Iraqis learn bridgebuilding techniques from Fort Leonard Wood's 50th MRBC
By: Capt. Vanessa Bowman/Army Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (July 16, 2009) — President John F. Kennedy once said, "There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction." Nearly 50 years later, the soldiers of Fort Leonard Wood's 50th Multi-Role Bridge Company embody these words by performing tasks previously untried by engineer bridge units in Iraq.
During the last six years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, United Stated Army Corps of Engineers, coalition and U.S. armed forces engineers have built and maintained the bridges that enable Iraqis to work toward leading normal lives.
When the 50th MRBC arrived in Iraq in December from Fort Leonard Wood, they faced a less-familiar war than their predecessors. Increased security and stability in the country enables the operational environment owners to center their focus on improving the strength of Iraqi security forces through partnerships. Because of this, the soldiers of the 50th MRBC knew they could not spend the next 12 months building bridges without also focusing on training the ISF as well.
In April 2009, a group of 20 Army engineers spent 10 days teaching construction and maintenance of Mabey and Johnson Bridge to Iraqi army soldiers from the 5th Iraqi Army Field Engineer Regiment. The two weeks of instruction culminated in a joint bridge repair. One month later, another group of soldiers from the 50th MRBC set out to teach more Iraqis, but this time near Tikrit with the 4th IA FER.
Led by Staff Sgt. Jason Peace, section sergeant for 2nd Section, 1st Platoon, 50th MRBC "Pirates" soldiers moved to Tikrit with two interpreters and three soldiers from the 5th IA FER who were educated during the first block of instruction.
"We taught them everything, from site layout, construction, and deconstruction," explained Peace. "Our goal is to teach them everything we know."
Fighting through the heat and several sand storms, IA soldiers constructed a 40-meter stretch of bridge within their joint compound.
"We gave them several classes and were hands on during the first days of the build. But near the end, the Iraqi officers and NCOs were in the lead of the operation," explained Sgt. Mootaz Al-Sultani, 50th MRBC.
During the course of constructing the bridge, soldiers from both armies shared opportunities to bond. Many 50th MRBC soldiers sat down to breakfast and lunch meals with their Iraqi counterparts each day. In addition to soldiers sharing meals, leaders from the 50th MRBC were invited to dine in the officers mess hall. Meals included rice, chicken, flat bread, and ended with tea and stories of bridges built in the United States and across Iraq. Many Iraqi officers were veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, and had many stories to tell about their experience building improvised bridges.
At another point in the training, the crane and hydraulic excavator, used to move extremely heavy steel I-beams called transoms, experienced mechanical trouble. Immediately, the operation became a hands-on mission.
"The IA were really driven and our soldiers were excited for the training too," explained Staff Sgt. Stephen Collier of the 50th MRBC. "We wouldn't let broken equipment stop work so we used all the soldiers on site, Iraqi and American, to move bridge pieces by hand. It was a great team building moment for the entire group out there."
Once the bridge was constructed, soldiers from both sides celebrated the accomplishment by proving the bridge's strength by driving the heaviest vehicle available over it, a practice called "proofing the bridge." They then gathered together for photos before taking the training bridge apart.
Training with the soldiers from the 4th IA FER culminated in a joint mission to the Al Fatah Bridge. Once on site, IA officers and leaders from the 50th MRBC inspected the bridge for any deficiencies.
"We allowed the IA to identify what was wrong with the bridge and fix it," explained 2nd Lt. John Cook, a 50th MRBC platoon leader. "IA soldiers performed the routine repairs American soldiers do and replaced some broken pieces of deck on the bridge."
The 50th MRBC plans to continue their partnership with the 4th and 5th IA Field Engineer Regiments. By including Iraqis during missions, they hope to prepare them to successfully maintain their own bridges and eventually their own bridge unit.