Story by Sgt. Michele Watson
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Marines with Support Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) worked tirelessly toward the completion of a 12 kilometer stretch of road.
A road was already in place, but during several severe rainstorms the route was damaged and in desperate need of repair.
“After receiving approval to reconstruct the road, we had to figure out the amount of fuel, equipment and manpower needed to accomplish the mission,” said Gunnery Sergeant Joel Williams, heavy equipment chief, Heavy Equipment Platoon, Support Co., 9th ESB, 1st MLG (Fwd).
To construct a road that can withstand heavy rains, heavy equipment operators used heavy equipment for a multi-step system. The process created a smooth path similar to roads in America.
First, the Marines used a front loader to load up the dump trucks with gravel. The dump trucks then dropped the gravel onto the road. A road grader, which is used to shape the road, leveled out the surface and also made the V-ditches on the side. After the road was shaped, a water truck wet the rock and soil. Once that dried, heavy equipment operators used a compactor to pack the building materials together. This process results in a fast, convenient route of travel.
“While I am in the compactor, my job is to make sure the road is heavily compressed,” said Lance Cpl. Yanet Sierra Trejo, a heavy equipment operator with Heavy Equipment platoon, Support Co., 9th ESB, 1st MLG (Fwd). “When I am in the [front loader], I have to make sure I put enough gravel in the dump to lay out on the road.”
Although asphalt is not used to create a black top surface like highways in America, when using the adapted road, the difference is hard to notice.
“You can feel how smooth it is when you’re driving on the road,” said Williams. “It’s just like driving on a road back home.”
To counter the effects of water damage, the Marines built V-ditches on both sides of the road for rain to drain into. The road was also built with a small crown.
“Instead of having a flat road, we leave a three to five percent grade crown in the road, so the water goes into the V-ditches during rainfall,” said Cpl. Joshua Reynolds, a heavy equipment operator, Heavy Equipment Platoon, Support Co., 9th ESB, 1st MLG (Fwd).
Road construction always requires the skill of heavy equipment operators, but more was required to accomplish this mission due to the threat of insurgent activity.
“Being in Afghanistan we also have to determine how much security is needed,” said Williams.
During the project, a security team was established to protect the Marines working on the road.
“Before the heavy equipment operators begin their work, we clear the area using mine-rollers to proof the area for [improvised explosive devices],” said Cpl. Jared Hilton, security team leader, 2nd squad, Security Platoon, Support Co., 9th ESB, 1st MLG (Fwd). “Once it’s cleared, the operators can move freely.”
Multiple irrigation trenches and canals create opportunities for enemy fighters to maneuver and place improvised explosive devices, but added security diminishes the threat.
“Insurgents use the areas we can’t see, like wadis, to move around,” said Hilton. “We post security and keep eyes on all avenues of approach, so the heavy equipment operators can work through the day and focus on their task.”
With the completion of the road, military vehicles as well as local civilians have a faster and safer method of travel.
“The road will allow freedom of movement without worrying about damaging mine-roller wheels or the vehicle itself,” said Williams.
Hilton also discussed the benefit of lessened IED threats.
“Because we add so many rocks, the road is harder, and it’s more difficult to dig holes to plant IEDs in,” said Hilton.
The Marines of Support Company worked well together, and their dedication to the mission brought safety to both military and civilian vehicles and garnered the appreciation of the locals.
“I think these Marines are some of the best I have ever worked with,” said Williams. “They have the ability to deliver and make it happen. They are all positive, so it makes for good end results.”
Hilton also said the efforts of both security and construction go hand in hand.
“We definitely work as one team,” said Hilton.”We all know each other’s jobs and responsibilities, and it helps to make the mission run smooth.”