CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Marine Corps and Army engineers finished construction of a barrier around much of Fallujah April 15, 2004, which blocks off the majority of pathways leading into or out of the city, and is expected to deter insurgents from bringing in weapons and gear.
Fallujah, a hotbed for insurgent activity, is the focus of I Marine Expeditionary Force's Operation Vigilant Resolve, launched April 4 to re-establish security in the city and to account for the March 31 murders of four U.S. civilians.
Built on the north and south sides of the city, the 5-foot high berms stretch 2 1/2 miles each.
The 7th Engineer Support Battalion's A company worked in conjunction with members of the Army's 120th Engineer Battalion to build the northern half of the berm, supporting the 1st Marine Division, which is manning the boundaries of the city.
Division engineers also completed a similar barricade on the southern side of Fallujah.
Since their defensive positions are limited by the flat landscape, the Division asked CSSB-1 to construct a barrier that would provide cover from enemy fire and also limit the enemy's access to the city.
"They had set up positions behind natural obstacles," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Wayne D. Duree, 30, platoon commander for the company, who led the building effort on the northern side of the city. "This gave them a few more options about where they could move."
The battalions didn't have sufficient manpower to observe the entire perimeter, which enabled anti-coalition troops to enter the city through man-made paths and even tunnels built into an old railroad station that could not be monitored.
Intentionally made short enough to see over, the berms are not intended to serve as a wall that will stop all people traveling by foot. Instead, it simply elevates everyone above the horizon, sky-lighting their silhouette, so Marines can identify them. Yet, it is high enough to block all vehicle traffic.
"Vehicle traffic is how they bring in supplies; they aren't taking the main roads," said Duree, a Houston native. "This deters reinforcements. They're going to have to work for it."
The engineers worked from dawn until dusk for three days, as they piled dirt on ground riddled with natural depressions as large as 20-feet wide and 5-feet deep. The engineers opted to navigate around them to prevent an accident from happening with the heavy bulldozers.
"We had to go around the depressions and work with the landscape," said Duree. "So the berm isn't straight."
Working close to the fertile soil of the Euphrates River brought with it yet another challenge. Had the heavy equipment been brought into some of the muddier areas around the city, it would have sunk and been rendered immobile. Consequently, in those areas, barbed-wire fencing was erected instead.
Under constant threat of enemy attack, the company provided their own security during construction, having humvees loaded with Marines and heavy-machine guns move with the dozers as the northern berm was built.
Despite an ongoing cease-fire in the city during a series of recent peace talks, the Marines endured small-arms fire from insurgents on the first day of the operation. The Marines and soldiers quickly suppressed the assault and encountered no other threat for the duration of the construction. In fact, Duree said, they saw quite the opposite.
In some places along the berm, the atmosphere was friendly. Children came out of their homes and waved to the toiling troops.
Working under the direction of the 1st Force Service Support Group's Combat Service Support Battalion 1, the engineer battalion assists in accomplishing CSSB-1's six-sided mission to aid ground troops in Fallujah during the operation. Providing Division Marines with supplies, maintenance, transportation, engineering, health services and general support, CSSB-1's troops are always on call to help.