Survey Notes from Badghdad

Dirty Deeds

After U.S. troops occupied Iraq, who do you suppose was instrumental in developing the infrastructure to support the camps and Forward Operating Bases?  It was the 51 Tango, the survey engineer!  Tangos surveyed timeworn sites to which no known maps existed, trod ground on which no previous American engineers had ever set foot, and created sense and order out of chaos so that camps, airstrips, helicopter pads, schools, clinics, roads, canals, and civilization itself could be built up and maintained I ran into my former Tango drill sergeant from Fort Leonard Wood while I was waiting to depart Kuwait, and being able to discuss real survey missions with him was incredible because he was simply the best role model a buck sergeant could ask for.  Now a Sergeant First Class with a large team, he proudly described what his surveyors had accomplished and affirmed his hopes for the Tango legacy in Iraq.  He also gave me a challenge: to be a pioneer in engineering by making improvements wherever I led my team to leave Iraq better than I had found it.  “That is what Tangos do; we are the vanguards of engineering and the ones who make projects possible.  Do something new and make me proud!”  A remnant of my old survey journal shows evidence that my team did indeed pioneer the engineer field with projects such as innovative topographic surveys of roads, the ground breaking of Camp Victory, courtesy of my National Guard unit and my survey team, and my personal pride and joy: the establishment of the first military soils testing laboratory in Iraq.

My beautiful picture

Establishing benchmarks on a survey expedition at BIAP.

13 – 19 July 2003

Tasks included:

  • Topographic survey of West BIAP Road (it will become a five lane road).
  • Survey for airfield and helicopter pad projects.
  • Quality control of asphalt and concrete work at various locations in roads and at Iraqi Airways site at the airport.
  • Escorting of civilians on and off BIAP.Kozak
  • Support tasks for HQ platoon.

Notes:  Have observed not to chastise Iraqis publically.  Compliment their work and then suggest how it can be improved.  Do not be surprised if they listen politely and then do the exact opposite of what you suggest.  Concrete on a slump test should be 4-6 inches to pass.  Smooth stones in concrete are a NO-GO!  Nothing should be mixed in with concrete (ie: concrete bags, plastic bags, debris, any foreign matter) as it will create voids and weaken the concrete.  Soil must be wetted cautiously as too much water will create a soup that must dry for several days before work can continue.  Iraqis do not understand this, and often do not heed our warning (see all above).  Spongy, soft spots in the dirt work mean that there is a pocket of wet, soupy soil underneath and this will cause problems in the future.  Iraqi engineers say “It’s good!  Cover with asphalt, it will make stronger!  Yes, the plastic bags good!  Make everything stronger!  Very good!”  They think that a strong surface will actually reinforce the weak soupy interior.  This is not true.

Silhouettes of soldiers and civilian workers on a road project.

Silhouettes of soldiers and civilian workers on a road project.

20-27 July 2003

Tasks included:

  • Continued topography of West BIAP Road.
  • Design work on camp shower pad.
  • Support tasks for HQ Platoon.

Notes:  We haven’t done any “real” surveying in a while!  Now there are plenty of projects.  Got a “new” laptop for the section, but the CD drive is out so it already needs to be serviced.

My Tripod

Leveling the tripod to start a survey project.

28 July – 05 Aug 2003

Tasks included:

  • Topographic survey of Battalion motor pool.
  • Support tasks for HQ Platoon
  • My surveyors were added to the guard duty roster with tasks to include guarding the BN TOC, roving guard, and guarding the West BIAP Wall.

Notes:  Am considering having weekly survey pow-wows to gauge my team’s ideas, opinions, desires for future missions, etc. and get an impression of how their morale is holding up.  I also want to ensure that they are getting the information that they need to complete their various missions.  Since attitude [of troops] reflects leadership, I’d like to see if there is more I can do to be a positive role model and leader here.

Kracker in Hole2

Collecting samples from layers of soil at a BIAP road site.

06-13 Aug 2003

Tasks included:

  • Finished topographic survey of intersection on West BIAP Road.
  • Found elevation points on intersection.
  • Finished drawing of intersection.
  • Started survey of Zone 5 and found previous boundary established by another engineer battalion using a GPS and Geodimeter to shoot boundary.
  • Established three corners and used previously established corner as fourth.
  • Provided the Platoon Sergeant for 2nd PLT with the elevations of Zone 5 for earth work.
  • Met with leadership of a neighboring battalion and discussed setting up a geotechnical facility on BIAP, then formed a team of four technicians with overseers from two different engineer battalions.

Notes:  Rough week, but all turned out fine.  We decided to have weekly AARs to discuss survey issues that we encounter through the week.  Daily supervised PMCS of our vehicle, known as X2, has been implemented since we use the vehicle constantly.

13-20 Aug 2003

Kracker in Lab

Running tests on soil in the laboratory.

Tasks included:

  • Setting up of the soils, asphalt, and concrete (geotechnical) testing facility at the old Military Intelligence compound.
  • Took soil samples from perimeter road and began first tests immediately.
  • Took inventory of soils set, noted shortages, and listed additional equipment needed for the lab.
  • Did a perimeter survey of Zone 4 for 2nd PLT Sergeant.

Notes:  Fun, fun, fun! I LOVE soils!!  We had a Tango meeting; all the Tangoes on BIAP got together to combine talents.  I did not know there were so many of us here at one time.

20-27 Aug 2003

Lab7

Lab equipment neatly organized on homemade shelves.

Tasks included:

  • Soil testing.
  • Took more samples along perimeter road.
  • Worked on getting AC, electricity, refrigerator, etc. hooked up.
  • Surveyed along perimeter road and replaced control points that had been knocked over (cussed out heavy equipment operators that we suspected).

Notes:  Red Phase guard duties included front gate guard duty, OP2, TOC duty, RTO.

27 Aug – 2 Sept 2003

Tasks included:

  • Surveyed along perimeter road to check control points.
  • Soil testing.
  • Traverse survey to tie perimeter road into paved road.

Notes:  I hate this place!

My beautiful picture

Taking an informal width measurement of a canal: “It’s as wide as I can stretch my legs!”

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3 thoughts on “Survey Notes from Badghdad

  1. kaaterskillassociates

    What a challenge! Surveying in a place where innovation is required to do what would be standard procedures elsewhere in the world. Then to add working with a different culture and how to communicate what you need to in order to get the job done. I would be interested to know what information the soil tests yielded.

    Reply
    1. bloggingpioneer Post author

      Thank you for your comment! My favorite part of surveying was working with soils, and our lab was a fantastic place to study soil characteristics at BIAP. Unfortunately, results of our tests did not end up in my collection of deployment mementos. I do remember that the soil we tested proved quite challenging. It actually reminded me of Bentonite because when dry it was so powdery it drove us crazy to walk through and try not to inhale! While our lab was short lived, we ultimately agreed that Iraq did have regions of viable soils (clays, sands, fertile soils) for various industries. The question was how would the soil remain protected from contamination or political threats to agriculture? Just one example is Saddam’s desiccation of the Southern Marshlands, once rich and vast. The leaching of contaminants from battles, burn pits and ignorantly used chemicals and hazardous materials for many years has also affected large areas. So, we found soil that had potential, but soil must also be cultivated and protected, and my hope is that Iraqi engineers are having luck with this immense project.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: A Day in the Life: Surveyors at BIAP | A Pioneer's Journey

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