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Concrete barriers save lives

by Tech. Sgt. Russell Wicke
447th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

7/5/2007 - SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN)  -- A simple slab of concrete is the difference between life and death at the Victory Base Complex here in Baghdad. Concrete walls surround everything, serving as a daily reminder of insurgent hostilities.

The barriers are more than 12 inches thick and reinforced with steel rods. They are designed to block exploding rocket fragments. There are two types in this area, both 12 feet high: The large Alaskan barrier, 6 feet wide at approximately 16,000 pounds, and the T barrier, four and a half feet wide at approximately 10,000 pounds. The cost varies between $580 and $700 each.

Master Sgt. Randy Walls, 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, is the heavy equipment team supervisor and he is quick to proclaim these walls don't set up by themselves. Since they arrived in mid-May, the 12-man heavy equipment team has erected nearly 1,000 T barriers on Sather Air Base, he said.

"We've put these walls up in 'Ops Town,' the fuel's yard, and in the new trailer area," said Sergeant Walls, with more jobs waiting.

Presently, the team is fortifying the area of Det. 3, 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. This area alone requires 496 barriers. 1st Lt. Stephen Bucy, the 447th ECES operations flight chief, said it's only a fraction of the total of 3,000 barriers the team plans to stand up during their rotation here. These barriers are necessary, said the lieutenant, because they are the first layer of defense from incoming mortars and rockets.

"Bunkers are nice, but most of the time we get no notice before attacks and no time to run to a bunker," said Lieutenant Bucy. "Bunkers are good for long-lasting air attacks, like those of the Vietnam War."

However, according to reports, the average attack here is more like harassment. Attacks average between three to five rockets launched simultaneously and last no more than a few seconds. For this reason work areas are getting more protection with the T barrier.

"Our guys understand the reality of the situation," said Lieutenant Bucy, "so they're rushing to put up the barriers as fast as they can."

But it takes no small amount of effort to place these five-ton barriers, the lieutenant said. Although a crane does most of the lifting, it's up to a couple spotters on the ground to man-handle barriers into position.

"You can push your guts out trying to maneuver these things," said Tech. Sgt. Scott Hamrick, 447th ECES pavement specialist. "They interlock like a puzzle. Putting them together requires constant physical effort."

He also said it can be dangerous. One gust of wind can swing a crane-suspended barrier against the side of a building, crushing the spotter. Sergeant Walls, however, said it's a necessary risk.

According to Lieutenant Bucy, the heavy equipment team is making T barriers a priority over all over jobs, and this means the barriers are in high demand.

T barriers are produced within the base complex at multiple concrete batch plants. Barriers allotted to Sather are just "a drop in the bucket" compared to what's being produced. But Lieutenant Bucy said acquiring the numbers he needs isn't easy.

"They're in demand all over Baghdad," he said.

According to Ted McAuslan, spokesman for the Sigma Group International batch plant, making the barriers isn't a difficult process, but they are limited to the number of molds and curing time.

Lt. Col. Michael Nester, 447th ECES commander, said the Defense Department, because of the surge, has requested the production of more than 200,000 barriers this year.

"(The base complex) and all its venders have the capacity to make about 10,000 per month," he said.

Although Sather only will use a small fraction of the barriers, the heavy equipment team members have invested the majority of their time to stand them up. This, according to Sergeant Hamrick, is a testament to the team's steadfast dedication to other Airmen and Iraq.

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