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In an effort to smooth out a pot hole that was recently filled, Sgt. Shawn Peterson, a 27-year-old native of Missoula, Mont., shovels dirt during a route repair mission May 25, 2006. The threat of improvised explosive devices is one of the main reasons the Marines conduct route repairs. Not only are they a hazard to military convoys, but the craters created when an IED explodes provides insurgents with a hiding spot to place future devices. The roads Charlie Company, commonly referred to as ?Hell-Bent Charlie? and part of Combat Logistics Battalion 5 based at Camp Fallujah, work on are often traveled by Iraqi citizens, but are also used by American service members and Iraqi Security Forces.

Photo by Cpl. Stephen Holt

Marine combat engineers repair Iraq's roadways

31 May 2006 | Cpl. Stephen Holt

The sound of a cement mixer breaks up the darkness on a lone Iraqi road near the city of Fallujah. Marines are working in what is known as "black out" condition - no light other than the moon and the occasional glimmer of a flashlight. It's 6 a.m. on May 24, and the lazing Iraqi sun will soon be rising.

This is the time many Americans get up for work, but for the combat engineers of Charlie Company, they've already put in an eight-hour day.

The Marines of Charlie Company, commonly referred to as "Hell-Bent Charlie," of Combat Logistics Battalion 5, are hard at work repairing the roads that intersect the city and countryside of Fallujah.

Repairing the streets of Iraq isn't quite like repaving a road in the United States. Instead of fluorescent orange vests and hardhats road workers wear in the States, Marine engineers carry rifles with optic sights, and wear combat gear consisting of a protective vest, helmet and ammunition for a combined weight of over 50 pounds.

The roads these Marines work on are traveled by Iraqi citizens, along with coalition and Iraqi Security Forces and are constantly damaged by roadside bomb attacks.

Fixing them is crucial to the movement of supplies and troops in the area, said Maj. Steven R. Svendsen, the executive officer of CLB-5 and 40-year-old native of Beaman, Iowa. The work done by the Marines is also helping rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure, he said.

The night repair mission begins right after dusk with a quick meeting entailing the mission and latest intelligence findings. Last minute gear checks are conducted before they leave the security of Camp Fallujah where they're based.

"Hell Bent Charlie" goes straight to work quickly filling two holes as soon as they leave the confines of the base.

Not much longer afterwards they encounter the very threat they are trying to fight - an improvised explosive device, commonly called IEDs. The engineers set up security and call the explosive ordinance disposal team. The potentially deadly device is neutralized in minutes and the Marine road workers press on.

These road-side bombs are a favored weapon used by the enemy to wreak havoc on coalition forces. The threat of IEDs is one of the main reasons these Marines are on the road.

"A lot of (the roads) have fallen into disrepair over the years; (they are) a perfect place for an insurgent to put an IED," said 1st Lt. Edward J. Walsh, a 26-year-old native of Melrose, Mass.

Sometimes craters from IEDs are used multiple times making the work to fill these dangerous potholes very important, explained Walsh.

For the craters to be repaved efficiently, the Marines must work together while performing individual tasks. Different teams of engineers have specific jobs and responsibilities that fit into the overall route repair process.        

While conducting the repairs separate teams are tasked to provide security, survey the crater to make sure it is safe to repair, and conduct the actual repair, said Sgt. Shawn Peterson, a 27-year-old native of Missoula, Mont.

The Marines have to work fast to avoid being a target of insurgents and still perform their job with precision. Many of these missions have been subject to deadly sniper and mortar attacks.       

Surveying is the first step to repairing the road. Many factors must be calculated to properly repair a crater.

"We have to account for the size of the hole, depth of the hole and how long we're going to be on site," said Peterson.     

For a crater to be filled properly, dirt is molded into a foundation, then cement is poured in, said SSgt. Jose R. Miranda, a 26-year-old from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

After smoothing off the top of the quick-drying road patch their off in search of more roads in need.

Working with hundreds of pounds of concrete mix and dirt - in temperatures well above 100 degrees during the day - is a physically demanding job for these Marines. The results of their efforts are evident to the engineers every time a convoy rides a road made safer by their work.

Riding in the back of a vehicle on a freshly repaired road in Iraq, his uniform splattered with dried concrete mix, Lance Cpl. Joshua I. Hamptonhanshaw, looked content.

"It's nice seeing the results of what I'm doing," said the 21-year-old native of Phoenix, Ariz.

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