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RED HORSE helps build combat brigade base in 45 days

by Capt. Ken Hall
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs


5/8/2007 - FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq (AFNEWS) -- Two months ago, Forward Operating Base Shawshook, near Besmaya Range, was nothing more than dirt and tumbleweeds.

Now, at the newly developed Forward Operating Base Hammer there's a full-up U.S. Army combat brigade, the 3rd of the 3rd Infantry Division, housed and fed -- ready to conduct missions in Operation Enforcing the Law, known to the media as the "Fardh al-Qanoon," or "Baghdad Security Plan."

Under the direction of Gen. David Petraeus, who took assumption of command at Multinational Forces-Iraq Feb. 10, new combat brigades were to deploy in and around the Iraqi capitol.

Within a week a tasking flowed from MNF-I through the Army's 411th Engineering Brigade reached Air Force RED HORSE engineers ordering a base be built and ready to accommodate the nearly 4,000 Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team by March 26.

The RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineers. RED HORSE squadrons provide the Air Force with a highly mobile civil engineering response force to support contingency operations worldwide. With Airmen from active, Guard and Reserve components, the 557th ERHS is engaged in multiple engineering projects at various locations throughout Southwest Asia, and is part of the 732nd Expeditionary Mission Support Group, under the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing headquartered at Balad Air Base northwest of Baghdad.

Performing an 'in-lieu-of mission' for the Army, Airmen assigned to the 557th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron, went full force with their assigned tasking.

"A bed-down tasking is a two-step process for the engineering force," said Lt. Col. Scott Hill, director of operations at the 557th ERHS, deployed from the 203rd RED HORSE Squadron at Virginia Beach, Va. "First, you have to bed down the engineering force itself, so they have facilities to work, sleep and eat. Once that's complete, you can move in your main engineering force and commence construction on the tasked project."

As part of step one, engineers from the 557th ERHS and the 411th En Bde formed a survey team to work out detailed plans for the new base. Only one original bombed-out hardened structure remained with three walls intact and a roof that was caving in. Other 'buildings' reduced to rubble would need to be dozed to clear the way for new facilities. Surrounding it all, a three-and-a-half-foot 'berm,' traversed by goat trails, formed a protective perimeter barely substantial enough to trip over. In short, they had their work cut out for them.

While the five-day survey was being conducted, RED HORSE engineers back at Balad Air Base were planning how best to bed down the 400-person engineering force. They determined the force would require a tailored "Harvest Falcon" kit to sustain them while they built the rest of the base for the 3,600 'Sledgehammer' troops of the incoming 3rd Brigade.

A full Harvest Falcon Kit contains a standardized 1,100-person 'housekeeping set' package including tents, hard-wall shelters, area lighting systems, basic water and electrical systems, latrines and showers, a kitchen facility, environmental control units, and other basic equipment.

The first five days of actual construction saw 120-pallet-spaces worth of Harvest Falcon assets moving from outside Iraq to Balad by numerous C-17 Globemaster IIIs, then convoyed by tractor-trailer and flown in by CH-47 Chinooks to Besmaya to build the facilities for the engineers. In addition, heavy equipment including loaders, dozers, graders, and excavators were also transported to the site, as well as food, water, fuel, hand tools, and lumber for tent flooring, in the continuous stream of helo loads and convoys to the site.

While they were building the engineers' facilities, materials for the main camp were being moved in. Three Army 550-person 'Force Provider' Kits and two 1,000-person Life Support Area, kits were set up, a water purification system was in place and numerous containers of lumber, plywood, nails and miles of concertina wire and pickets arrived, as did prefabricated guard towers and daily shipments of bottled water, individual Meals-Ready-to-Eat and group rations.

"Overall, the camp was designed to provide the brigade two expeditionary dining facilities, a hardened DFAC which will soon be completed, and the original bombed-out main building was to be refurbished into a brigade headquarters," said Maj. Steve Phillips, the 557th ERHS chief of design and lead Air Force engineer for the project.

"Each battalion was to get a tactical operations center and a maintenance building," the major said, "and for force protection, prefabricated guard towers were to be installed, elevated fighting positions constructed, and eight miles of 10-foot high perimeter berm were to be reconstructed and fortified with the equivalent of more than 37,000 dump truck loads of earth ... finally, MWR (morale, welfare and recreation) facilities were planned to top it all off."

Ultimately, water for the camp would come from the Tigris, which makes its way toward the camp through an old canal system. To make it usable, engineers would have to un-dam several points on the canal to get the water to within two and a half miles of the camp. The water would then be pumped to a new six-million-gallon holding pond which would store the canal water. That water would be pumped to two ROWPUs where it could be made potable and pumped to seven 50,000 gallon water storage bladders.

