By Spc. Andrew Ingram, U.S. Division-North Public AffairsFebruary 8, 2011
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq -- Soldiers of 299th Engineer Company, 724th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade dismantled an Improvised Rafting Bridge on Tigris River near Sharqat, Iraq, Jan. 23.
The same morning a new permanent bridge, built by Iraqi hands, opened approximately one mile upriver to traffic for the first time.
"This is the end of a long process that has been going on since 2008," said Capt. Michael Lay, commander 299th Eng. Company, 724th Eng. Bn., 36th Eng. Bde. "This weekend full traffic will flow across the civilian bridge for the first time."
Lay explained prior to U.S. forces emplacing the Improvised Rafting Bridge, citizens of Sharqat used a ferry to cross the river.
Dismantling the Improvised Rafting Bridge the same day a new permanent Iraqi-built bridge officially opened for citizens in the area, symbolizes the Iraqi people's growing self-reliance, Lay said.
Haji Mustapha, an Iraqi civil engineer responsible for the new Sharqat Bridge, said he is grateful to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for providing the money and resources to complete a project that will benefit so many people in the area.
"This bridge is beautiful and will serve this area well," said Mustapha. "More than 100,000 people live around Sharqat, and will use this bridge often."
The Sharqat Bridge also provides the quickest route for traffic traveling between the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, Mustapha added.
Mustapha said while he is grateful to U.S. Forces for allowing Iraqi civilians to use the temporary bridge, he is proud that the people of the Sharqat have a permanent Iraqi-built bridge to call their own.
U.S. Army engineers worked diligently during the past two years to maintain the Improvised Rafting Bridge, originally intended to facilitate six months of continuous traffic, said Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Hall, platoon sergeant, 299th Eng. Company.
"We've been maintaining this bridge for several months," Hall explained. "We have repaired holes and cleaned out all of the connecting pieces and tested it to ensure the pieces would not fall apart."
Spc. Michael Spragg, bridge crewmember, 299th Eng. Company, said the hours spent maintaining the bridge in the past made disassembling it much simpler than anyone anticipated.
"This operation is going really fast," said Spragg. "Our leadership estimated it could take us 24 hours to finish the job, and we have been here for four hours and already have the whole bridge taken apart with a lot of bays already out of the water."
Spragg and Soldiers of 299th Eng. Company unhinged each section of the Improvised Rafting Bridge by unscrewing two bolts at both sides of each bay.
After cutting the steel cable anchoring the bays to the riverbed, M2K Combat Bridge Boats guided each piece to shore where Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks lifted the collapsible bays out of the water.
The 299th Eng. Company, 724th Eng. Bn., is a U.S. Army National Guard unit stationed at Chippewa Falls, Wis., currently attached to the 36th Eng. Bde., and deployed to northern Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn.