By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell , MND-B PAOMarch 10, 2009
BAGHDAD - Sweat rolls off of mud-splattered faces twisted with concentration. Soldiers stand knee-deep in freshly poured concrete, furiously working their shovels with cement-smeared gloves and uniforms. The Soldiers, shouting in Arabic and English, are drowned out by the droning of the concrete mixer truck.
For Iraqi and U.S. engineers at al-Muthana Airfield March 8, work hard, play hard takes on its purest form as the 6th Iraqi Army Engineer Regiment and the 46th Engineer Battalion from Fort Polk, La., poured cement for vehicle maintenance ramp before taking a break to play basketball.
"[IA engineers] believe in the theory of getting dirty because that's what we do - we get dirty," said Columbia, S.C., native Sgt. James Jones, a concrete and asphalt equipment operator assigned to 46th Eng. Bn., 225th Eng. Brigade. "In the engineer field, that's all we do; unless you're dealing with paperwork, you're getting dirty."
Shortly after 46th Eng. Bn. Soldiers and equipment arrived at the IA compound, they were engrossed in work and caked in dirt. According to Jones, the ramp will be a huge asset for the 6th Iraqi Army mechanics, allowing them to drive their vehicles up on the ramp to perform essential maintenance.
In order to prevent their Iraqi Army counterparts from sliding on their backs, a little teamwork was needed.
"We work hand-in-hand; they're breaking their backs just like we break ours," hollered Jones over the grinding of the concrete mixer. Though there is a language barrier, the Soldiers from different armies share the common language of hard work, added Jones.
"We share duties and our relationship is very good," said Pfc. Salim Hassan Sultan, an engineer assigned to the 6th IA Eng. Regt., who lives and works on base at Al Muthana Airfield. "If we were alone, it would be difficult, but with the help of the Americans it will be easy."
Not only do the Iraqis and Americans sweat together, but another bond is formed. While standing on top of the wood and rebar forms that the concrete was being poured into, Spc. William Ruhling pulled his mud-splattered 46th Eng. Bn. patch off of his shoulder and slapped it onto the uniform of the Iraqi soldier working next to him. Through the sweat and grime they both managed a smile and laughed in appreciation of each other.
"I gave it to him as a symbol of brotherhood - same team, same fight," said Ruhling, a native of Tomah, Wisc. "We're all working together to try to accomplish the same goals."
The unit insignia is a symbol of pride and distinction among Soldiers, but can convey much more when given as a gift.
"The Iraqis have a strong sense of pride, like a lot of us that join the Army," added Ruhling, a concrete and asphalt equipment operator.
"By training them up and teaching them how to do this, we're helping them help themselves," said Ruhling.
The whole idea is to show the IA engineers how to properly build a frame, pour concrete, and leave a lasting impression, said Maj. Michael Stinnett, the operations officer for the 46th Eng. Bn. and a native of Westminster, Calif.
Stinnett also had an ulterior motive for coming to help with the vehicle maintenance ramp. When the work was over, it was time to play. Hidden in between the IA barracks is a basketball court and Stinnett had a gift of his own for his Iraqi partners.
"I wrote to every NBA team out there and the Detroit Pistons were the only ones that wrote me back," explained Stinnett on his mission to ask professional basketball teams to donate basketballs to Iraqis.
After the concrete was poured and the hard work was done, Stinnett ceremoniously donated the NBA ball to their IA engineer brothers. Then the Soldiers played the Iraqis in a hard-fought game of basketball, proving that more sweat is one way engineers know how to clean off mud.