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Oklahoma National Guard engineers lay foundation for smoother Marine convoys

6 Aug 2004 | Sgt. Matt Epright

Wearing desert camouflage instead of reflective orange and using armored humvees in place of traffic cones, National Guardsmen are repairing a rutted vital supply route Marines here rely on for survival.

The 120th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) is ripping out damaged sections of the road and replacing them with concrete patches, using materials bought by the 1st Force Service Support Group, which travels the route hauling supplies to Marines throughout western Iraq.

The dilapidated, single-lane road has been a bane of the 1st FSSG's truck drivers for months. Those who don't drive slow enough are forced to contend with problems ranging from blown-out tires to transmissions rattling loose. Yet, convoys that don't travel fast enough are more susceptible to attack by anti-Iraqi forces, said 1st Lt. Aaron T. Corbett, a platoon leader with the battalion and a 26-year-old Oklahoma City native.

Additionally, some of the torn up sections of pavement stretch across the entire roadway, making it easier for the bad guys to conceal makeshift explosives, or even tire-destroying "spike-strips," said Lt. Col. Bill Bartheld, 43, the battalion's commander and a native of Edmond, Okla.

The Oklahoma-based battalion, which directly supports the 1st FSSG based here, hopes their efforts will put a stop to some of these problems in Iraq's Al Anbar Province.

Almost the instant their vehicles roll up to one of the gouges, the guardsmen are out of their trucks and unstrapping the small tractors used to cut out straight-edged sections of the pavement and scour down far enough to give stability to the concrete they use, said Staff Sgt. Ralph T. Luttrell, 36, a squad leader with the battalion and native of Stuart, Okla.

After the troops clear out the old asphalt, they set in and secure wooden planks to keep the new concrete block, or "patch," the same width as the rest of the road and lay in metal screens to give the concrete something to bind to.

Then the guardsmen bring in one of two mixing trucks, which blend dry concrete, sand, gravel and water and pour the concoction into the prepared hole, where the engineers spread it evenly to form the patch.

When the concrete is poured and spread, some of the moisture from the mixture begins rising to the top. The guardsmen smooth and brush the surface to get rid of any excess water, before covering the patch with a plastic sheet to allow it to dry, or "cure," evenly.

"Normally it takes three days to cure, but we added calcium to it," said Staff Sgt. Johnny D. Hyslop, a section sergeant with the battalion.

The calcium acts as an accelerant, so that after only four hours, the concrete is solid, said Hyslop, a 47-year-old native of Quinton, Okla.

While a small team waits for the repaired section to dry and sets up warning markers to keep vehicles from driving over the patch, the rest of the guardsmen move to the next damaged portion, a short way down the road.

The troops are repairing about 500 square feet of damaged road per day, ensuring safer travel for the 1st FSSG convoys delivering supplies to units throughout the Al Anbar Province. They expect the task to take about a month to complete.
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