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Seabees Play Key Role in Euphrates Bridge Recovery Operation

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070618-04
Release Date: 6/18/2007 2:28:00 PM

By Lt. Jeffrey Moore, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 28 Public Affairs

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq (NNS) -- Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 28, based at Al Asad, completed joint operations with Marines and Soldiers on June 9, to remove a pontoon bridge from the Euphrates River that posed a threat to infrastructure downstream.

The "Old Pros" of NMCB 28, the Marine 1st Combat Engineering Battalion (CEB) and the U.S. Army’s 7th Engineer Dive Team joined forces to eliminate the risk posed by a portion of a pontoon bridge that had broken away, floated downstream, and became stuck in the middle of the waterway.

Pontoon bridges are commonly used as an inexpensive and quick way to span rivers. The roadway decking is supported by floating pontoon sections that are anchored to each other and to the shore.

“This was a very challenging recovery operation that required a significant amount of coordination between multiple units in the battle space for security, equipment, line-haul, and final recovery of the bridge section,” said Lt. Cmdr. Daryll Long, NMCB 28’s operations officer. “It was truly a joint operation and our operations staff did a phenomenal job planning the execution of this mission.“

This bridge section weighed an estimated 80 to 90 tons. The only reason it had not swept downstream was that it was entangled in the cables of an old ferry crossing. The bridge’s location and the swift seven-knot river current compounded the degree of difficulty. Additionally, the security situation needed to be considered. The bridge section was stuck directly between two towns along the river. Since coalition forces had seen offensive action in this area, a careful approach needed to be considered.

With the threat of safety high, the 30th Naval Construction Regiment (30 NCR), headquartered at Camp Fallujah, recognized the challenging aspect of the waterborne operation and requested support from the U.S. Army’s 7th Engineer Dive Team out of Kuwait. A squad from the 7th Dive Team, led by Army 1st Lt. Adrian Biggerstaff, arrived in Al Asad and based themselves with the Seabees to continue planning efforts. NMCB 28 was tasked to help the 7th Dive Team plan and execute the mission and provide convoy security for the team as they traveled between Al Asad and the job site.

“The team approached this mission with a well-developed plan,” said Biggerstaff. “But the numerous challenges and obstacles faced on-site required extreme flexibility and creativity throughout the duration of the operation.”

Before the operation could be carried out there would be significant site preparation work along the banks of the Euphrates to prepare pulling ramps that would facilitate dragging the bridge section to shore. The Seabees calculated the pulling power required to reel in the rogue bridge section and realized their construction assets might not be sufficient.

Needing help, NMCB 28 coordinated with the Marines’ 1st CEB for bulldozer support. The Marines quickly offered two massive 60-ton Caterpillar D9 bulldozers (nicknamed “War Pig” and “Maximus”) for the job.

The Seabees and 7th Dive Team stayed on site at the river during operations for both security and logistical purposes, and the 1/3 Marines from Alpha and Charlie companies patrolled both sides of the Euphrates. The Seabee convoy security element, led by Chief Construction Mechanic Stephen Lucia, provided a significant portion of security along the perimeter of the site.

Conditions on site were challenging, and the summer temperatures did not make the job any easier for the team to work in their protective tactical gear. Daytime temperatures soared to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and the team was constantly pestered by sand fleas, mosquitoes, flies, and other insects.

“We were glad to be a part of this mission despite the harsh conditions,” said Lucia. “It was great for my team to assist with perimeter defense and construction of the ramp used for pulling the bridge section ashore.”

While NMCB 28 and 1st CEB commenced shore preparations, the 7th Army Dive Team traveled to the bridge section in Zodiac rubber boats, attached towing bridles and a “deadman” anchor line. The line was used as a safety precaution in the event that the bridge section tried to float away downstream. The team then pulled the heavy wire rope towing cable across the swift-moving river with nothing more than the inflatable Zodiacs to work from.

“The equipment organic to our team was not designed for the demanding requirements of this operation, but through the sweat and perseverance of all hands, we were able to get the job done,” explained Biggerstaff.

The divers destroyed the ferry cable that originally entangled the bridge section and prevented it from moving further downstream. Once the cable was removed, one of the massive bulldozers began pulling the bridge section with the towing cable. The bridge slowly floated downstream, picking up speed with the swift current, until the towing line became taut and stopped. With the use of both “War Pig” and “Maximus,” the bridge section was pulled closer to shore.

Everything was proceeding according to plan until the pontoons supporting the bridge began to sink. The pontoons started to tear away from the bridge superstructure as they ran aground in the shallower waters closer to shore.

The combined team improvised and fastened the towing cable in a way to reinforce the connections between the pontoons and superstructure and relying on the pontoon sections for buoyancy in order to land the bridge section. Then they cut apart parts of the steel holding the bridge section together, which allowed them to pull the bridge section in three pieces as opposed to one large piece.

The remaining portions of the bridge were beached, and the team headed back to base, tired, soaked with sweat, and covered in dirt.

NMCB 28 is part of nearly 1,300 Sailors and Marines supporting critical construction efforts in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.

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