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By Carmen Ensinger
Carrollton Civics Club presented its Veteran’s Day Program on Nov. 11 and they didn’t have to look far to find a veteran to speak. High School teacher Jenna Heck is a veteran and agreed to speak about her time in Kuwait and Iraq as a member of the transport team.
“Growing up, I never imagined I was going to be serve my country, let alone be deployed,” she said. “It wasn’t until college that I became interested in the military and serving our great nation.”
Heck said that she had dreamed of becoming a teacher since she was five years old but after going to Eastern, she also realized she wanted to be in the military as well.
“During orientation, ROTC put on a demonstration of what they do and I thought it was cool to rappel down buildings,” Heck said. “Then, after that first year in college, the military became more serious and it wasn’t just a class. I ended up going to basic training and advanced individual training. I was enlisted for a small amount of time before becoming a cadet at Eastern to become an officer.”
She attended officer training and was in charge of the 1544th TC out of Paris, Ill. She was platoon leader of about 40 soldiers and second in charge as the executive officer.
“In 2009, we were notified that the 1244th were looking for volunteers to deploy to Kuwait/Iraq,” Heck said. “Stationed in Kuwait, missions would be in Iraq. Knowing this, over half of my company and most of my platoon volunteered, as well as myself.”
But a slight conflict arose – Heck was up for a promotion to Captain.
“I could either go with my team or take command of my own unit,” Heck said. “My brigade and battalion commanders wanted me to take command but my company commander was able to convince them to let me decide. For me, it was always a no briner, go with my soldiers, cause if something happened to them and I wasn’t there, I would never forgive myself.”
So, in 2010, Heck deployed with the 1244th TC to Kuwait/Iraq.
“As soon as I stepped off the plane, you could feel the overwhelming presence of the heat, sand and dry air environment we would be making our temporary home,” Heck said. “The heat would be so bad at times throughout the deployment that the salt from our bodies would cake our uniforms white and fog up our sunglasses as soon as we stepped out into the elements. It reached 127 degrees that summer, even before factoring in the humidity.”
Heck spent most of her days in the motor pool and was in charge of all of the 2nd platoon operations.
“We were a transportation company and were charged with ensuring that all supply lines stayed open and operational,” she said. “This is a critical need and a very risky job. With 40 soldiers to assign jobs to, Myself and my three convoy commanders were in charge of the individual missions into Iraq.”
Heck said she remembers her first time in Iraq as being kind of surreal.
“I remember the houses being made of mud and the smell of burning trash everywhere,” she said. “The kids were malnourished and poorly clothed. They stood alongside the road waiting to see if any American would throw food at them; all the while our headsets were giving us information about threats.”
Heck said they would pass by small towns and the kids and grownups alike would stare at their convoy.
“It was never wracking because you didn’t know if they were friendly or possible enemy combatants,” Heck said. “I remember one night a soldier messaged me to be on the lookout because he just went through a small arms attack not too long ago on another mission. I remember feeling anxious. As if driving through a war-torn country at night wasn’t bad enough.”
Heck said typically while in Iraq, they slept in tents, driving all night and arriving early in the morning and unloading the various forms of equipment and supplies to the different supply sites on that base.
“Sometimes, after we were finished, we wouldn’t be allowed to leave,” Heck said. “The routes in Iraq were labeled ‘black’ which meant IEDs were found and needed to be exploded before the convoys could move through. Another reason would be the sandstorms would provide low visibility for the medical choppers to fly out and we would be stuck on base came another night.”
One night someone messed up.
“We were the only convoy in all of Iraq moving that night,” Heck said. “We were lucky…somehow we didn’t get attacked that night because the routes we were traveling were black.”
Heck said they would run their missions at night to make getting hit by gunfire by the enemy a little harder.
“We had class 1 armor, but if we were hit by a Vbed or Explosive Form Penetrators (EFP), we wouldn’t have stood a chance,” Heck said. “EFP’s were devised by the insurgency to defeat the class 1 armor kits. They would shoot a frisbee made up of copper and use detonators to provide devastating thrust shooting the projectile a mile per second super heating the round and penetrate all forms of armor. They could pierce the armor on our trucks easily.
“One of our tricks got lucky…they almost went by a 13-array daisy chained EFP, but luckily two Apache helicopters spotted the daisy chain from the air and radioed to the convoy and it was halted in time. If it weren’t for those Apaches, the situation could have proven devastating.”
On another mission, they were on their way to Camp Kalzu, just 30 miles south of Camp Victory. The protocol was to turn off the headlights on the trucks when approaching this camp.
“I had a truck with spot lights on top and we could not turn them off,” Heck said. “We were supposed to turn them off because of the constant barrage of mortars and RPG attacks on this base. We were told to cut our lights but the switches were not working so my driver tried cutting many of the wires inside to get the lights off and it did not work.”
Here is where Heck’s training would come in handy.
“I had to open a 500-pound door, stand on the outside of the truck while we were moving and cut the wire by the light while outside the confines of the basecamp,” Heck said. “Thankfully, it worked because having lights on near that basecamp was very dangerous. We were lucky we didn’t get it.”
Heck said everyone in her platoon made it back home physically, but, unfortunately, not mentally.
“Since returning, we have lost three soldiers to suicide due to post traumatic stress disorder,” Heck said. “People say time makes things better, but it really doesn’t. Most veterans don’t move on, they just bury their emotions hoping not to break. The war doesn’t stop for some when they come home – please remember that. Show kindness and compassion.”
Heck said the military is not for everyone.
“It is an honor to join, but don’t join for free college or just because your buddy joined,” she said. “Do it for your love of your country, yourself and the soldiers who came before you.”