CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq - Sgt. James Meier paced up and down the rows of stacked totes, looking. Out of the dozens of identical black totes, one was his.
No, nope, that's not it.
Months before, Meier and other Soldiers of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division had been told to pack totes with the things they will need while deployed in Iraq. The totes would then be shipped ahead to meet the Red Bulls when they arrived in Basra. Now, the day had come, and it was time for the Red Bulls to find their totes. Unfortunately, the finding was tough sometimes.
No, no, still no.
As Soldiers found their totes, they broke them open to reveal the little treasures they had packed months ago. Spc. Aaron Jensen, a human intelligence collector from Bemidji,collected his textbooks on foreign language. 2nd Lt. Adam Ingalsbe, a Burnsville, Minn. native and assistant executive officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, picked up a rug, six books and a framed family photo. 1st Lt. Michael Griffis, an Inver Grove Heights, Minn. native and an officer in the Red Bull Visitors Bureau, found his blender.
Meier kept looking.
Nearby, the supply specialists of the 34th Inf. Div. were hard at work. Distributing the totes is just a small piece in the larger mission of the 34th Inf. Div. supply specialists, the Soldiers responsible for keeping Red Bull Soldiers clothed, armed and comfortable. After receiving the totes a week ago, the supply specialists still had to get them through customs, get them from Kuwait to Basra, get them organized and now get them distributed and properly cataloged.
A passion for serving Soldiers is a quality shared by the hard-working Soldiers of Red Bull supply, who just may love their job too much.
"You're talking about millions of dollars worth of equipment . . . hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment," said Spc. Shawn O'Brien, a supply specialist with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. "If we lost that stuff, if we don't know where it is, and there's a mission going out, those boys aren't going to be able to do their mission."
Keeping track of the gear and equipment of 1,000 Soldiers of the 34th Inf. Div. is a constant process that requires monitoring millions of moving pieces traveling from Minnesota and Fort Lewis, Washington to Basra by plane, ship and convoy.
It also requires a lot of paperwork.
"Before the deployment hit, we had to inventory everything," said Pfc. Lindsy Conrad, a supply specialist from LaCrescent, Minn. This process took over five months of 10 to 12-hour workdays.
Spc. Kerri Kopachek, a supply specialist from Mankato, Minn., and one of the Soldiers who helped inventory, seems especially suited for her job. "I'm one of the few people who actually likes paperwork," Kopachek said. "I just think it's better than other kinds of work."
As more and more Soldiers found their gear, Kopachek sat on a tote and wrote down in careful pink script the names and numbers of soldiers and their totes. Speaking in a precise, clipped cadence, she continued: "I'm kind of a freak like that: OCD on organization."
Organization seems to be a condition common among supply specialists.
"You're constantly inventorying," said Conrad. "You have to inventory it, all by serial number. When you repack it, you have to do the same thing."
Even at the highest levels of leaderships, organization is key. At a May 12 logistics conference attended by Brig. Gen. Gerald Lang of the 34th Inf. Div., the brightest logistical minds of the 34th Inf. Div. discussed with multi-colored slideshows how to best serve the supply needs of their troops.
"We have to capture and maintain accountability of our shipping containers," said Maj. Karl Linderman, division transport officer for the 10th Mountain. "It's been one of those issues that have been nagging us for a while, but the time has come, and we're going to get things done."
"We're here now in Iraq," said Conrad. "Now it's all about getting organized again, to be able to help supply people with the things they need for the mission here."
"You can't have a war without having logistics, whether it's office supplies or ammunition," said O'Brien. "Your weapons, we fix them. We maintain them for you. We store them for you. We get your ammo for you."
This personal interaction with soldiers is what drives supply specialists like O'Brien.
"The best part of my job is being able to see everybody," O'Brien said. "We get to see every single soldier come through supply. Whether it's a good day or a bad day, we're always the people who are helping people out."
He looked at the dwindling number of totes.
"The totes: that's their personal gear. That's their comfort," said O'Brien. "We need to make sure that every single soldier gets their personal gear."
Near the end of the first line of totes, one Soldier's gear was soon found.
No, no, wait, yes. There it is.
In a culmination of months of planning and logistical maneuvering, Meier, a cook from St. Paul, Minn., found his tote. He finally had all the gear he needed with him in Iraq for the next 10 months. The Vietnam veteran grabbed his tote and picked it up and it was light, noticeably light.
There was nothing inside the tote.
"Couldn't think of anything to put in there," said Meier, with a shrug.
"Even if they ship an empty tote, we need to make sure they get it," said O'Brien. "You come see us, we'll get you what you need, and hopefully everyone's happy."