AL ASAD AIRBASE, IRAQ -- Machines are nice to have, but muscles are required.
Soldiers of the 649th and 1156th Engineer Companies are working round the clock in Iraq to rebuild Al Asad Airbase to support Coalition military efforts in the region. Brigadier General John M. Epperly, Deputy Commander of the 29th Infantry Division, Virginia Army National Guard, visited Army engineers rebuilding Al Asad Airbase near Ramadi, Iraq, May 1, 2017, as part of a battlefield circulation to Operation Spartan Shield units supporting the fight against ISIS.
Spc. Levi Asmussen is an equipment operator with the 649th Engineer Company. from Bieber, Calif. Asmussen built drainage ditches for flash floods in the recently constructed ammo storage area at Al Asad. He explained that most of the work was done with heavy construction equipment, but that the final step of laying the drainage pipes required muscle and shovels.
"It always comes down to manpower, but your better equipment operators will save you a lot of work," said Asmussen.
At Al Asad, Epperly toured a newly constructed Basic Load Ammo Housing Area and Logistics Support Area-Inchon, a living area for Soldiers named after the Korean War's pivotal amphibious operation. The BLAHA is a combination of gravel and HESCO barriers; large cages lined with non-woven geotextile liner.
Coincidentally, a decade earlier, Soldiers from the 649th Engineer Company built the containerized housing units and walls at Al Asad Airbase. Al Asad, which once hosted the second largest U.S. military presence base in Iraq during the surge of Operation Iraqi Freedom's 2007-08 "Surge," is now far smaller and used by units supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.
"Your forebears did this when I was here 10 years ago," said Epperly.
Sgt. Gustavo Camacho, a combat engineer from Los Angeles assigned to the 649th Engineer Company, takes pride in the speed with which his fellow engineers have rebuilt the base to support the fight against ISIS.
"It should take three months to get this job done, we did it in 60 days. We do what we can to get the mission done," said Camacho.
In his brief to Brig. Gen. Epperly, 1st Lt. Dan Palazzo, 2nd Platoon Leader, 1156th Engineer Company, emphasized how Soldiers were working "24/7" on Logistics Support Area Inchon to make it habitable.
Around the clock operations benefit the Soldiers and their work. The unit lays concrete slabs at night to allow them to cure properly and prevent overly rapid drying in the intense daytime sunlight. Working at night also prevents sunburn and other heat related injuries.
When Epperly asked if their unit needed anything, 1st Lt. Andrew Brown, 2nd Plt. Leader, 649th En. Co., said enthusiastically: "More concrete!"