AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq -- Burned and blistered by the hot desert sun, Marines worked tirelessly to repair a damaged bridge March 15-17 north of Al Asad.
Bridging the gap of a dried-up riverbed, this destroyed concrete slab needed the help of the Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
The bridge, which had been the site of numerous improvised explosive devices and washed out by rains in early February, was just an accident waiting to happen.
"This bridge was non-trafficable and very dangerous," said 1st Lt. Jeremy L. Henderson, engineer operations officer-in-charge, MWSS-274. "It was a very questionable area because IEDs could be placed in the holes. There are also several (locations nearby where IEDs could be triggered from) around the bridge site."
After weeks of planning, the motivated Marines of MWSS-274's Incident Response Platoon went into action. Marines mounted MK-19 40 mm and M2 .50-caliber machine guns onto High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicles in preparation to depart to the site and set up a security perimeter.
When the fully armored convoy left the defenses of Al Asad, they had the knowledge and the skill to guide them harmlessly to the bridge site.
Upon reaching the site, a hasty sweep was executed, ensuring the area was clear of any threats. The engineers then attacked the project head-on.
Combat engineers cleared the bridge of the old concrete chunks and prepared it to be filled with reinforcing bars and concrete, while the heavy equipment operators excavated the area, moving gravel and sand near the bridge to support it.
"The security element was great," said Lance Cpl. Anthony Butler, engineer equipment operator, MWSS-274. "Having the IRP out there, I knew I didn't have to watch my back as much. I could actually relax and focus while operating my machine."
According to Gunnery Sgt. Ryan S. Hermance, company first sergeant, engineering company, MWSS-274, the operations tempo was at 100 percent from the day they arrived at the bridge site. The Marines worked nonstop with very little break time.
After two days of sleepless preparation, the bridge was ready for concrete. The engineers brought in three concrete trucks carrying roughly 22 cubic yards of concrete combined. Then the engineers began filling the holes of the bridge.
Once the concrete was poured and the mess cleaned up, all that could be done was wait for the concrete to dry. Finally, the Marines got a chance to catch their breath.
"At this point, our biggest threat was receiving indirect fire," said Henderson, a native of Kenneyville, Ill.
Seven hours of waiting paid off. The concrete dried enough to make the pressure-release cuts in it. Shortly after, a decision to pack up and return to base was made.
Within one hour of that decision, the equipment was loaded up and the perimeter was brought in around the convoy. Meanwhile, the Marines, eager to get hot food and a shower, finalized prepping the equipment for the trip back to safety.
Although this was the first mission outside the perimeter of the base, the Marines of MWSS-274 showed efficiency and expertise to complete the mission almost 36 hours ahead of schedule.