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A Thanksgiving Message From Iraq

A Thanksgiving Message From Iraq

The following letter was sent to family and friends of an engineer battalion in Iraq. Names have been deleted for security reasons (the Department of Defenses security policy.)

Note: translation of some of the jargon- BIAP = Baghdad International Airport. Vertical Construction = putting up and renovating buildings.

Dear Family and Friends of the 389th EN BN (C)(H)

With the approach of Thanksgiving, the Task Force 389th Engineer Family has much to be thankful for. First of all, I am happy to report that our soldiers are doing well, and despite the potential for injury that goes with our mission, we have suffered no serious injuries since July. Despite the news reports that make it appear there is a bomb on the side of every street, our soldiers have not been the target of an IED since early September. To be sure, virtually everyone is tired of being away from family, friends and a normal way of life, but overall our soldiers are faring well. I am proud of their determination to tackle every task and get the job done right. So far, we have exceeded all expectations of our higher headquarters, and our soldiers continue to make a difference.

The last time I wrote to you we had just stared the enduring base camp that our replacements will occupy. In that time our soldiers have cleared and leveled more than 1600 acres. They overcame some engineering challenges involving an irrigation system, and removed over two miles of ditches averaging thirty-feet wide and twenty-feet deep. Some of the areas have been turned over to contractors who will construct an encampment for 5,000 soldiers. In the meantime we continue to prepare the remainder of the area.

We will also be constructing some cinderblock buildings to serve as headquarters buildings.

We continue to make improvements here on BIAP and at the local supply support areas. Among these improvements are a limestone road and redesigning an entry gate to provide control of several hundred commercial vehicles per day. We've also prepared an area for a permanent water purification facility and ice plant. These efforts include all of our companies, including the 842nd Engineer Company (SDNG) [South Dakota National Guard] who are attached to the battalion for the operation.

We also have a number of vertical construction projects - including some on our own camp. With low temperatures in the upper 30's, perhaps the most desired commodity around here is a warm shower. Company A has installed a heater system to make this a reality. Unlike a regular water supply, our showers are fed by a set of tanks that are filled once a day. This poses a difficulty that requires special design. I am hopeful the system we now have will be able to keep up with the demand. Company B is addressing the other big need - a laundry room. Again, they face challenges, like how to handle more than 4000 gallons of wastewater. To answer this challenge, they have constructed a large septic system, and they have begun constructing the building. Once completed, this will allow our soldiers to stop doing their laundry by hand.

Company C has taken on a project to renovate several buildings at a location twenty miles to our north. Once they are finished, these buildings will support another Engineer Battalion who is moving there to construct and renovate facilities to house about 10,000 soldiers and serve as a support base.

Elsewhere our soldiers have renovated a number of warehouses to support a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division; they have constructed a three room building for an Artillery battalion; and installed culverts at a base for a Cavalry regiment.

Several of our soldiers have joined SGT H and SPC M to form the core of Operation Caring Hands. They have adopted two schools, and provided supplies to aid to the teachers and students in the quest for an education.

Through education they will achieve true freedom. These students are the future of this country, and our soldiers are helping them achieve that goal!

Among our number, we have 90 newly promoted Sergeants who have had no NCO training. In an effort to give these young leaders some of the tools they need to be more effective now, CSM H and SFC B have developed a preparatory course for PLDC. This forty hour course will be conducted three times, with the first iteration next week. In addition to gaining leadership tools, our soldiers will also earn promotion points. The need for a course like this has been acknowledged by the Division Commanding General and Command Sergeant Major, and ours is the first unit in the division to meet the need.

As most of you know by now, we have an operational internet café, with twenty computers on line. CPT H, SGT P and the rest of the Communications section have done a superb job of ensuring this facility is up and running twenty-three hours per day (the other hour is used for maintenance). It is used extensively so, sometimes, it is quite slow. The original contractor for this project was fired for failing to do the job.

The new contractor is working to improve access speed, but we do not know when the improvements will take effect.

For those of you who do not know, the units coming over during the January through June time frame have been alerted. The 372nd Engineer Group, our (peacetime) higher headquarters, is one of the units on the list. Most of our soldiers remaining in the rear detachment will be joining them, or other mobilizing units, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II (OIF2). I hope you will join me in wishing these soldiers nothing but the best as they embark on their journey. I pray they stay safe throughout their tour. I know they and their loved ones will remain part of the 389th Engineer Battalion family, and they can count on the great support you provide to those of us here. I cannot tell you how much your support helps us.

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