By Tony Mussi, 402nd AFSBJune 19, 2011
VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq -- For the past several years, security barriers have been used as protection for U.S. troops and civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. These barriers have ranged from the tried and true sandbags to HESCO barriers and now to T-walls.
Sandbags, the initial form of protection, are canvas sacks filled with sand which are then piled as high as needed for protection. HESCO barriers are large canvas structures with wire frames that are stood on end then filled with sand or dirt. Although T-walls are more expensive they offer more protection than sandbags and HESCOs as the concrete can better withstand and deflect the current weapon of choice for the terrorists, the 107MM rocket. Most T-walls, reinforced with rebar, stand 12 feet tall, are 9 inches thick, weigh more than 6 tons.
T-walls are the “cement sentinels” that stand on guard 24/7 around our bases. Placed strategically around entire complexes these “cement sentinels” protect our troops and other personnel from bomb blasts and sniper attacks. They surround the base camp as well as individual buildings within each camp such as containerized housing units, office buildings, shops, gyms, and dining facilities.
Although they offer protection, they are often symbolic of a unit’s deployment. T-walls have become a medium to display unit “esprit-de-corps.” Many units paint the T-walls with their corps colors, mottos, mascots, and murals. Many of the murals painted on the T-walls show the pride Soldiers have in their unit. Many Soldiers reflect on previous deployments when viewing the murals as they travel along different routes in theatre. So prevalent are T-walls, that miniature T-walls are routinely presented as going away gifts to remind all of the surroundings.
HESCO Barriers are portable, easy to erect, and you just add sand or dirt. HESCOs are well liked by Soldiers, since they are filled by machines and not with shovels.
Most of the early concrete structures were about three to five feet tall (Jersey Barriers) and built with large horizontal bases. They filled many purposes, mostly to prevent vehicles from getting close to buildings, but they were far from perfect, and they weren’t ideal when it came to force protection. The military decided they wanted taller vertical concrete structures to protect as blast walls and obscure vision from potential snipers. These new structures called Texas barriers or “T-Walls” reached upwards of 12 to 18 feet or more in height. Some of the tallest reach 24 feet.
At some point T-walls outlive their utility. They are difficult to move and recycle, requiring large machinery. HESCO barriers are easy to remove; just dump the sand and then send the barrier frame to be recycled. T-walls, however, are a different problem. They require forklifts, cranes, and large trucks to be moved.
T-walls of the larger variety have become symbols of life in Iraq, but even with the trend towards larger T-walls, there are still several variations of shapes and sizes around Iraq.
Many Soldiers and civilians have taken to decorating them. Some of the drawings are basic, but most are elaborate and painstakingly well-done. It is a well known pastime to walk the long line of barriers to take a picture of each one. At the Baghdad International Airport there is a row painted with the state flag of each of the 50 states, and signed by Soldiers and civilians from all across the United States.