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Unit successful in support operations

Approximately 150 battle-hardened soldiers with the 296thTransportation Company of the Army Reserve returned to BrookhavenSaturday.

Unit commanders were highly complimentary of the achievements ofthe unit during their tour of duty in Iraq.

“We were the best over there,” said Maj. Howard Taylor, companycommander. “We hauled the fuel safely, efficiently, and in a timelymanner. No one was ever left without because the 296th wasn’tthere.”

Taylor, who was promoted while the unit was supporting combatoperations in Iraq, said the unit distinguished itself in severalways.

From their arrival in Iraq on March 20 to their departure onJuly 25, the unit hauled more than 9 million gallons of fuel overmore than a million miles without an accident.

“We were the primary company that was hauling to fuel to SaddamHussein International Airport, now renamed to Baghdad InternationalAirport,” Taylor said.

The unit was based at a supply dump about 45 minutes outside ofBaghdad, the commander said.

Although the 296th plays primarily a support role, the companycame under fire “more than a few times” while conducting theirmissions, Taylor said.

“We were fired on the very first day, March 20,” he said.

The company received its only injury that day. Mortar fire fellonto the company and a mortar fragment struck Spc. Brandy Taylor inthe knee.

“We removed her from the hot zone, and I applied some first aidto her knee. I have some first aid training,” Maj. Taylor said. “Itwas a bad day for the 296th. Mortars, a gunshot wound — I knewthen it was going to be a long war for us.”

Spc. Taylor received the Purple Heart, a high honor awarded tosoldiers wounded in the line of duty.

“As far as I know, she is the only female in the state ofMississippi to receive that honor,” the commander said.

One other incident that clearly stands out in the major’s memorywas when 20 tanker trucks full of fuel were approaching the frontlines on the outskirts of Baghdad and were ambushed. They managedto retreat and break the engagement without sustaining any injuriesor the loss of a truck. Ground forces went in afterwards andeliminated the opposition.

“That was quick thinking on the platoon commander’s part,”Taylor said. “He saved those soldiers.”

The platoon commander credited with the save was not part of theunit, but was attached to them, according to Taylor.

Sgt. Deangelo Woods of Downsville, La., said he came underattack once by Iraqis using RPG self-propelled rockets, but theymissed his truck. He came under small arms fire several times.

“It was kind of rough,” he said. “It was hot and you never knewwhat to expect, so it was kind of nerve-wracking.”

Woods said most of the Iraqis treated them with respect and wereglad to see Americans.

“Most of them were OK,” he said. “We were never treated bad.There were those who didn’t like you, but I never really came intocontact with them.”

The unit was engaged in several other encounters, Taylor said,but managed to return with more equipment than most of the otherunits performing the same job.

The 296th left with 60 trucks and 60 trailers and returned homewith 54 trucks and 55 trailers. The missing trucks and trailerswere either lost to repair or combat damage. Most units did notreturn with that much equipment, Taylor said.

The unit also had to contend with the harshness of the terrain.They cooked under 125 degree heat, drank tepid water, and lived onrations while performing their missions.

“It takes long days, hard days, to move that much fuel andtravel more than a million miles in the time they had,” said Maj.Bill Johnson of the 828th Transportation Battalion, the 296th’sparent unit. “These guys didn’t get to do a lot of sitting. Therewasn’t a lot of eight-hour days, I can tell you that.”

Taylor agreed and credited the soldiers in the unit with theirsuccess.

“I feel we have 150 heroes in this company,” he said. “They alldid a fantastic job.”

Woods said helping the Iraqi people made it worthwhile and hereceived valuable experience.

“I’m glad I went,” he said. “It was a good learning experiencefor me. I have no regrets.”