Army welders use skills to counter IEDs in Iraq
April 20, 2009
BAGHDAD - On a dark night, two terrorists discovered tunnels underneath a heavily traveled road in western Baghdad and used an improvised explosive device to blow a huge hole in the street to disrupt traffic.
To prevent this act of terrorism from happening again, the engineers from Headquarters and Support Company, 46th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), 225th Engineer Brigade, were called in to repair the gaping hole in the road and seal access to the tunnels beneath the road.
"The crater was pretty dangerous and we ended up repairing two holes in that road," said Staff Sgt. Xavier Bowie, mission noncommissioned officer-in-charge, from West Palm Beach, Fla. "There's an Iraqi Army checkpoint nearby and the [Iraqi Army troops] said it caused a lot of traffic when people would stop to avoid the holes. It was even worse when the drivers didn't see the holes and would just drive into them and damage their cars."
Moving by night, the engineer teams arrived on the damaged overpass. Once the explosives teams of the 731st Explosive Ordnance Detachment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, cleared the area of any possible threats, the tunnel crew of engineers descended into the darkness to cut off terrorist access to the tunnels.
Spc. Stephen Green, of Pensacola, Fla., and Spc. Eduardo Bonilla, of Jacksonville, N.C., welded steel plates over all the points that led into the tunnel, while, simultaneously other Soldiers, prepared the holes for repair. The Soldiers repaired the craters by chipping away the damaged asphalt and cleaning up the site.
Once the tunnel was sealed on one side of the overpass, the welding team moved to the other side of the road to seal off access on that side.
After three hours in the tunnels, and an additional two hours fixing the holes, Spc. Christopher Sallas, of Tulsa, Okla., used a forklift to place a very heavy steel plate into the large crater in the overpass. Next, the crater team led by Staff Sgt. Wesley Roach, of Rapid City, S.D., placed a rapid drying asphalt alternative over the plate. After smoothing out the mixture, the team placed road cones around the asphalt to allow it to dry without interruption by traffic.
A follow-up visit to the site a few days later revealed a situation that was not all that surprising given the situation that brought them out there in the first place; the asphalt and steel plate had been completely removed. The engineers then returned to the site with another solution to the problem.
"An attempt was made to reopen access to the tunnel," said Command Sgt. Maj. Francis Thibodeau, 46th ECB (H), a native of Detroit. "This is a busy road and someone was going to get hurt if we didn't put a stop to this, so we sent the welders back in to make sure this doesn't happen again."
This time the engineers took measures one step further. With the help of large engineer equipment, they placed several heavy plates of over-sized steel deep into the hole. The welders then sprang into action sealing the plates into place to end access to the tunnels once and for all.
With repairs made to the holes, several massive steel plates welded firmly in place and all the tunnels sealed, the engineers were able to not only defeat IED-emplacing terrorists, but also improve the lives of the Iraqi people living in the area.
"This is great that this hole is fixed," exclaimed Hasan, an Iraqi Soldier that helped to guard the site. "People have so many problems on this road; sewage trucks can't get by, families driving get stuck if they don't see it."
Reiterating the importance of their work and their contribution to the bigger fight, Thibodeau added, "The welders no doubt contributed to the counter-IED fight."