The Louisiana Army National Guard has deployed a 380-foot, boat-powered floating bridge to the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to assist authorities working to contain the oil spill, service officials said.

The Improved Ribbon Bridge (IRB) -- which was used by U.S. forces to cross the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers during the 2003 invasion of Iraq -- is designed to function as a bridge or floating water raft propelled by boats.

The IRB -- from the 2225th Multi-Role Bridging Company (MRBC), 205th Engineer battalion of Louisiana National Guard -- along with numerous MKIIR Bridge Erection boats (BEBs) are now floating in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana coastline, in an effort to help contain the oil.

"The IRB is very mobile. In this case the bridge is being used as a work platform carrying anything from cranes to oil booms. The oil booms are intended to prevent oil from hitting the shoreline," said David Marck, product manager for Bridging.

The equipment is part of the Army's Project Manager for Force Projection, Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support, a division of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

"Because of the relationship PM Bridging has built and sustained with the Louisiana National Guard during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, they knew who to call," said Pat Plotkowski, project manager for Force Projection.

The floating raft -- which can hold up to 140 tons of gear -- is propelled and maneuvered by BEBs positioned on either side.

"These boats are designed to go in normal water and this is the first time we have operated them in sea water as well as oil," said Don Paskulovich, deputy product manager for Bridging.

The oil will gum up some of the engine but not as badly as some might think because the engine burns the oil as well as the fuel itself.

In order to keep the engines clean and free from oil build-up, engineers are using a special chemical "flushing" technique to clean oil out of the engine. "A cooling system sucks the water from underneath the boat and uses it to cool the engine," said Marck.

"This 'super' flush technique allows us to eliminate the oil in the engine compartment," added Paskulovich.

PM Bridging is responsible for engineering, producing, fielding, logistical support and modernization of the Army's Assault and Tactical bridging product lines. During the current mission, PM Bridging continues to provide equipment, spare parts and technical assistance to the 2225th MRBC.

They will also continue to team with other Army organizations, including the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, and personnel to provide rapid and ongoing assistant for oil spill relief efforts and equipment employment.