Troop Fortification

BARRIERS SUIT BAGHDAD’S AIRMEN TO A At Baghdad International Airport’s Victory Base Complex (VBC) in Iraq, a simple concrete slab can make the difference


At Baghdad International Airport’s Victory Base Complex (VBC) in Iraq, a simple concrete slab can make the difference between life and death. Serving as a constant reminder of insurgent hostilities in the vicinity are ubiquitous concrete walls.

The barriers, more than 12 inches thick, are reinforced with rebar to block exploding rocket fragments. Two types, both 12 feet high, are used in the area: the 6-ft.-wide Alaskan barrier weighs approximately eight tons; and, the five-ton ÎTÌ barrier measures four and a half feet wide. The cost varies between $580 and $700 each.

Heavy Equipment team supervisor for the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, Master Sgt. Randy Walls of Charleston, W.V., emphasizes that the walls don’t erect themselves. Since mid-May, he reports, a 12-man team has placed nearly 1,000 ÎTÌ barriers on Sather Air Base. We’ve put these walls up in Ops town, the fuel yard, and in the new trailer area, says Sergeant Walls, and more jobs are waiting.

Presently, to fortify the area of Detachment 3, 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, the team is erecting 496 barriers. That number is only a fraction of the total 3,000 barriers the Dirt Boys plan to stand up during their rotation, notes First Lt. Stephen Bucy, 447th ECES Operations Flight chief. These barriers are necessary, the lieutenant asserts, because they are the first layer of defense from incoming mortars and rockets.

ÎTÌ barriers are produced within the VBC at multiple concrete plants. While fabricating the barriers isn’t difficult, contends Ted McAuslan, spokesman for Sigma Group International plant, limitations do exist with respect to the number of molds and curing time.

Acquiring the number of members needed isn’t easy, observes Lieutenant Bucy. The Heavy Equipment team is making ÎTÌ barriers a priority over all jobs, he explains, and this means the barriers are in high demand. Highlighting the barriers’ essential function, he continues, Bunkers are nice, but most of the time we get no notice before attacks and no time to run to a bunker. In Baghdad, reports indicate, attacks typically are more like harassment: they average between three to five rockets launched simultaneously and last no more than a few seconds. Consequently, leadership intends to fortify work areas with the ÎTÌ barrier.

Our guys understand the reality of the situation, says Lieutenant Bucy, so they’re rushing to put up barriers as fast as they can. Yet, no small amount of effort is required to place the five-ton components. Though a crane does most of the lifting, a couple of spotters on the ground must handle the barriers, directing them into position.

You can push your guts out trying to maneuver these things, says Tech. Sgt. Scott Hamrick, 447th ECES pavement specialist. They interlock like a puzzle. Putting them together requires constant physical effort. Moreover, adds Sergeant Walls, erecting the barriers involves a necessary risk. One gust of wind can swing a crane-suspended barrier against the side of a building, crushing the spotter.

According to Lt. Col. Michael Nester, 447th ECES commander, the Defense Department has requested production of more than 200,000 barriers this year due to the surge in violent attacks. VBC and all its venders have the capacity to make about 10,000 per month, he notes. Although Sather will only use a small fraction of that, the Dirt Boys have invested the majority of their time to stand them up Û a testament to their dedication to other Airmen and Iraq, affirms Sgt. Hamrick.