. "The crackling sound lets us know it's damaged."

Cracked plates are then removed from service immediately, but plates with missing or expired stickers are updated on site and the team even fixes the rips and tears surrounding the plates.
"If we find a rip or tear, we can burn more material over the exposed parts [using a sauntering gun]," said Hattaway. "That is why you get plates that look a little burned on the corners; it is because they have been repaired."

Afterwards Hopkins' supply experience allows her to assist each soldier with installation support modules (ISM), which gives her the ability to add and remove items from clothing records to reflect the issue or re-issuing of plates and plate carriers.

"I try to keep soldiers abreast of new things that come up, how to clear clothing records and how to use ISM correctly,” said Hopkins.
The work has been rewarding for the 143d ESC soldiers as they rarely see deployers and re-deployers during their time in Kuwait.

"Unlike back in Kuwait, we are having a firsthand effect on the soldiers going down range," said Elliot. "We are seeing soldiers going into harm's way, and we are doing a small but important part in ensuring they get home safely."

As fewer transients pass through the PCCP team will transition from issuing and re-issuing plates to focusing more on completing shutting down the warehouse.

"We can't just throw away plates,” said Elliot. “Each plate is worth more than 500 dollars. We are trying to be good stewards of tax payer money."

The remainder of items left in the warehouse will be shipped by the 143d ESC team to either the new transient center in Romania or back to the United States.

The six-week mission has already given the 143d soldiers a great feeling of accomplishment, as they help safeguard the lives of the servicemen and women closing out one of the last historic chapters of Operation Enduring Freedom.

By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ian Shay
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2014

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