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Family travels same roads

Story by Spc. Michael Vanpool
101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs

101st Sustainment Brigade - LifelinersFort Campbell KY, 101st Airborne Division

Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan – Staff Sgt. James McCullough deployed to the Persian Gulf with the 101st Airborne Division in support of Operation Desert Storm nearly 21 years ago. His son, Ryan, was born the day after he arrived back from his combat tour.

Fast forward to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: James and his first son, Spc. Ryan McCullough, are both providing convoy security in the same unit, the 1138th Transportation Company, a Missouri National Guard unit attached to the 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade.

Staff Sgt. James McCullough, a convoy commander with the 1138th Transportation Company, a Missouri National Guard unit attached to the 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, stands with his son, Spc. Ryan McCullough. Both father and son provide convoy security and resupply service members throughout eastern Afghanistan. (Photo by Spc. Michael Vanpool)
Staff Sgt. James McCullough, a convoy commander with the 1138th Transportation Company, a Missouri National Guard unit attached to the 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, stands with his son, Spc. Ryan McCullough. Both father and son provide convoy security and resupply service members throughout eastern Afghanistan. (Photo by Spc. Michael Vanpool)

The company resupplies service members in eastern Afghanistan where the roads range from the urban center in Kabul to steep mountainsides. Both the father and son ride in gun trucks through these roads. James serves as convoy commander, in charge of all the gun trucks in the convoy, while Ryan drives the scout truck, the first gun truck in the line of vehicles.

The McCulloughs, natives of St. Charles, MO, are in different platoons, so they are never in the same convoy together. However, they both drive the same roads.

“I go on the same routes he does, I know the dangers,” James said. “It’s made me better on purpose. I think to myself, ‘What would I want my son’s convoy commander to do to optimize his safety, the whole convoy’s security?’ I take that mentality and drill it into my platform.”

While the unit learned the rigors of driving in Afghanistan before deploying, James applied some of his knowledge from his previous deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The terrains of the two countries are different, but the mission remains the same.

(L to R) Staff Sgt. James McCullough and his son Spc. Ryan McCullough. (Photo by Spc. Michael Vanpool)
(L to R) Staff Sgt. James McCullough and his son Spc. Ryan McCullough. (Photo by Spc. Michael Vanpool)

“He’s experienced the same things I am now,” Ryan said. “But now, we’re both working through the same experiences. I get to learn from him not just as a Soldier but also on a personal level.”

When the training and preparation is done, the father, son and rest of the unit go on their own roads, traveling from base to base.

“Seeing a lot of these guys grow has been phenomenal,” James said, “and seeing my son alongside them is just incredible.”

For the Soldiers of the 1138th Trans. Company, there is little down time. There’s always another mission on tap when they return to Bagram Airfield. With just a few days in between convoys, both McCulloughs load into their own gun trucks, and they roll out in different directions.

“There’s times when he’s on the road and I’m on the road, so we don’t see each other that much,” Ryan said. “I’m always saying that I talk to my family back home more than him.”

Their family in Missouri is no stranger to the company. James’s father served in the unit and worked his way to become a platoon sergeant. When he was a young soldier, James learned from his father while both were in the unit.

The fatherly wisdom and advice were the products of years in the company and a tour in Vietnam with the 101st Abn. Div.

“I learned a lot from my father,” James said. “Whether I wanted to or not, I absorbed how my father ran his platoon and how he did things. Some of those things I didn’t understand until later in my military career.”

Just as James learned from his father in the company, Ryan got up to speed on the essentials of running convoys in the months leading up to the unit’s deployment. When they both arrived here this past spring, James had no choice but to watch his son drive off.

“He had to become his own man,” he said. “I couldn’t build him.”

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