CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – There’s rarely a quiet moment in Sgt. Howard W. Shay Jr.’s white tiled office at the headquarters for the 220th Transportation Company in Iraq.
“Early in the morning is the quietest time of day around here,” the Swanzey resident said Monday afternoon. “But even then, there’s always someone around.”
Throughout the day, soldiers tromp in and out, checking in on arrangements for their two-week leave and picking up and dropping off paperwork for promotions.
It’s one of a few offices in the small headquarters building for the Keene-based Army Reserve unit, which deployed in June to northern Iraq on a transportation mission hauling supplies and vehicles between military bases throughout the country.
While most of the soldiers in the 220th spend their time in trucks and away from the base on convoy missions, a handful oversee administrative tasks and mission operations for the unit.
Shay, an average-sized guy who carries himself with an imposing posture picked up from a decade of martial arts training and years of work as a bouncer, is the unit’s human resources officer.
He has worked full-time in administration for the unit since 2004, but overseas his tasks have shifted from planning and arranging weekend training missions for about 60 soldiers to helping more than 160 soldiers with day-to-day issues.
“When you’re on the road, you have a different kind of stress, being aware of the external environment, but in here there’s the stress of making sure that everything’s going okay for everyone in the company,” he said. “That can get hectic too.”
Shay’s system for staying organized is dozens of notes written in colorful dry-erase marker on the tile wall next to his desk – like washable Post-it notes.
While he didn’t always see himself at a desk job, and jokingly calls himself “a glorified Army secretary,” Shay enjoys guiding soldiers in the unit through the sometimes painstaking process of applying for promotion to a higher rank.
Each request goes before a board for review, and often minor details or mistakes can derail a soldiers’ chance for promotion.
“I really like helping people,” he said. “They’ve worked really hard and deserve to be recognized for that.”
Since the unit arrived in Iraq, five soldiers have received promotions and seven more have been selected for promotions they haven’t yet received.
Shay, who was offered a promotion before the deployment, turned it down because it would likely have meant he’d be reassigned to another unit.
“You feel like you haven’t done your part when you see everyone else go and you haven’t,” he said. “I’ve been in (the military) 10 years and haven’t ever deployed.
“I wanted to be here.”
From start to finish, tracking the missions
Across the hall from the administrative office is the unit’s operations office. It’s here that the unit’s missions are tracked from the time trucks roll off the base until they’ve safely returned.
The office is a 24-hour command center; convoys are constantly in touch with the soldiers working there, calling in their locations and reporting issues or delays.
Pfc. Paul T. LeBlanc, a Claremont native, has been working in the office for about a month.
On the evening shift, LeBlanc’s tasks vary from day to day, depending on the number of convoys out on the roads, he said.
LeBlanc, 23, has been with the unit since he enlisted in the Army Reserve nearly a year and a half ago, when he decided to leave his job as a machinist. He primarily drives in convoys for the unit.
Among his tasks working in the operations office, LeBlanc is in charge of picking up food from the base’s dining hall and delivering it to convoys headed out on missions.
The office serves as a communications link between the unit and the Nebraska-based 394th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, which is also based at Speicher and commands the 220th.
Calls from the brass at battalion headquarters come on a special phone, which LeBlanc calls the “Batphone.”
“Every time that goes off one of my buddies goes, ‘Oh my God,’ and turns all red,” LeBlanc said. “It can be stressful because they’ll usually call to check on something and you have to do the best you can to get them an answer.”
LeBlanc plans to return to convoy missions soon, but said his stint in operations has given him a new respect for the other soldiers who work in the headquarters office.
“There’s a lot going on there most of the time,” he said. “It’s just different stress levels and different kinds of stress.”