CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq — Climbing nimbly up to the engine of the tractor-trailer truck, Pfc. Keith Corriveau of Peterborough runs through a mental checklist.
Transmission fluid. Check.
He notices a small dark spot in the rocks below from a slow oil leak that he’s been keeping an eye on.
After more than four months in Iraq with the Keene-based 220th Transportation Company, Corriveau is well practiced in the routine vehicle preparation for supply convoy missions throughout the country.
The Army Reserve unit’s mission in Iraq is to move supplies and military vehicles such as mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, often used by security forces, between military bases.
Here, the harsh, arid climate and treacherous road conditions can wreak havoc on the trucks, which is why they’re checked before and after each mission for potential problems that could cause breakdowns and leave the entire convoy exposed to potential attacks.
Corriveau climbs into the cab and turns the key, but nothing happens.
“Dead battery,” he says quietly, cracking a lopsided grin and taking off his camouflaged soft-cap to scratch his head.
He checks the headlights and scours the dozens of buttons, dials and switches in the cab for the possible culprit, which turns out to be an anti-IED device.
Once the truck has been connected to another one nearby, it rumbles to life and Corriveau moves on to the rest of the steps on his list.
This is the first deployment for the 21-year-old newlywed who grew up in Antrim.
About half of the more than 160 members of the unit have deployed before — some as many as five times.
The rest, like Corriveau, are learning the ropes.
“At first, the experience as a whole was overwhelming, because I didn’t know what to expect,” he said during an interview Sunday. “All you have are other people’s stories to go off of and you never know how things have changed since then.
“But then I came here and we’re just going about our business.”
Corriveau, who dreams of one day becoming a military pilot, joined the 220th in 2008, shortly after graduating from high school.
He worked at a temporary job with a trucking company his uncle owned in Nashua until the unit began a four-month round of training in the U.S. last winter.
As the unit’s deployment date grew closer, Corriveau and his then-girlfriend, Brittney Johnson, decided to get married before he left, rather than wait a year until he returned.
They married in a civil ceremony on May 4, while the unit was on a two-week break before deployment.
“We knew we were going to get married, and we talked a lot and thought that this would be best for us,” Corriveau said. “We’ll have a big wedding when I get back.”
In late June, the unit packed up from Camp Atterbury in Indiana and boarded planes for Kuwait.
“Getting off the plane, it was maybe midnight or so and it was still about 105 or 110 degrees in Kuwait,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe that it was like that.”
Members of the unit spent about two weeks in Kuwait adjusting to the climate before traveling north to Contingency Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit.
“After that, it wasn’t so bad coming here,” he said. “Now, at night it hits 60 (degrees) and I’m freezing.”
Once in Iraq, Corriveau moved into a containerized housing unit, or CHU, with two other soldiers from the unit’s 1st Platoon.
In his downtime, he watches DVDs he buys at a small Iraqi shop on the base, runs at the gym, “caddies” for rounds of golf that some soldiers play in the broad expanse of desert near the CHUs and has lately been building a deck outside his housing unit.
By now, a rhythm has developed among the soldiers in the unit, Corriveau said.
“You get past the heat, and the sandstorms, and all of the little stuff and it starts to feel normal,” he said.
Going on an average of two or three convoy missions per week, he has also enjoyed seeing parts of Iraq and picking up some Arabic phrases from other soldiers who have previously deployed, Corriveau said.
“For me, I hope anyway, this will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “I want to be able to take away some memories and be able to tell my children about it.”
But life overseas isn’t without challenges, Corriveau said.
Missing his family has been one of the biggest hurdles.
“There’s at least one time, and sometimes more, every week when you just think, ‘I really wish I was home,’ ” he said. “But you get busy doing things and you get on with it.
“You learn that you have to find a balance.”
He spends at least a few minutes a day talking to his wife using Skype, an Internet program, and said he was surprised at how much he’s been able to stay in touch.
“Some guys I talked to who were here in 2005 said you’d have to wait in a long line for the phone and then maybe get 10 minutes,” he said. “But I was able to hook up the Internet in my room the first day.”
He also stays in touch with his mother, Ruth Tucci of Warner, and his 3-year-old brother, as often as possible.
“I’m not sure how much of it he understands,” Corriveau said. “I said ‘I have to go away for a while,’ and he just looked at me like, ‘What?’ ”
Corriveau is headed home next month for his two-week leave, and now that his deployment is about halfway through, he’s started thinking about the future.
He’s considering enrolling in college and then becoming a fighter pilot in the Air Force or Army.
“I’m not sure what’s next,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting.”
Casey Farrar can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or email@example.com