Saturday, January 31, 2009

No One Does It Better

On my last deployment, I was part of an Air Force Civil Engineer detachment attached to the Army. We got all our orders as far as what work we were going to do and where we are going to do it from the Army, but we got our orders as to which uniform we were to where and how we were to where it, and everything other than the actual work we did from the Air Force.
No, we were attached to an Army Engineer Brigade, our construction capabilities far exceeded the Army's. They didn't exactly have a whole lot of time to devote to improving their construction abilities while they were there though, they weren't lazy, its just the the construction portion of their job took a back seat to their road clearance missions. Believe me, I'd rather they stick to the road clearance missions, that way I am more likely to have a safer convoy to my next job site. They were our rides, they were our leaders should it actually come to combat, and they were serious about keeping us safe by keeping the roads as clear of IEDs as they could. I have nothing but respect for the Engineer Brigade we actually worked for, and for all the other units we actually built things for.
I don't know how they handled 15 month deployments. I was at my wits end at the end of my 4th month, and I was lucky enough not to be directly involved in any actual combat. Oh, I had my share of rocket and mortar attacks while I was on the base at Balad, and we even had a few IED scares, but I didn't actually have to duck from enemy fire or return fire. So I'll call my deployment smooth and lucky. I've seen the remains of vehicles after they've been hit with those IEDs, and its not a pretty site.
Be extremely grateful that we are fighting them over there instead of having to worry about IEDs on the roads here in America. I couldn't imagine how terrible it would be to have one of these things go off on a school bus on some highway, or even in a residential area, because these bad guys over there really don't care who gets hurt by these things.
Anyway, back to my original point. During the 6 months I was in Iraq, we built more than 40 facilities, and given the proper care and maintenance, they can last for ten years or more. We built office space, living quarters, bathrooms, communal showers with individual stalls, kitchens, guard towers, guard shacks, we poured concrete and improved defenses at entry control points, built fences and gates, improved levies to protect local farms from flooding along the canals and allowed for better irrigation of their crop fields, and built storage facilities for over $800,000 worth of parts and equipment so that the next rotation would have everything they needed to hit the ground running. We convoyed over 1200 miles, and work in an area covering more than 2000 square miles of battle space.
When I say that no one does it better, I mean it. Here at home it took a contractor over 18 months to build a department store and a parking lot, and it took another contractor more than 14 months to remodel a grocery store and parking lot and they still aren't done. In a 6 months time period, we got more construction done than they did combined, and we had about half the people working on it. We also had to deal with all the issues that go along with supply and demand in a combat zone, and in an area that was extremely susceptible to dust storms that would literally shut you down, where you couldn't see more than 5 feet in front of your truck, even lighting didn't help. The Army personnel we came in contact with were amazed at what we did, how fast we did it, and the quality of the product we left for them. We built one base from the ground up over a 2 and a half month period. 9 bathroom/showers, and over 20 other buildings for command and control, living quarters, recreation areas, a small gym, a PX (that's post exchange, which is the military version of a department store), a kitchen and cafeteria (otherwise called a chow hall), guard stations and towers, complete with bullet proof glass, and more. We started with a flat piece of dirt real estate, and when we left, they had a well to provide them with fresh water, a huge septic tank and a contract to have it emptied regularly, running water, heated water, air conditioning, heaters, an electrical grid with additional room for expansion, and all done in a 2 and a half month time period. We bedded down more than 100 Army personnel there, and that doesn't even start to count the Iraqi Army and police personnel, or the other allied nation troops that were there, or the civilian contractors that are getting 4 and 5 times my annual pay to work a heck of a lot less than I did.
You won't find a better construction organization than the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineers. Am I proud of what I did? Hell yes! Am I glad I did it and would I volunteer to do it again? Hell Yes! Did I make a difference and make a measurable contribution to the war effort in Iraq? Hell Yes! I helped improve the quality of life for over 2000 U.S. and allied nation personnel. I made the battle space for the units I did work for a safer, more comfortable place to be stuck. I made it possible for American personnel to consolidate and turn over part of the battle space to the Iraqis, minimizing our footprint there and preparing the way for our troops to come back home.
I talked to some of the Iraqis, I saw the looks on their faces, and I gave Gatorade and cookies and other treats to the children there. By and large, they are glad we came to Iraq. They are a free people now, and while things are by no means safe, they are safer than they were before we went there. If you don't believe me, just ask the 200,000 plus Kurds that Saddam killed with his chemical weapons. We didn't find any WMDs there, but we know he used them on his own people. There is a lot of desert over there, and there is no way we can search it all, dig it all up, and eliminate and and all possible hiding places for any WMDs that may have been there. I can't prove that there were any there, but no one can prove that there weren't any there either. It wouldn't take long for a dozen men to take an excavator, a bulldozer, and a dump truck full of canisters of chemical and biological weaponry and bury them in the desert. There is a LOT of space out there, so no, you can't prove that that didn't happen.
Sleep better at night knowing that we, the American Soldier, Airman, Sailor, and Marine are at our posts. We are watching over you, we are protecting you, and we are constantly vigilant. I'm sorry for the few pot shots that make it past us, but be assured that without us standing on this wall, ship, flight line, or ditch, there would be a lot more dead and dying people here at home. Then there is the very real probability that there wouldn't even be a country called the United States of America either. We are your sword, and we are your shield.
I say again, "No one does it better." Yes, I'm proud of what I do.

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