CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq -- The distinct clanking of sledge hammers pounding against metal reverberated through the silent, windy afternoon of June 13.
An Iraqi soldier hammered a stake into the ground outside Fallujah’s ruined train station. Alongside him, his companions wore large, yellow gloves as they stretched out spools of barbed wire and threaded it through the interred stakes.
To one side, Lance Cpl. Jason Murray stood with a team of fellow engineers, watching the foreign soldiers erect a protective fence.
“Today, we’re teaching the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) basic combat engineer skills, similar to the training we get in our MOS school,” stated Murray, a 22-year-old Pursley, Texas native.
The 2000 Dawson High School graduate referred to subject matter the engineers learn while attending their military occupational specialty school, such as how to fortify a position by strategically emplacing protective wire and barricade obstacles around it.
This is exactly the knowledge Murray’s engineer team from 2nd Platoon, Company A, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion began passing on to several Iraqi soldiers.
“We’re teaching them the basic stuff, that way they can start building up their own bases,” Murray said.
ISF personnel currently man several operational headquarters throughout Fallujah, from which they monitor and patrol the city streets for insurgent activity. Marine engineers continually work with the soldiers to strengthen these bases against bullet impacts and shrapnel blasts. Part of this ongoing effort includes teaching the soldiers how to work independently to fortify their own headquarters.
The engineers kicked off the course by introducing themselves to the class of approximately 25 students. The Marines and soldiers then lugged several metal stakes, known as engineer stakes, and spools of concertina wire to their work site, a barren dirt field outside Fallujah’s train station. Once there, they proceeded to show the soldiers how to pound stakes into the ground and string wire through them.
“Today, we did single, double, and triple strand wire, along with a (barbed wire) cattle fence, just like the ones you’d see on ranches back home,” Murray explained.
Single-strand wire fences consist of one spool of concertina wire threaded through the engineer stakes. For a double-strand fence, an additional strand of concertina with barbed wire through the middle is placed atop the first. A triple-strand fence consists of another row of wire atop two side-by-side threads of concertina.
Coalition and Iraqi forces string these wire fences around their bases’ perimeters to obstruct enemy movement. According to Murray, concertina can even impair tank movement by entangling itself on the vehicle.
Since no interpreter was present during this class, the Marines demonstrated how to string these defenses by communicating with the soldiers using hand signals and body language. Nonetheless, Murray praised the training as being highly effective.
“They’re pretty smart guys who grasp the concepts really quickly. They don’t get the same amount of training we do, but their concept mastery is still really good.”
The engineers concluded training day one by showing the soldiers how to board up windows and stack sandbags. This offers the buildings protection from bullet impacts and shrapnel blasts as well.
The soldiers’ training did not stop there, however. During the next several days, the Marines continued helping them refine their engineering skills.
“We’re also teaching their officers and NCOs (noncommissioned officers, which are enlisted troop leaders) how to plan their perimeter defenses,” stated 1st Lt. Robert Spalla, Murray’s platoon commander.
His engineers showed the soldiers how to set up Hesco barriers around a base. These barricades are square-shaped wire cages that are filled with dirt, creating a large, sandbag-like protective structure.
Additionally, Murray’s engineers showed the soldiers how to handle another threat common throughout Iraq: unexploded ordnance. These rockets and grenades that failed to detonate on impact are leftover from previous conflicts, and currently litter some of Fallujah’s streets and fields.
“Basically, we show them how to carefully handle or report the UXO on the ground,” Murray stated. “We tell them not to pick it up and throw it around like a baseball.”
After four days of setting up defenses and stretching wires, the Iraqi soldiers leave the course armed with knowledge on strengthening their positions throughout the city.
“We teach this general engineer skills program to show the soldiers how to do things for themselves,” Spalla stated. “All of the supplies we teach them to use, they should be able to get through Iraqi companies once we (Coalition forces) leave.”
Over their next several months here, Murray and his fellow engineers will continue working alongside the Iraqi soldiers to reinforce their bases. With every yard of wire they stretch and every sandbag they fill, the soldiers are one step closer to rebuilding their city and providing its residents security for a better tomorrow.