991st Transportation Co. home from service in Iraq
By Steve Huffman
Members of the 991st Transportation Co. returned home Thursday, but there wasn’t a grand celebration in Salisbury where they’re stationed.
Family members said they’d planned such a welcome home, but at the last minute the military decided to send soldiers from the 991st home via commercial jetliners.
Catrina Owens, head of the 991st’s Family Readiness Group, picked her husband, Thomas, a staff sergeant with the company, up at mid-afternoon at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
“We’d had a big homecoming planned, but the Army decided at the last minute to do this,” she said. “I’m just happy to have him home.”
Members of the 991st left Rowan County last July for a month’s worth of training at Camp Atterbury in Indiana. They departed there in September on their second deployment to Iraq.
Over the past year, the 167 members of the 991st have been stationed at Camp Taji, which is northeast of Baghdad. The company suffered no casualties over the past year while hauling more than 2.5 million pounds of short-ton cargo.
“We were fortunate to have no injuries,” Thomas Owens said. “The troops were really happy with the mission. They feel they did a good job.”
Owens and his wife and two children, Amanda and T.C., live south of Charlotte near Lake Wylie. Owens, 39, is one of the few members of the 991st who work at the company’s headquarters in Salisbury. He’s a motor sergeant, servicing the transportation unit’s rigs and other equipment to make sure they stay in top running order.
Owens said members of the 991st arrived at Camp Atterbury on July 12. He said that initially members thought they’d be taking buses back to Salisbury, then leave from there for their homes.
But Owens said only 67 of the company’s members are from the Salisbury area, with the remainder spread across much of the rest of the Southeast. He said that instead of having a bus caravan back to Salisbury, the military opted to fly members commercially to the airports closer to their hometowns.
Owens said the decision had both good and bad points.
“It was more convenient for the troops,” he said, “but we didn’t get as good an opportunity to tell everybody goodbye.”
Owens said everyone in the 991st is plenty happy to be out of Iraq. He said daytime temperatures there reach 120 degrees or more. Owens laughed that he’d argue with anyone who said the heat was a “dry heat.”
“So is a blowtorch,” he said.
Even Thursday, on a humid North Carolina afternoon, Owens said he felt he was in heaven.
“It’s 80-some degrees and it feels great,” he said.
Owens said the 991st leaving Iraq wasn’t part of any move by the U.S. military to de-escalate fighting.
“This was just our normal time to rotate out,” he said. Owens said he didn’t know if the unit might eventually be sent back overseas.
Catrina, Owens’ wife, said that while soldiers of the 991st were in Iraq, members of the Family Readiness Group prepared each an annual. She said soldiers mailed pictures of themselves that were then bound into books that resembled high school annuals.
“We’re actually pretty proud,” Catrina Owens said of the group’s end results. “We done good.”
She said the fact that there was no welcome-home ceremony didn’t afford her the opportunity to personally thank officials with Food Lion for their contributions to the support of the 991st. Owens asked that a newspaper article about the endeavor include mention of all that Food Lion did for the company.
She said Food Lion included care packages for each company member, as well as much more.
“They spent thousands and thousands of dollars to support these troops,” Owens said of Food Lion.
First Sgt. Lamondo Parker, a member of the 991st from Salisbury, said the company hauled everything from oil to vehicles to food during the stint in Iraq.
“We logged more than 1.5 million miles picking up or delivering cargo in the surrounding Baghdad area,” he said.
Parker said the 991st was responsible for delivering supplies from a main supply hub to troops in the field. It was a job that was often dangerous, but a job that members of the 991st tackled without question.
On the unit’s first night in Iraq, members of a convoy encountered an improvised-explosive device.
“We never hit another one after that, but it opened up everybody’s eyes pretty quickly,” Parker said.
– – –
Some information for this article came courtesy of the U.S. Army’s Department of Public Affairs.