What this all means is the 350,000 gallons of potable water stored in the bladder farm could provide 24 days of drinking water for the Brigade; and the six-million-gallon pond, 100 days of non-potable water capacity could be used for showers and laundry facilities. In essence, each Soldier could have four gallons of drinking water and 16 gallons of non-potable water a day ... enough to keep a Soldier hydrated, showered and one's clothes clean.

From start to finish, the FOB's cost is approximately $4.5 million provides a deployed home for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Stewart, Ga., in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.

"I've spent the past six months fostering a positive joint environment where Soldiers and Airmen in the engineering community work as a team. They can take advantage of the opportunity to capitalize on each other's knowledge and experience," said Army Brig. Gen. Michael Silva, commanding general of the 411th Engineer Brigade at Balad AB.

"In completing FOB Hammer for the 3rd of the 3rd, the 92nd Engineer Battalion and 557th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron have proven, without a doubt, just what kind of results can be accomplished when their capabilities are melded."

In a visit to the 411th's headquarters, Multi-National Corps-Iraq Deputy Commanding General, Maj. Gen. James Simmons, told the commanders in attendance he and MNC-I Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, were extremely pleased and proud of what has been done. "You have added honor and dignity to this [joint-service] formation ... we are making history ... we can't lose that."

In a little more than a month, what had begun in February the 411th Engineer Brigade's Besmaya plan turned into a bustling combatant stronghold replete with life support areas, chow halls, laundry and MWR facilities - all a must for today's warrior, said Col. Jack Paschal, commander of the 557th EHRS at Balad AB. All that remains to be done are the "nice-to-haves. All the 'must-haves' are finished now," Colonel Paschal said.

The colonel noted the composite construction force from the 557th and 92nd completed an impressive list of individual construction projects at Besmaya, including erecting 223 tents in three Life Support Areas; 14 kilometers of 10-foot-high, triple-strand, concertina-wire topped berm; two million gallons of black- and grey-water lagoon capacity; an 850,000-gallon bulk fuel farm; a 6-million-gallon raw water processing plant; six motor pools; and two helicopter pads.

According to Army Maj. Joseph Snel, the 411th's public affairs officer, the Besmaya project is but one of many the 411th is tasked to accomplish as part of its five main missions which include route clearance/sanitation and rapid crater repair, engineer support to the 3rd ID and other combat units; planning, design and construction of contingency operating bases; and command and control of tactical bridging assets.

The 411th is organized to accomplish all five with the assistance of several subordinate units including the Arkansas National Guard's 875th Eng Bn, the active-duty 92nd Eng Bn's Black Diamonds; and the Air Force's 557th EHRS over whom the 411th exercises tactical control.

Army Lt. Col. James Lukehart, Construction Management Section deputy "marveled at the speed Army, Air Force and contractor personnel put together the housing, force protection, bathrooms and dining facilities at Hammer." As a facility manager for the University of Washington, he has 26 years experience in construction in his civilian background and had doubted whether Hammer could be completed before the brigade was due in. "If you've ever seen Extreme Makeover on TV, that's what it was like ... only for 4,000 Soldiers instead of just one family," he said.

"I'm really proud to be associated with such professionals ... they built a city for an entire brigade," Colonel Lukehart said.

A gargantuan amount of required construction materials from all over Iraq and even outside the theater was assembled at Balad AB and Camp Victory for transport to Besmaya. Overall, more than 280 semi-tractor/trailer loads carried some 560 CONEX containers of construction materials over the road from Balad and Victory to Besmaya, said Army Master Sgt. Glenn Turner, NCO in charge of the 411th's G-4 section.

The RED HORSE and Black Diamonds worked hand-in-hand in completing the Besmaya project with the Airmen focusing on the 'vertical' facilities construction and Soldiers on the 'horizontal' earthen work.

To the average Soldier who lives at the FOB, all that really matters is that nearly 4,000 'Sledgehammer' warriors now have a place to call home after each day's patrols in Baghdad -- a place where it's safe to take off their battle armor, hang their hats and get a hot meal. From dust on the desert plain, to a fully functional forward operating base, the 557th and 92nd have set their brothers in arms up very well at Hammer.

While the 92nd will remain in Iraq, Airmen of the 557th EHRS, predominantly from the 202nd RHS at Camp Blanding, Fla., and 203rd RHS in Virginia Beach, Va., as well as some 50 Air Force "Prime Beef" units, will close out six-month tours as "force enablers."

"These Soldiers and Airmen have demonstrated together just how much can be accomplished through dedication and hard work in their joint construction of FOB Hammer," General Silva said. "We built, in less than 45 days, an entire base camp that exceeded the CENTCOM sand book 'initial standards' of construction. The forward mission will be continuous improvement to support the great Soldiers of the 3/3 Hammer Brigade."



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