JOINT SECURITY SITE SADR CITY, Iraq - The fundamental tenet to winning an insurgency is to gain the support of the population. One way of winning the citizens' hearts and minds is to help erase painful memories of past violence and carnage. This is one of the missions of the Army engineers deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in northern Baghdad.

Accordingly, the Soldiers of the 955th Engineer Company helped Iraqi citizens return to normal by removing a symbol of violence from their neighborhood.

The Soldiers of the 955th Eng. Co., an Army Reserve unit based in Missouri, serving with the 46th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), were tasked with the demolition and removal of what was known as "The Big Blue Building," located within the confines of a Joint Security Site in Baghdad.

The building formerly housed an Iraqi Police Directorate and was badly damaged a few months prior in an indirect fire attack. The attack left the building structurally unsound and unsalvageable.

After the attack, the large two-story building stood as a daily reminder to the population of the violent history the JSS had endured and created a potential hazard for those living and working on the JSS.

2nd Lt. Christopher Smiley of Independence, Mo., the platoon leader, and Staff Sgt. Randy Collins of Festes, Mo., the platoon sergeant of first platoon, developed a solid plan to safely accomplish the mission within the confined space available and without impacting JSS daily operations.

"I felt that this mission would give my Soldiers a valuable opportunity to gain a lot of experience on the various uses and abilities of their construction equipment," stated Collins. "Plus, as Army engineers, anytime we are authorized to destroy something, it's a pretty good time."

The initial estimates for this project predicted that it would take 60 days to bring the brick building down and remove all the debris, but the experienced team was able to demolish the building in only nine days and completed removing the rubble the next week.

"I have never seen my Soldiers more motivated than they were during this project," stated Smiley. "Everyday each one of them looked forward to getting on the equipment and doing their part to bring down and remove 'Big Blue.' This project provided the Soldiers a lot of opportunities to enhance their operating skills and I was amazed how much they improved each day."

The efforts of the Soldiers involved in the demolition of the "Big Blue Building" project were recognized during visits from the commander of the 926th Eng. Bde., Brigadier General Jeffrey Talley, and from the commander of the 412th Engineer Command, Maj. General Paul Hamm.

Three Soldiers were presented with 412th Engineer Command coins by Maj. Gen. Hamm: Sgt. Edward Luttrell of Iberia, Mo., Spc. Anthony Hepperman of St. Charles, Mo., and Pfc. James McGee a native of Marthasville, Mo.

Eight Soldiers received 926th Bde. coins from Brig. Gen. Talley: Staff Sgt. Ricky Eftink of Oran, Mo., Pvt. Kenneth Eskew a native of Harrisburg, Mo., Spc. Jesse McElreath from Dutchtown, Mo., Sgt. Joseph Traindl of Menomonee Falls, Mo., Pvt. Jared Farris from Sullivan, Mo., Sgt. David Jackson of Springfield, Mo., Sgt. Kyle Vernon from Eldon, Mo., and Spc. Eric Kump of Lebannon, Mo.

These Soldiers were recognized for going the extra mile each day to ensure mission accomplishment.

The "Big Blue Building" is now only a memory and its location now stands ready to provide a foundation for new construction. With this visible symbol of their violent past removed, the Iraqi population also stands one step closer to a future free of strife.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16