By By Maj. Alan S. Brown, 3rd BCT, 4th Inf Div PAOJune 30, 2010
During an age when contractors provide a majority of support and sustainment functions on bases throughout Iraq, Soldiers seldom have to worry about fixing the air conditioner in their quarters, ensure the latrines are in working order, or make force protection improvements around the base, but at Contingency Operating Station GarryOwen in Maysan Province, Soldiers' power still reigns supreme.
Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division conduct the daily missions that enable the rest of the Soldiers and civilians at the base to live and work in a safe and comfortable environment.
The Soldiers of the 'Fighting Eagle' Battalion are responsible for many critical tasks and functions often handled by civilian contractors at other bases in Iraq. Given the remote location of COS Garry Owen, contractor support is much harder to come by, said Capt. Bob Stone, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Regt.
Responsible for the GarryOwen Mayor's Cell, , the Soldiers are responsible for everything from tent maintenance, air conditioner repair and replacement, plumbing and electrical maintenance, and latrine upkeep.
Stone likens his unit's job as running a hotel for 1200 people, as his team keeps records of who lives in what areas and provides services for all of the 'guests.'
Spc. Tim Goins of Detroit receives and processes maintenance work orders, ensuring the right person is assigned to fix whatever problem may arise, whether it is a broken A/C unit, a plumbing glitch in a shower trailer, or an electrical problem in a living tent.
The infantryman said his desk job is certainly not what he's used to. Instead of going out on daily missions for a couple hours each day, he is now consumed with juggling the different demands of supporting all of his fellow Soldiers.
Still, Stone said his Soldiers have adapted very well to their new jobs and have quickly become vital to making sure everything within the living areas runs smoothly.
According Sgt. 1st Class Michael Tanner of Johnson City, Tenn., his Soldiers enjoy their work because they get to see tangible results every day, even though much of what they do seldom gets recognized.
"Most of them enjoy it. They like getting out, doing hands-on work. They know they're helping out their fellow Soldiers," he said.
Spc. Jason Staff of Boulder, Colo., has the task of supervising a team of Iraqis that provide cleaning services across the base. Despite the lack of glamour, Staff said he likes his job and enjoys seeing the daily progress.
"I thought I was going to be sitting behind a desk [this tour]. This is a lot better," he said. "I have a good group of guys, so that makes it a lot easier."
Like many Soldiers in the battalion, Tanner has always been assigned to a line unit, going out on patrols every day. Until this tour, he said, he never knew how much work and coordination went into running a forward operating base, a challenging endeavor with many moving parts.
"It's been a learning experience for me," he said. "What should be easy can turn into a monster."
The battalion also has the responsibility of making force protection upgrades across its base. This task primarily involves emplacing 15,000-pound, concrete T-wall barriers and bunkers. The process is ongoing, as COS Garry Owen has received over 300 T-wall barriers in the last six weeks. The barriers and bunkers come in from other bases that are closing.
Once the T-walls arrive, 1st Sgt. Henry Chapman of Augusta, Ga., supervises their careful placement using a 20,000-pound crane he calls the workhorse of the base. Soldiers must rig up each barrier with chains so it can be lifted into place.
While the crane does the heavy work, the Soldiers find themselves alongside the giant slabs, maneuvering them into position.
"They go to the gym 12-hours a day, if you think of it," said Chapman. "They've left their mark on COS Garry Owen."
Recently, his team of about five Soldiers worked for three straight days from sun-up to sundown, placing over 120 T-wall barriers around the new dining facility, providing a critical force protection measure before it was allowed to open.
"We've done a lot of noticeable work here on COS Garry Owen," said Spc. Tim Weber of Gatesville, Texas.
Pfc. Richard Bales, from Nampa, Idaho, enjoys the fact he's learned how to drive several large construction machines, something he never thought he'd do in Iraq. He never had any experience on large equipment before arriving at COS Garry Owen, and since his arrival, he's been licensed in operating a bulldozer, front-end loader, and driving the 20,000-pound crane from one work site to the next.
Chapman says his team sees its job as one huge enabler, allowing the rest of the task force to execute its advise and assist mission with Iraqi Security Forces.
"When it's all said and done, they feel like they're members of a team," he said. "They know whatever they built today is going to make life better for everyone else."