Camp Buehring, Kuwait — The responsible withdraw of U.S. Forces and equipment from Iraq is more than a catchy phase.
Meeting the goals for the deadline and getting the troops home in a safe a responsible way is uppermost in the minds of the troops.
Spc. Garrett Nelson, a combat engineer for Charlie Company, 1/34th Brigade Special Troops Battalion attached to the 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division “Red Bulls” put in the role of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle driver for the duration of 1st BCT’s deployment is very vigilant when preforming his duties in the drawn down.
“Having to know all the guys in my truck lives are in my hands; I am really cautious and careful while driving,” said Nelson, a Richfield, Minn., native.
MRAP vehicles are made with armor to deflect away any explosive ordinances projected toward the vehicle.
The same armor that makes these vehicles safe in ambushes or roadside bombing also makes them up to two thousand pounds heavier.
As a driver trainer, Nelson knows that the added weight can change the dynamics of handling when braking with air bakes, which he describes to all his trainees.
“I make sure I explain the breaks well because a lot of people have never driven with air brakes,” said Nelson. “They’re really touchy especially around turns; you have to slow down to be careful.”
Although safety precautions need to be met at every corner while operating a MRAP, Nelson feels more experienced with every mile.
“Training my fellow soldiers behind the wheel gave me a lot more miles while training,” said Nelson. “It definitely helps you know your job in-depth having to train other people.”
As Spc. Nelson vigilantly carries out his mission in Operation New Dawn, other soldiers benefit from his expertise.
“Watching him drive mission after mission, I think I’ve gotten the hang of it—I’ve gotten a lot better driving the MRAP,” said Spc. Anthony Hendren, a combat engineer assigned as a gunner for the MRAP. Nelson drives, also with Charlie Company, 1/34th Brigade Special Troops Battalion attached to the 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division “Red Bulls.”
Nelson has been in the Minnesota National Guard for almost five and a half years and said the military has always been something he was fascinated by.
“I’ve been interested in the military ever since I was younger—when I saw soldiers I knew that was what I was going to be in the future.” said Nelson. “I’ve always looked up to soldiers.”
He enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard the summer after his junior year of high school at South West in Minneapolis, Minn.
“Once I got close to graduating high school I knew I needed some extra help for college and for the future—that was a definite plus to joining,” said Nelson.
Nelson enlisted before meeting his wife; however, she is just as supportive as any military wife.
Nelson and his wife were married in April of this year. Although the both of them knew the deployment was coming, it hasn’t made it any easier on the two of them.
“It kinda got tough when she found out she was pregnant knowing that I would be gone during our son’s first nine months of his life and even be gone while she was in her late stages of pregnancy—that was pretty rough on her,” said Nelson.
Their son was born on July 21st just a few days before Charlie Company departed Fort McCoy to leave for Kuwait.
“It was tough being in the United States and never being able to see him,” said Nelson.
He was given the opportunity to go home on leave Oct. 17 where he was able to see his son turn 3 months old.
“Those couple of months not being able to see him were kinda hard, but take leave to go see him really helped,” said Nelson.
Nelson commented that his family is what drives him do his job well.
“I think about my family a lot while I’m driving—that’s one thing that helps keep me alert and focused,” said Nelson. “Knowing that, that’s what I want to go back home to—so you have to stay awake, be vigilant and be aware.”
As hard as it is to be away from his family his peers respect him.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned from Nelson is to be more responsible—obviously he’s already an adult and responsible, but he is becoming a leader and he takes ownership for his actions,” said Hendren.
With the current deployment almost halfway over for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Spc. Nelson is pleased to call himself a “Red Bull”.
“I’m proud to be a Minnesota National Guardsman just with the huge role we’ve played over here in Iraq especially with the numerous amounts of soldiers Minnesota has deployed to Iraq. Our company alone, on the brigades last deployment, over here broke so many records and set so many records,” said Nelson. “It’s a real honor to be a part of the draw down.”