Courtesy photo - Soldiers from the 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, the “Riggers” of Detachment 10 of the 824th Quartermaster Company from North Bragg at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, prepare barrels of fuel to be air delivered to areas in Afghanistan. -

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

The 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion has a complex, non-standard mission, its commander said last week from Kuwait.

The battalion, led by Lt. Col. Matt Melvin, departed Fort Hood in January, basing itself at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. The 4th Sustainment Brigade unit took over operations from the 469th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, a California Reserve unit, on Feb. 1, according to information from the 553rd.

The battalion is attached to the Tennessee Army National Guard's 230th Sustainment Brigade.

As the U.S. military is in the process of reducing its forces in Iraq, one of the battalion's tasks is to oversee contractors and the process of bringing equipment to Kuwait and either disposing of it or redistributing it to forces in Afghanistan.

It's a big operation, Melvin said during a telephone interview from Kuwait, that has the soldiers dealing in dollar amounts that equal more than $1 billion. One of the biggest goals in retrograding and redistributing U.S. equipment is saving the taxpayers money, he added.

The battalion typically receives items in 40-foot steel containers. Each piece of equipment is evaluated by experts who determine its status.

About a third of the items processed get sent to troops in Afghanistan, Melvin said.

The flow of equipment the battalion receives is constant and Melvin expects that to increase as the drawdown up north continues.

The mission isn't the Army's most glamorous, but it's an important one soldiers of the 553rd take seriously. Melvin describes the battalion's role as the

offensive and defensive linemen on a football team. The maneuver guys are the receivers and quarterbacks, he added.

Not only is the battalion taking part in the removal of equipment from Iraq, they help ensure the U.S. troops there get essential supplies they need. One of the battalion's responsibilities is getting ammunition to units in Iraq. This is a mission the 553rd has done before, but now they do it on a much bigger scale, providing ammunition for the entire theater.

The battalion has elements in Kuwait, Qatar, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, Melvin said. Missions vary and soldiers from the 553rd often participate in supply air drops in Afghanistan.

Melvin also talked about support the battalion and its soldiers have received from Central Texas, especially from its Adopt-a-School partnership with Temple's Travis Science Academy. Students traveled to Fort Hood for the battalion's farewell ceremony in January and the soldiers continue to receive messages of encouragement from them.

Melvin was also one of 65 deployed Fort Hood soldiers who got to watch their children graduate from local high schools via live broadcasts provided by the Killeen Independent School District. His daughter graduated last month from Harker Heights High School, and he said he was fortunate for the experience.

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