Alabama Engineers Pave the Way in Iraq
By Capt. Danny Curtis, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
MOSUL, Iraq, Oct. 22, 2003 Congestion, confusion, inefficiency - all words that were used to describe the South Gate entrance at the 101st Airborne Division's logistics support area here, known as LSA Diamondback.
However, that all changed once the Alabama Army National Guard's 877th Engineer Battalion (Combat Heavy) was assigned the project of upgrading the entrance.
Before the project started, traffic congestion outside the gate put soldiers in danger of attack. Traffic jams also formed inside the gate, forcing soldiers to wait for long periods before their convoys were able to exit. Dust was a major problem as well, causing visibility problems during heavy traffic.
Members of the 877th were given the mission of improving the south entrance at LSA Diamondback to provide a more efficient and safe area for U.S. troops.
"The project was designed to increase the security of everyone entering and exiting the gate, as well as helping to restore the day-to-day lives of the local people of Iraq," said Capt. Wendell Miles of Adamsville, Ala., commander of Headquarters and Support Company, 877th Engineer Battalion.
The first phase of the project was to ensure proper planning was done before the start of the mission. During this step, all parts of the mission were analyzed to determine the order in which the project would continue.
The second phase was cleanup, because large amounts of rubble and debris were a major part of the congestion problem. The 877th removed unused buildings, abandoned equipment - including a large civilian heavy equipment transport trailer - and several hundred cubic meters of rubble and debris outside the entrance that apparently had accumulated over numerous years.
The battalion's new hydraulic excavators, or HYEXs, proved extremely valuable for the cleanup phase.
"This mission would have taken a lot longer, and we would not have done as good a job without the HYEXs," said Sgt. Brent Gunter.
Phase 3 consisted of preparing the sub-base for the upcoming asphalt. This phase included soldiers and equipment from all parts of the 877th Engineer Battalion, with overall guidance by the headquarters and support company. A layer of soil was removed so crushed rock could be put back in its place. This task was accomplished using graders and loaders, as well as 20- and 5-ton dump trucks. Once the top layer of soil was replaced with gravel, it was tilled, graded, and compacted to form a stable layer on which asphalt could be placed.
The final phase was the paving of the newly upgraded entrance and the street immediately outside. For this part of the operation, 877th personnel shifted to a quality assurance and quality control role while working with a local Iraqi asphalt contractor. For many of the soldiers involved, working with the Iraqis was the most rewarding part of the mission.
"I really enjoyed working with the local Iraqi people, and was very interested in the different techniques they used to complete certain tasks," said Staff Sgt. Danny Atkinson of Guin, Ala., the project noncommissioned officer in charge. This phase of the mission went well, but slower than initially expected due to erratic availability of asphalt supplies.
"We have had much trouble at times getting the tar needed to make the asphalt for paving," said Zied Al-Othman, the local Iraqi asphalt contractor. However, after a delay of only a few days, he was able to get the needed materials and continue with the paving project.
The effect of the mission on the South Gate entrance at LSA Diamondback was substantial.
1st Lt. Eric Harbin from Parrish, Ala., executive officer for the battalion's headquarters and support company, said the completed project allows military vehicles to enter the gate more quickly and makes nonmilitary vehicle inspections easier. Harbin also said he thinks the project "minimized the military impact on the local commuting traffic of the people of Mosul."
(Army National Guard Capt. Danny Curtis, assigned to Headquarters and Support Company, 877th Engineer Battalion, served as project officer for the South Gate project.)