Building Bridges: Engineers improve damaged bridge for Iraqis

May 4, 2004

By Pfc. Erik LeDrew, 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

CPT Distefano
[Enlarge Image] Capt. Marc J. Distefano A Co. commander, 20 ENG Bn., 1st Cav. Div. supervises his crew as they fix a bridge in Baghdad. (U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Erik LeDrew, 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

While some Soldiers are bridging the cultural and communication gap between the local Iraqi people, the Engineers are out building and repairing bridges for the Iraqi people. Alpha Co., 20th Engineer Battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division, began repairs on a bridge in Baghdad that had been recently damaged by insurgent forces.

“While conducting an assessment of the bridge, we found out that the ramps had been blown apart by charges on the south side of the bridge,” Capt. Marc J. Distefano, Alpha Co. commander said. “Whoever did it apparently didn’t know how to use charges too well, or the whole bridge would have come down. However, they did pretty much destroy two of the ramps.”

Distefano said, the damaged bridge is actually two, one-lane bridges that support traffic going both south and northbound where it crosses the Diyala River in northeastern Baghdad. Repair of the heavily trafficked bridge was necessary for both the Iraqi working population and coalition forces.

“The bridge was put in last year by the Marines, who are really the subject matter experts on this type of bridge,” said Distefano, whose Mechanized Engineer unit is trained mainly for breaching and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). “However, because there was only damage to the ramps and no structural damage we felt we could make the repair.”

According to Distefano, there were three phases involved in repairing the bridge.

SGT Cardenas
[Enlarge Image] Sgt. Eric Cardenas, a track mechanic with the 115th Forward Support Battalion, was tasked to assist the 20 ENG Bn. with the bridge repairs. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Dan Purcell, 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

Phase one included making a damage assessment; phase two included taking parts from one damaged bridge in order to fix the other less-damaged one, and phase three will entail either coordinating with a contractor to help make the second bridge functional.

“Most of what we had to deal with today was corrosion and dirt where the bolts to the ramp were,” said 1st Lt. William Abel of the 20th Eng. Bn.. “But we have a great welder who helped us take care of the rusted bolts.”

According to Abel, who performed the damage assessment of the bridge, it was difficult to try and explain to the local Iraqis why the bridge had been closed.

“A lot of people wanted to know what we were doing out there and I tried to explain to them that we were fixing the bridge,” he said, “Things like this are a great way of building positive relations with the Iraqi people.”

“Anything we do that’ll help the Iraqis is a step in the right direction,” Distefano said.

SPC Simmons helping the elderly
[Enlarge Image] Spc. John Simmons Jr., A Co., 20 ENG Bn., 1st Cav. Div., helps an elderly Iraqi woman up the steep ramp on the undamaged part of bridge. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Dan Purcell, 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

According to Distefano, his unit was given a 48-hour time-frame to complete repairs on at least one of the two bridges.

“We went out and did a recon and an assessment of the damages, and then we looked into our own organization to see what internal assets we had that might help us repair this bridge,” he said. “Then we made our plans and were able to execute them the next morning.”

Distefano said he hopes that his unit will have the opportunity to work on other projects like this, despite the time constraint.

“A lot of engineers don’t get many construction projects like this because the emphasis has been on mobility and breaching,” he said. “So anytime we can do construction, it’s well-received.”