Emergency Reaction Team Helps Keep Iraq's Oil Flowing
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Mar. 20, 2005 If there was one day during his deployment that Army Master Sgt. Ray Puckett knew that he was making a contribution here, it was when the lights shone in Baghdad on election day, Jan. 30.
Puckett, an Army reservist with a Roanoke, Va.-based 80th Training Division unit, is a member of the Emergency Reaction Pipeline Repair Organization, a five-member task force poised to respond immediately to sabotage against Iraq's pipelines.
The oil and gas lines, which keep Baghdad's lights burning, its heaters pumping and its vehicles moving, are considered a strategic target by terrorists committed to disrupting progress in Iraq.
An estimated 250 attacks have blown apart pipeline infrastructure, causing the electrical grid to sputter and eroding the Iraqis' confidence in the reconstruction effort under way. Dealing with the aftermath of the attacks has also eaten into funds earmarked for reconstruction projects and deprived Iraq of desperately needed export revenues.
One major attack, during the last week of January, threatened to leave Baghdad in the dark during Iraq's national elections Jan. 30.
But thanks to a quick response by the Emergency Reaction Pipeline Repair Organization and its partners here, the voting proceeded without disruption.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Edington, an Arizona National Guardsman assigned to the team, explained how the response process works. "We don't repair the pipeline," he said. "Our job is to provide the liaison between the State Department's Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, the military and the Iraqi contractors."
Intelligence about pipeline attacks comes from a variety of sources, from troops in the vicinity to members of Iraq's Ministry of Oil who track the oil flow and are alerted to unexpected fluctuations.
Once an alert is sounded, pipeline repair outfit members go out to the site to verify the attack, then work through the State Department and Iraqi contractors to get the break repaired as quickly as possible. The goal is to have the job fixed within six to eight days after the notification.
Puckett said Baghdad's oil reserves are "very minimal," and won't carry the city for long before running dry. "Once a pipeline is blown, we're racing the clock," he said. "It gives a real sense of urgency to what we do here."
The gratification of the job, Puckett said, is knowing that the Emergency Reaction Pipeline Repair Organization is having a direct impact on the Iraqi people's lives.
"Without this task force, in a lot of cases there would be no lights," he said. "They would cease to exist for several days."