AL ANBAR, Iraq -- Many people take the simple things in life for granted. Indoor plumbing, central air - even light bulbs are luxuries Marines often do without.
Here at Haditha Dam though, Marines have these simple pleasures thanks to the round-the-clock efforts a gunnery sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment.
Gunnery Sgt. Joe A. Sepulveda, the motor transport operations chief, makes life a little easier for the Marines here by managing the basic electrical and plumbing needs.
When he arrived in Iraq, he found himself at the Haditha Dam; a feat of engineering that took half of the 1980’s to build. The dam is located 150 miles from Baghdad and is the second largest in Iraq. It has 10 stories above ground and supplies one-third of the power for the country.
The dam was taken under control by Coalition Forces in April 2003 and remains under their watchful eyes who ensure this key element of the countries infrastructure comes to no harm. During the seizure, it suffered little damage, but it suffered from the lack of maintenance over many years.
The San Antonio native, who’s a supervisor at the O.W. Summers and J.T. Deely Power Plant when not serving on active duty, quickly made himself at home at the dam.
“I did electrical work and some other maintenance while I was at the power plant,” Sepulveda said. “The inner workings of the dam are very similar so it wasn’t that hard to adapt to it.”
So far, the 1984 Harlandale High School graduate has restored power to the front gate, numerous buildings, most of the dam’s eight floors and fixed a lot of the indoor and outdoor plumbing. He also installed generators in most of the buildings outside the dam.
“This facility wasn’t really designed to hold this many people especially for this long,” he said. “The electrical systems in the buildings are in poor shape and the amount of energy we use doesn’t help.”
Sepulveda did his best to repair the facilities buildings outside the dam first so that they would run off their own power without using any from the dam itself.
Once this was accomplished, he focused on the electrical systems and plumbing inside the dam. These were in the same state of disrepair as the outer buildings, pipes were rusty and some equipment was broken.
“I did a lot of work on the pipes and water heaters that were leaking and falling apart,” Sepulveda said. “This building might be in better shape by the time we leave.”
Sepulveda’s regular job in motor transport is still his top priority, but he has enough time to work in and around the dam.
“I used to fix things for my friends and relatives back home. This is like helping a huge family and I don’t mind,” Sepulveda said with a smile.
Sepulveda’s managed to repair most of the facilities inner workings with limited supplies by salvaging parts he finds while he’s working.
“If people find things they think are useful, they save them for me,” he said. “Even though it’s enough to keep our heads above water I wish we could have a few specific items to make this job easier.”
Between working at the motor pool and fixing things around the facility, he rarely has time to do some of things he enjoys…like running. But even this can be overcome with the right attitude.
“This dam has over 250 steps and there are problems that need to be fixed on every floor,” Sepulveda said. “I feel like I’m killing two birds with one stone by running several flights of stairs to fix a broken water heater.”