CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - Just days after a major precision air strike in southern Arab Jabour to root out al-Qaeda in Iraq, combat engineers traversed the battlefield, arriving in the area to construct Multi-National Division - Center's newest combat outpost.

Soldiers with 535th Equipment Support Company, 479th Engineer Battalion convoyed from Camp Stryker, Baghdad, 15 miles southwest to Zambraniyah in southern Arab Jabour to begin construction on Combat Outpost Meade Jan 15. Coalition Forces hit more than 40 AQI targets in an air strike Jan. 10 to secure the area in support of Operation Marne Thunderbolt.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commanding general of MND-C, visited the area Jan. 16, stopping at COP Meade, Patrol Base 2 and a former al-Qaeda safehouse, captured and converted to a Coalition Forces observation point.

"I just want to tell you I'm proud to be here with you," said Lynch to the combat engineers gathered around him at COP Meade." You all have had more impact than you'll ever know ... The whole world is turning right here right now at Combat Outpost Meade. We'll fight the Global War on Terrorism here so we won't have to fight it back home."

After rallying the troops, Lynch handed out commemorative Task Force Marne pocket knives and his personal coins.

On site for less than two days, the engineers had already graded the ground and a significant proportion of the outer wall was completed. Soldiers constructed the wall with Hesco barriers - wire-framed, fabric-lined containers filled with dirt.

Pfc. Charles Brosnahan, from Granton, Wis., explained his unit's mission.
"We're just trying to build up a spot so the infantry can come in, clean house and keep their sweep going to push the terrorists further away," he said. "(Soldiers) can't do that without a place to live, so we come out here first and build it up."

COP Meade is being cut out of an empty field in the vast rural community. Surrounding land is relatively flat with a spattering of date palm trees and dry shrubs. Homes are spread out over a checkerboard of colorless, sandy fields and thriving green farmland.

Abrams tanks from 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, attached to 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment and Bradley vehicles from 6-8 Cav. Regt., attached to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, stood guard around the perimeter of the new base. In what is known as "terrain denial fire," 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Inf. Div., Kiowa helicopters fired munitions in the distance at passages leading into the area. The overall scene sent a strong message to any lurking AQI elements that coming back was an impossible proposition.

The terrain denial fire blasts occurred several times per hour; though startling at first, the blasts blended into the din of heavy equipment construction as the day wore on. The combat engineers went steadily about their work, unfazed by their job shaping land so close to frontline fighting just days before.

The 535th was joined at COP Meade by Soldiers of Company C, 864th Engineering Battalion. While the 535th got a head start on horizontal engineering - working the land - the 8-64th will be responsible for vertical engineering - building the structures.

The new base is scheduled for completion by mid-February, said Master Sgt. Joe Constante, from Kerrville, Texas, division engineer noncommissioned officer in charge. MND-C has built 16 bases since March 2007.

Spc. Richard Kunard, from El Paso, Texas, a combat engineer with the 535th, echoed Brosnahan's remarks on the purpose of COP Meade.

"Ultimately it will push the insurgents out of this area," he said. "If they have no place to stay, they're always going to be moving, and it will be easier for us to pick them off or locate them and deter any further attacks."

(Sgt. Michael Connors serves with Multi-National Division - Center Public Affairs.)