By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAOAugust 3, 2009
BAGHDAD - On the banks of a rushing river in northeast Baghdad, clouds of dust hang in the air and hulking machines transform the landscape in preparation for a new bridge being built by Army Reserve Soldiers of the 277th Engineer Company, July 30.
Though a suspension bridge already spans the fast-flowing river, it won't support most Coalition forces vehicles, explained Spc. Shane Brassell, a heavy equipment operator from Whitney, Texas, assigned to the 277th Eng. Co., 46th Eng. Battalion, 225th Eng. Brigade.
"The bridge they have now is not big enough and not strong enough to get our MRAPs [Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles] through," said Brassell. "So we're helping put up another bridge that's going to be stronger and safer for our guys."
Being able to move through the area safely and quickly is imperative for the Soldiers stationed on either side of the river as well as for Iraqi Security Forces located here.
"It's a main thoroughfare for Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police and it's right next to Taji, which is a big base for them and it will help them get their equipment through much easier," added Brassell about the importance of the bridge for his ISF partners.
Maj. Andrew Hilmes, the executive officer for the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division based just south of the river that resupply at Camp Taji, agreed with the assessment. "It shortens the distance and travel time," he said. "Less time on the roads is less exposure to threats."
"It will also give future units the capability to rapidly haul a lot of equipment through Baghdad," continued Hilmes, a native of Sarasota, Fla.
Though the implications behind the success of a new bridge are easy to be seen, the coordination, effort and sweat that go into a project such as this in a combat zone aren't taken lightly.
This portion of the river is deceptively deep, with a fast and deadly current that could easily swallow a piece of equipment, explained Brassell as he ground-guided a crane just a few feet from the 10-foot drop into the river.
Along with the treacherous terrain, it was riddled with large concrete blocks buried deep within the soil that needed to be moved, he added.
"We're lucky enough to use the D-9 dozer. It's the biggest engineering piece of equipment in the Army and because they're so big and it's a weight issue, we don't always use them," Brassell said. "We still struggled a little bit, but we got good operators."
One of those operators, Spc. Franklin Cardenas, marveled at the size of the concrete blocks. "A lot were buried in the ground and we had to work them up and push them out...they weigh more than a Volkswagen Bug," added the Luling, Texas native as he pointed to a colossal pile of broken concrete slabs.
"It's dangerous," said Cardenas, a heavy equipment operator, also assigned to the 277th Eng. Co. "But I have a lot of belief in our security force and we really rely heavily on them. I have a lot of trust in them...but we have to stay vigilant too and you need to know what's happening and keep your head on a swivel."
A rotating security element of 1st Cav. Div. Soldiers keeps a watchful eye on the engineers every minute of the day.
"Since day one, we've closely coordinated their security," explained Hilmes. "Not only is the 277th an external unit, but also a Reserve unit...we've worked with them a few times already on the JSS [Joint Security Station] and they've offered to help out anyway they can...as far as we're concerned they're members of the team."
The teamwork between the cavalry Soldiers and the engineers is apparent and just another example of Soldiers helping Soldiers get the mission accomplished.
"It brings a feeling of comfort knowing that my guys are going across there safe and the ISF will be safe too," said Brassell as he tried to remove dirt from his brow but only succeeded in adding another layer of mud.
"There hasn't been a lot of griping from the troops because I think they understand the long term benefits of this bridge," said Hilmes with a smile. "This is another one of those things to better protect the force and keep Soldiers out of harm's way."
In order to do that, Reserve Soldiers help active duty Soldiers, cavalry scouts protect engineers and troops keep troops out of harm's way.