FORWARD OPERATING BASE ST. MERE, Iraq -- As the 1st Force Service Support Group settles into Iraq, its combat engineers here wasted no time fortifying the base from regular mortar attacks.
Arriving in Iraq March 14, 2004, a company from the 7th Engineer Support Battalion quickly noticed several safety concerns and no time taking steps to fix the problems that they found.
As the I Marine Expeditionary Force slowly began taking the reigns from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, issues of tattered walls and insufficient ammunition drop-off points prompted the battalion to begin work as soon as they arrived.
According to Chief Warrant Officer-2 Wayne D. Duree, 30, who commands Operations Platoon, A Company, 7th ESB, walls that existed prior to the Marine Corps' arrival in country provided inadequate protection against explosives such as mortars.
The concrete walls, which dated back to a time when St. Mere was an Iraqi military base, were missing entire sections. The crumbling maze of walls that remained surrounded various I Marine Expeditionary Force work and living spaces, and acted as little more than an eyesore to the Marines here.
Fulfilling one of the 1st FSSG's missions to provide engineering support to the I MEF, the company was tasked with patching the holes. Using sand-filled pillars designed to withstand the blast of a small explosion, the morning filled in the gaps before the conclusion of their fifth day in Iraq ended, said Duree.
In the near future, added Duree, the company plans to reinforce more than the gaps by adding protection to the walls themselves. Strengthening the walls should increase the likeliness that they could withstand the force of possible explosions.
In addition to bolstering the strength of the walls, A Company is working on constructing various other force protection enhancements.
Amnesty boxes, small containers located throughout the base intended as drop-off points for ammunition, were designated as being sub-par by the battalion's 1st Explosive Ordnance Disposal platoon.
According to Capt. Peter J. Mahoney, 31, assistant operations officer for Combat Service Support Group 11, when commands the battalion, the EOD specialists thought the boxes didn't offer sufficient protection against possible explosions.
To counter these problems, A Company surrounded them with the same barriers they used to repair the walls. The new design will force any explosives into detonating vertically rather than horizontally, reducing the risk of injury to surrounding people, said Duree.
The construction work doesn't come without the dangers of combat. While receiving some enemy mortar fire, the company also recently completed work on a large berm that will surround and provide protection to a yet-to-be leveled dirt lot intended to house tanks,
Lance Cpl. Paul G. Adams, 27, is one of the three heavy equipment operators who built the berm. A veteran of the I MEF's deployment to Iraq last year, he says the danger motivates him to work harder.
"If anything," he said of a mortar that exploded about 100 yards from him, "it helps because I want to get the job done faster."
The battalion doesn't plan to refurbish the buildings here, citing a lack of construction capabilities. But, they plan on escorting and monitoring the civilian contractors who are brought in to complete that task.
CSSG-11 oversees the operations of Combat Service Support Battalions 1 and 7 who will directly support the 1st Marine Division's Regimental Combat Teams 1 and 7.
The 1st FSSG will make up approximately a fifth of the 25,000 Marines and sailors under the command of I MEF deployed to western Iraq to conduct security and stability operations in order to facilitate the strengthening of the new Iraqi government.