By Sgt. Amber Criswell and Warrant Officer Brenda Parks, 2120th Engineer CompanyMarch 27, 2018
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - An Oklahoma National Guard engineering unit, based out of Broken Arrow, Okla., has nearly completed building of an office complex in Iraq. The complex will serve as a work area for contractors, who provide food, housing, showers and other living-support needs for military personnel deployed in the area.
The 2120th Engineer Company, 458th Engineer Battalion, 35th Engineer Brigade, Task Force Spartan, has overcome numerous challenges building military structures in a deployed overseas environment.
On the current build, soldiers redesigned a roof to give the receiving unit - referred to as the "customer" by the engineers - what was needed based on the materials they could get in Iraq. The redesign was necessary, because unlike back home - where roof caps can be easily ordered and obtained in days - the unit must adapt to what is readily available here.
"They did a really good job," said Capt. Amanda Thornton, commander of the 2120th, and a native of Fort Gibson, Okla. "They worked directly with the customer and the engineer there on site to get authorization to change the design."
As National Guard soldiers, these individuals bring civilian experience that can enhance the success of the military mission. Staff Sgt. Steven Gross, a combat medic with the 2120th, works in Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) at home in Fort Drum, N.Y. So, when not caring for soldiers' medical needs, he has taken the lead on HVAC work. Staff Sgt. Curt Potts, an electrical apprentice from Oklahoma City, fills the role of team leader supervising approximately 20 soldiers.
Some skills were discovered during deployment. Spc. Brittney Hunter, a human resources specialist, and Spc. Zoe Somarriba, a communications specialist, has done detailed woodwork to include making a thunderbird - using a router and a wood burner - while also completing detailed paintwork on unit plaques.
Since the deployment, Sgt. Charlie Shelton, a heavy equipment operator, and native of Wilburton, Okla., has joined the team of carpenters building doors, cabinets and unit plaques. He has picked up the needed skills through self-teaching and studying on his personal time.
As the project continued, the unit still fulfilled other duties to the base by filling work orders - such as for building porches, watersheds, bridges and shelving - and doing general maintenance work on existing structures.
Potts said this project came at the perfect time because the soldiers had been doing work orders. "This project is more rewarding because you get to see it built from the ground up."
2120TH TROOP MEDICAL CLINIC
In another location in Iraq, the 2120th are renovating what was once a warehouse full of abandoned housing units. The renovation will become the base's next Troop Medical Clinic (TMC).
The TMC will provide for various medical needs to include physical exam rooms, behavioral health services, veterinarian services and dentistry, as well as surgical capabilities with accommodations for 20 postoperative patients.
"One of the coolest aspects of this project is we get to hit every engineering task in one project: carpentry, electrical and plumbing," said 1st Lt. Jonathan Thomas, a native of Bixby, Oklahoma.
This project brought challenges the team had not previously seen, such as design changes to incorporate drainage for interior air conditioning units, as well as dealing with an uneven foundation and a shortage of specialized materials needed for building healthcare facilities.
"Our team actually started reviewing the design at Fort Bliss before we even came here," said Thornton. "We were coordinating with the unit here on site and trying to stay ahead."
Sgt. Eric Needham, the site lead and a native of McAlester, uses his civilian experience in architectural drafting design to develop a drainage system for AC units in the interior rooms.
"I couldn't just put a bucket under it," Needham said, referring to the typical method in theater for capturing air conditioning drainage.
Speaking of Sgt. Needham, Thornton said, "That's impressive isn't it? It's not every day that you have an E-5 (sergeant) who's able to take on a project like that, where it's $8 million worth of construction."
Another difficulty the team faced was the strict healthcare building regulations. The unit overcomes this hurdle by collaborating with an Army medical team to ensure sanitation standards were upheld and patient safety was a priority. On a typical carpentry project, standard drywall could be used. But drywall can absorb bodily fluids, making it unsuitable for a medical center. In this instance, the team had to work with a medical grade paneling with vinyl seams.
Spc. James Jones, a 911 directors, and native of Seminole said that in order to maintain the unit's schedule, the team had to be flexible with the steps in the building process.
When asked about this deployment and their projects, Spc. Austin Michael, a heavy equipment operator and a civilian electrician from Piedmont, said he helped run power to the building, but has also done framing carpentry work.
The 12,152 square-foot projects began in August 2017 and is scheduled for completion by mid-March 2018.
IRAQI CUSTOMS BUILDING
Meanwhile, as one team continues work on the TMC, another 2120th team is busy renovating an Iraqi customs building.
The primary task on the customs building is bringing the electrical system up to code to ensure safety. Spc. Aidan Gibson, an Army trained electrician, hopes to use this experience to obtain a civilian electrical apprentice position when he returns home to Sparrow.
"I'm glad to get experience in my job. I can take that home," said Spc. Steven Ward, a civilian sub-contractor, and a native of Oklahoma City. Ward used his experience remodeling duplexes and rental houses to contribute to framing the interior of the building. "Being National Guard and civilian has allowed me to be better at my trade as an engineer."
Staff Sgt. David Bullard, the site lead, and a native of Henrietta, is currently serving his third deployment. "It's a lot different. Projects are always changing."
This project, like the TMC, is scheduled to be completed in March 2018. Despite having two large projects under way and on a tight schedule, the 2120th team also fulfills duties to the base with work orders and maintaining current structures. Even though they have a lot on their plate, the 2120th Engineers face tasks with a "can do" attitude.
"We are emplacing this authority and this responsibility on our junior enlisted. So I think it is very commendable of them and their abilities," Thornton said. "Hammer Time!"