From North Adams to Baghdad: Army Specialist Aaron Durant's morning commute is never routine


BAGHDAD, IRAQ — Army Specialist Aaron Durant's daily commute is never routine.

It starts with an intel report — a list of the potential threats he and his team may face while escorting senior military leaders from around the world between sites in Baghdad.

"When we're out there we're cautious. You don't know what will happen," Durant said in a telephone interview with The Eagle on Friday.

Durant, a North Adams native, is playing a unique role in the United State Military's ongoing fight against the Islamic State and efforts to stabilize the middle east.

The Drury High School graduate was one of few handpicked to provide security for top-ranking officials, ensuring they can travel around Baghdad safely.

Now on his first deployment overseas, Durant's work is part of the Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, a coalition of countries led by the United States that has conducted more than 15,000 airstrikes targeted at ISIS in the last two years.

Some 200 people volunteered for the mission Durant is on, but only 30 were selected.

"I think that says a little bit about his skillset," said Sgt. First Class Jose Colon, a military spokesperson.

Durant is one of 5,200 United States troops still in Iraq, though it was announced this week that an additional 600 would be sent to aid Iraqi forces as they seek to take down the Islamic State in Mosul, a city of more than 1.7 million people.

After graduating from Drury High School in 2008, Durant attended Westfield State University. He enlisted in the military in March of 2015.

"It's something I always wanted to do since I was 18, but I didn't at the time," Durant said.

Based at Fort Polk in Vernon Parish, La., Durant was required to go through weeks of special, rigorous training — including how to drive in the motorcade — before he began his work in Baghdad taking the coalition's command team to and from the venues they need to utilize. As part of the Military Police Corps, Durant and his fellow officers are trained in a wide range of tactics and skills.

Now, Durant is stationed at a forward operating base called Union III in Baghdad and driving as part of a motorcade for coalition leaders nearly every day.

"Down here you don't know what to expect. There's different things to encounter. Things aren't always the same. We kind of adjust from there, [using] intuition," Durant said.

Before setting foot in a vehicle, Durant and the team go through an intelligence report, which can outline threats of potential suicide attacks or improvised explosive devices.

"We just have to react to anything that comes our way," Durant said. "It makes you know that the threat is real here."

Durant expects to be in Iraq a total of about a year, leaving August of 2017.

"It's going to be totally different driving back home, that's for sure."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376


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