By Sgt. Rebekah Malone, 225th Eng. Bde. PAOAugust 18, 2009
BAGHDAD - The Tigris River, or in Arabic Nahr Dijlah, winds itself through the very heart of Baghdad. For centuries, it has provided life-sustaining water and enabled trade in Mesopotamia.
Traversing the fabled waterway is what a joint U.S. and Iraqi engineer project hopes to accomplish.
The 225th Engineer Brigade, with help from the 555th Engineer Brigade, out of Balad, Iraq, and Iraqi Army engineers aim to complete an iconic Mabey Johnson Float Bridge that will span the banks of the Tigris River by Taji, north of Baghdad, by the beginning of September 2009
The bridge, known for the speed in which it can be built, its dependable nature and the heavy weight capacity make the Mabey Johnson a perfect fit for the nearly 90 meter span of river that engineers must cross.
Currently, the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team holds responsibility for the land west of the Tigris in Taji area. Once the Pennsylvania National Guardsmen redeploy in a few weeks, Soldiers of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division will add the area of west of the river to their current battle space.
Without the bridge, troops would have to take a route into the cities late at night, a two hour one-way trip, in order to support the rest of the BCT on the west side of the river. The bridge currently in place cannot support neither the weight nor height of large military vehicles.
"Building this bridge helps reduce U.S. forces' traffic in the city," said Lt. Col. Dave Dancer, of Geismer, La., operations officer for the 225th Eng. Bde. "It cuts travel time for 1-1 CAV down by one and a half hours."
Seven days ago, the first step of the project kicked off with the 277th Engineer Company, 46th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), 225th Eng. Bde., using D9 Bulldozers, the Army's largest dozer, to move 6,000 cubic yards of dirt. That is nearly 400 dump trucks worth of dirt in order to level the ground for the Mabey Johnson.
Combat engineer, Sgt. Maj. James Reppond, of Pineville, La., explained that the near and far sides of the river needed huge amounts of dirt removed to level the ground to emplace the bridge.
"[We have to] build an area identically, same elevation, same size, same everything where the actual bridge will go on both sides of the river," said Reppond.
By early morning, heavy equipment operators, surveyors, combat engineers, maintenance personnel and a security detail are on site working in full protective gear to finish the project on time. Most nights do not end until close to sundown.
Heavy equipment operator, Sgt. Thomas Pearson, of Spokane, Wa., 277th Eng. Co., said high motivation is what gets the Soldiers through the long, hot, tiring days.
"Our work ethic means we will never miss a deadline," Pearson said. "If you treat your Soldiers the right way, it gives them the right motivation to succeed, no matter what the cost."
On the west side of the river, an area 14-by-94 foot wide had to be cut and dirt removed in preparation for the bridge; on the east side, another 8-by-100 foot wide must be removed. The dirt was then used to make a road from the current access road to the new bridge. A boat ramp also had to be made in order for the boats to be launched and bridge pieces to be built and launched.
Compaction of the soil to support the bridge is the next step.
"Whenever we get ready to compact the soil, if you wet it before you run your compactor over it, it will bind together and set up and be more stable," Reppond explained.
Sgt. Adam Deluna, of San Antonio, Texas, is in charge of the dirt-moving portion of the project. He said the Army engineer surveyors have the difficult task of carrying equipment back and forth across the river.
"It's a tough job, bouncing around to give cut and fill grades, then coming back [to check again]," Deluna said. "The numbers are changing constantly."
This is Deluna's second deployment. On the first deployment, he completed a project similar to the one he is supervising now, just further down the Tigris.
"This is my second time to have fun by the river," Deluna said with a smile. "Anytime we get to do a big project we have fun. We've been waiting on this project for over a month!"
The depth and speed of the river's current, coupled with the nearly 20 foot drop off raised eyebrows when the engineers began the project. But their professionalism and skill has so far kept the Soldiers safe as they work on the banks of the river.
"Were there concerns' Yes. Difficulties' No," Pearson said with pride. "The project is easy because we have young Soldiers that are motivated, enthusiastic, and want to see the finished product."
It is expected to take 12 days to complete the dirt work, and another 15 days for the 555th Eng. Bde. and Iraqi Army Engineers to install the actual bridge before it is ready for military vehicles to drive across.