AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Marine engineers are close to completing a gift for Iraqi soldiers here.
At 50 feet long, 60 feet wide and enough room to park three humvees, the construction of a maintenance garage for the Iraqi Army’s 8th Motor Transportation Regiment is another small step for the fledgling Iraqi army to operate independently, said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Kennedy.
With the summer months rapidly approaching, the thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops based at this remote air station in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province will soon have another enemy besides terrorists to contend with.
Temperatures will soon rise to the 120-degree mark. Tack on protective equipment such as Kevlar helmets and body armor with heavy, bullet-proof ceramic plates and daily operations can be less than hospitable.
To help Iraqi mechanics beat the heat, Marine engineers are constructing this three-bay maintenance facility to keep the Iraqis out of the sun and harsh weather common to this region of Iraq.
The 8th MTR received two dozen humvees from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense last month after completing a month-long maintenance and driving course with U.S. Marines. Thanks to Marine engineers from Combat Logistics Battalion 7 they will now have a place to keep the Iraqi mechanics out of the brunt of the summer’s harsh conditions.
The Marines’ efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by their Iraqi counterparts, said Ali Waheed, a warrant officer for the 8th MTR. The soldiers realize the improved facility is one more step toward their ability to conduct their own independent operations, he said.
Currently, the Iraqi soldiers repair their vehicles in either a one-truck tent, or more often, outside with no protection at all from the sun, sand and wind, which combine to create an uncomfortable and unforgiving work environment.
For Ali and the other Iraqi soldiers, the Marines have proven their sincerity through their hard work and kindness. To them, the Americans are the epitome of ‘friend,’ he said with gratitude evident in his voice.
The construction of the facility, expected to be complete in a few weeks, holds a unique importance for the combat engineers, said several members of the team handling the project.
By constructing the facility, the Marines are directly assisting the overall mission of the multi-national forces in Iraq, said Kennedy, a native of Diabol, Texas.
There is a higher sense of accomplishment whenever a completed project helps the Iraqis operate independent of American support, Kennedy added.
With little more than plywood, nails and concrete the Marines are creating something tangible for the Iraqis – a fundamental structure for the mechanics to accomplish their mission.
“The big picture is helping (the Iraqi Security Forces) become stable. Even a little project like this helps them out a lot,” said Cpl. Scott Shoptaw, a 20-year-old native of Cabot, Ark.
Although the Iraqis have their own unique culture and their own way of doing things, in the end both units desire the same goal, said Kennedy, 19.
“Once the sweat starts pouring, everybody starts to be one team,” he said, speaking in reference to the joint efforts to create an independent Iraqi Security Force.
While they may not be hammering any nails or sawing any wood like the Marine engineers, the Iraqis continue to conduct daily operations as they await the facility, their appreciation evident. Often, in the midst of the Marines working, the Iraqis will offer them chai tea, a sign of trust and friendship.
Other projects the Marine engineers have assisted the ISF with include building pull-up and dip bars to provide the soldiers with a basic means of staying in shape for battle and rewiring the electricity in 8th MTR’s headquarters building, said Sgt. Neil A. Wood, who is overseeing the current project.
Every project the CLB-7 engineers complete for the Iraqis, large or small, is a testament to the help given to a country struggling for independence from terror, said Wood, a 30-year-old native of Dallas, Texas.
“We’re proud to put our name on this,” said Wood, looking out over his Marines as they continued working on the structure.