‘SeaBees’ repair runway at logistics ‘hub’

10 Dec 2006 | Lance Cpl. Ben Eberle 1st Marine Logistics Group

Camp Taqaddum is considered the logistics “hub” of Iraq due to its existing infrastructure and proximity to major supply routes, but the base’s single runway has presented somewhat of a logistical challenge.

Navy construction workers, or “SeaBees,” and Marine combat engineers have responded by repairing 10 miles of concrete on Camp Taqaddum’s flight line. They plan to have both base runways operational by Feb. 1, 2007.

“It’s the largest SeaBee project in Iraq,” said Chief Petty Officer Anthony Chance, operations manager for Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74, 3rd Naval Construction Regiment, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

Many factors have contributed to the runway damage, including American ordnance.

Allied forces initially attacked Al Taqaddum air base in January 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. They struck again at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, crippling Saddam Hussein’s logistical and offensive capabilities through precision air strikes on the airfield.

Since the coalition takeover in 2003, indirect fire from insurgents and heavy air traffic going through the base has resulted in more damage, said Chance, a 41-year-old from Long Beach, Miss.

Inferior construction is also contributing to the airfield’s gradual deterioration. Chance said European contractors used low-grade concrete when they built the runways in 1985.

Regardless of what caused the damage, pilots currently flying into Camp Taqaddum can use only one of its runways. Because they can’t use any of the taxiways either, planes make a U-turn after landing and use the same runway to drive back to the terminal area.

This monopolizes the base’s only functional landing strip and has delayed or cancelled incoming flights, said Chance.

Repairing the inoperative runway and the conjoining taxiways will help end the delays and increase airline traffic from places around the world, such as Kuwait, Germany, Turkey and the United States. This will increase the flow of supplies into the Iraqi theater and boost the war fighters’ effectiveness, said Chance.

More than 60 SeaBees and Marines work in shifts – day and night, seven days a week – to repair the airfield.

Working with heavy equipment through inclement weather requires constant safety awareness, said Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey C. Littlefield, a quality control/safety supervisor for NMCB-74.

“If one man is injured the whole project would be delayed,” said Littlefield, a 34-year-old from Portsmouth, R.I. “Safety is paramount, and we look out for each other.”

Another consideration is maintaining the heavy equipment, and the SeaBees have plenty of it. The unit uses 96 pieces of “rolling stock,” such as bulldozers and forklifts, and 11 concrete saws.

“Heavy equipment is made for running (nonstop), but our equipment is older,” said Chief Petty Officer Tyler A. Watters, mechanics supervisor with NMCB-74.

Watters said that running simple maintenance checks, such as checking oil and other fluids, helps avoid breakdowns, but he added that the unit’s mechanics can also make major repairs.   

“Major or minor problems, we take care of them,” said Watters, a 30-year-old from Destin, Fla. “I have a young crew, but they do a really good job.”

The “young crew” benefits greatly from the joint-service environment, said Staff Sgt. Chris J. Haggerty, heavy-equipment operations supervisor with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).

“It’s been a good experience for everyone,” said Haggerty, from South Bend, Ind. “A lot of the junior sailors have never worked with Marines before.”

The reason for this is simple: Navy and Marine Corps construction units usually have different missions while deployed.

“(The SeaBees) are trained in more deliberate, or permanent, construction. Ours is more expedient, whatever it takes to keep the front moving,” said Haggerty. “A lot of my guys have picked up (skills) from the sailors.” 

The job can be messy, and trudging through wet concrete isn’t very welcoming when wind chills approach 20 degrees, but the team welcomes the challenge and continues to work through increasingly harsh conditions.

“We have a job as SeaBees. We build, we fight – in that order,” said Chance. “We owe it to the war fighters to get them every tool necessary to accomplish their mission out there, kicking down doors and getting the bad guys.”
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