Seabees bridge way in Iraq

2 Jun 2003 | Staff Sgt. David Bennett

Suspended 60 feet above the Tigris River, crews of Navy Seabees worked through the heat repairing what has been a gaping hole in this city's roadway system.

Steel workers with large wrenches guided heavy metal framing into place as they prepare to close a 120-foot gap in the single lane bridge that is the main transportation link in Sarabadi.

Two naval mobile construction battalions, which are located far from each other in the United States, have converged on the 500-foot long bridge in southern Iraq, which was damaged in the war.

"The bridge was blown up by coalition forces to impede the progress of the Iraqi Army," said Navy Lt. Marc L. Rouleau, an officer with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4 in charge of the bridge project.

However, with the end of the war came the need to rebuild the bridge, he said.

"The bridge is a main thoroughfare and important to the city's commerce," Rouleau said. "The next closest bridge is 3 1/2 hours away."

Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 from Gulfport, Miss. is the other group working on the bridge.

Backed by a Marine security detail, more than 40 naval construction specialists hovered over defects in the bridge.

Negotiating through automobile traffic that is being rerouted onto a pedestrian walkway, Seaman Andrew Buchholz, a steelworker with NMCB 4 of Port Hueneme, Calif., repaired a side railing.

"This is my first bridge job," said the Cincinnati, Ohio native, "I'm getting a lot of (welding) time."

It is good experience also for Gulfport, Miss.-based Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, the other group helping with the bridge rehabilitation, said Navy Chief Keith T. Mazotas, the project supervisor. The crews are putting together a separate 120-foot metal frame bridge, known as a Mabey-Johnson Bridge, that will fill a huge gap left by a coalition bomb.

Fortunately, little demolition work was required because the section of bridge destroyed was blown away relatively cleanly, according to Mazotas.

He said the hollow columns that support the bridge were damaged in the bombings and are being reinforced with metal rods to make them more solid. Once done, NMCB 133 will tackle another bridge by itself in the coming days.

The span is the fourth bridge the NMCB 4 has rehabilitated. Some were harder because they required more work. Some were harder because repairs took place during the war when work conditions were far from ideal. Seaman Michael W. Wahrenberger, a construction manager with NMCB 4, recounted repairs of a bridge in southern Baghdad when ordnance came raining down nearby.

"Artillery was falling about 100 meters from the bridge," said the Houston native. "People were scattering, getting under equipment."

Rouleau said this project isn't as hazardous but like all the bridgework, it is paramount.

"This is important to the people here," he said.