By Army 2nd Lt. Brent Vance
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 8, 2009 - As coalition forces move out of Iraqi cities under the U.S.-Iraq security agreement that took effect in January, their facility requirements change. Engineers of 1st Platoon, Company A, 46th Engineer Combat Battalion 225th Engineer Brigade, expanded housing for 82nd Airborne Division soldiers by transforming a high-rise office building in Baghdad into a high-rise apartment building.
Remodeling a gutted building for housing required a big effort, and the 1st Platoon engineers worked extended shifts to get the soldiers into better living conditions at Joint Security Station Loyalty.
"When I first saw the building, I knew that it was going to be a lot of work, but I could see that by the time we got through it we would really improve the standard of living for these soldiers," said Army Sgt. Antonio Woods, from Seaford, Del., team leader for the project. "We wanted to get the job done as quickly as we could so soldiers could move in, but we had to have the best quality so it would be nice."
A construction team installed more than 45 tons of "e-glass" ballistic protection for windows. The soldiers cutting the e-glass had to wear full wet-weather gear and respirators to protect them from airborne fiberglass exposure.
"The material was extremely heavy," said Army Spc. Kimberly Ortiz, a member of the specialized team who hails from Allentown, Pa. "When we were first learning to work with it, we had a hard time, but as we got farther along, we got a better idea of how to handle it."
The electrical crew ran close to five miles of wire inside the high-rise and installed nine electrical panel boxes. The finished electrical system includes features such as fire alarms and exit signs to ensure soldiers' safety.
To provide adequate exits for the building, the demolition crew broke through two-foot-thick brick walls in nine locations with pick axes, sledge hammers and a lot of sweat. The demolition crew also removed a filthy, nonfunctional duct system.
The six-week project resulted in renovated fifth, sixth and seventh floors and provided 72 rooms outfitted with ballistic protection and improved exits to meet modern building requirements. It now offers 24,000 square feet of finished living space for the paratroopers, and each of the newly finished rooms includes electrical outlets and individual climate controls that can be adjusted using television-style remotes.
Construction missions in Iraq are especially meaningful to engineers, they said, because wherever they go, there is evidence of the work they've accomplished.
"The soldiers of 1st Platoon, Company A, are proud to be able to visit JSS Loyalty and tell their peers, 'I built that. I made a difference for the troops that are living here,'" said Las Crusas, N.M., native Army Staff Sgt. Juan Zavala, a squad leader with the 46th Engineer Battalion.
(Army 2nd Lt. Brent Vance serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with Company A, 46th Engineer Combat Battalion 225th Engineer Brigade.)