`Secret' generator moves into Baghdad

Army News Service

Release Date: 2/2/2004

By Ed Evans

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Army News Service, Feb. 3, 2004) - A secret convoy successfully crossed Baghdad's 14th of July Bridge in the dark hours of Jan. 27, moving between armed guards through the capital city under cover of night toward an unspoken destination.

The convoy of 18 vehicles hauled one 198-ton, 125-megawatt generator, and its 220-ton turbine, that once installed would support stable and reliable power on the Iraqi national electric grid.

It was all part of a project of Brig. Gen. Steven R. Hawkins' "Task Force Restore Iraqi Electricity," which recently became an Electric Directorate under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' new Gulf Region Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ron Johnson.

The generator-bearing convoy had entered Iraq from an undisclosed neighboring country, and inching along at 10 mph, was handed off from one security detail of U.S. Army soldiers to another. The troops took extraordinary precautions to protect this vital machinery from attack and sabotage. One bullet, one RPG round, could have turned the convoy's cargo into $45 million worth of trash.

The convoy had to roll through several dangerous areas, through Baghdad, over a bridge that required load-testing for that weight, and then safely to its destination.

Taking no chances, the long convoy included a fuel truck, a tool truck, a sleeper truck, the two low-boys - one on 96 tires and the other on 112 -- a loader, a dump truck and the three prime haulers. Their drivers represented a number of neighboring countries. Along with the tool truck and dump truck were several work crews in two pick-up trucks and five SUVs for the specific purpose of clearing roads, removing low-hanging wires and close-to-the-road signs, filling potholes, and repairing roads ahead of the convoy. They were very aware that whatever lay before them, the slow moving, two story behemoth had to keep moving forward.

In fact, the convoy made good time and arrived in Baghdad a day early. There the crews and drivers lay over for rest and equipment maintenance in the secure Green Zone. Then in the early evening of Jan. 26, the drivers fired up their 18 vehicles and drove slowly toward a major bridge crossing the Tigris River. The bridge, with an upper and lower deck, had not recently carried anything with the weight borne by the two low-boys. So before the convoy ever entered Iraq, U.S. Army engineers load-tested it; not once, but twice.

The bridge over the ancient river was not new, and the lower span, over which the drivers would have to ride, looked badly used and did not inspire confidence. In fact, one piling underneath had been damaged at some time in the past and was slightly bent. The shifting sands beneath were also a matter of grave concern. Then too, the width of the drivers' great cargo nearly matched the width of the bridge. However, load-testing by Army engineers had proved it was equal to the task. Even so, the convoy crossed the generator and the turbine separately - the total package weighed 532 tons -- while work crews and the Army's security detail walked ahead and behind it.

Since all traffic had been stopped for the crossing beneath, a few Iraqis left their vehicles to see what was going on. Armed soldiers kept them at a safe distance from the convoy. From the south bank side, a small crowd gathered at the foot of the bridge to watch from the overhead railing. There were many questions about the contents of the two mammoth boxes, each as big as a house, but no one was answering any questions. It was vital these two critical pieces of machinery reach their destination without incident.

Once the entire convoy had crossed, turned left at the bottom of the bridge and began snaking its way through the darkened streets of Baghdad, there was quiet celebration among the uniformed men and women guarding the bridge and its approaches. In the overhead lamplight, wide grins could be seen on everyone's face. Their team had moved the package forward, now it was up to the next team to take it home to the goal line. By message and by voice, the word spread across Iraq, "We got it across the bridge!"

Through the night and into the morning of the 27th, drivers, repair crews, and soldiers on security details in front, behind, and overhead, pressed on.

It was in that Tuesday dawn half light that guards at a certain Iraqi power plant looked up and up, and up as the towering equipment came rumbling slowly toward them, through their gate, and came to rest finally at the targeted destination.

Now it has become the business of mechanics and electrical engineers. The additional 125 megawatts will mean more stable and reliable power for households, factories, and office buildings all across Iraq, officials said.

The generator is one more step in the Coalition Provisional Authority's program to rehabilitate and restore the national electric grid, providing the means for Iraqis to rebuild their country.

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