I MEF advance party prepares Iraqi camp for new tenants

18 Mar 2004 | Sgt. Colin Wyers

Surveying the area around the I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group's command post, Master Sgt. Luis Nunez spots a pool of water forming around a manhole cover.

"Gotta get a contractor out here," remarks Nunez, I MHG's camp operations chief, before moving on to survey what will become staff noncommissioned officer billeting for the Marines here.

The camp, named for the French village where the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division made its first drop during D-Day of World War II, will be the new home for the MEF command element and elements of the 1st Marine Division when the Marines take over for the 82nd in western Iraq.

Nunez - who built up Marine camps during I MEF's first deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in locations like Camp Commando, Kuwait, and Camp Babylon, Iraq - arrived with the advance party to begin preparations in the first week of January.

"I came over here to assess the situation and start building the camp," he said.

"I was coming in here with the idea I would be seriously busting my tail 24/7 like I was in Commando, but that came to a screeching halt because the Army had done all the basic necessities," he said.

With facilities for laundry, gyms, a mess hall, a barber shop and an exchange already in place, billeting became one of I MHG's top priorities.

"We have 6,000 Marines falling in on 2,000 soldiers, so we're cramped," said Maj. John Boucher, the camp's operations officer.

Most of the Army forces at St. Mere lived and worked in buildings originally built for the Mujahaddin E-Khaleq, an organization of Iranian terrorists sponsored by deposed dictator Saddam Hussein's regime.

"We have managed to come up with a phased movement plan," Boucher said.

"We inspect the building, hand over equipment like air conditioners (and) keys, while the Army is setting up a tent city to handle living quarters until they move out."

To support the MEF command element, temporary workstations have been set up in a tent compound, including an interlocking set of domed tents that forms the Combat Operations Center, dubbed "the Bug" during the Marines' first deployment to OIF. 
After the Army exits the buildings, contractors go to work to repair and refurbish the facilities so the Marines can move in.

"We've started ... several contracts to get buildings taken care of, making them livable," Nunez said.

"We have to get new windows, new doors, fix up the walls," he added.

Other contractors are going to work to expand and improve the living facilities at St. Mere.

"We've been working with Kellogg Brown and Root ... (who) will provide housing, water and recreational facilities," Boucher said.

"They've been a big help putting up trailers to handle the increase in population," he said.

"Thanks to (the Army), a lot of time and work is being saved," Nunez said.

"But that doesn't mean we're going to stop there," he said.