By Army Pfc. J. Princeville Lawrence
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 28, 2009 - Military engineers are nearing the end of a project to build a new bridge near the border of two Afghanistan provinces. The leadership of the 1st Armored Division's 7th Engineer Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, inspected the construction site on Route Arnhem in Afghanistan's Maysan province.
The bridge, located near the border of Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces, will replace a temporary bridge built when the road washed out several years ago.
Engineers have been working in phases for almost six weeks to complete the new bridge before the old bridge is dismantled.
When the new bridge is finished, the 7th Engineer Battalion's soldiers can remove the old bridge safely while minimizing disruptions to normal traffic flow.
"When the bridge comes out, there wouldn't be anything in place to keep the road open, so we built a bypass around the washed-out site," said Army Lt. Col. Chris Barron, the battalion's commander.
The battalion's commander, command sergeant major and technical engineers traveled to the site to check on the final stages of construction. The engineers examined materials and construction methods to determine if the bridge was built according to plan, if it will last for its intended lifespan and if it's strong enough to handle expected traffic.
"We're going over there to check it out -- make sure it's safe, make sure the road will be open and available for traffic and it will be durable for the residents of Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces," Barron said. "Once that's done, then we'll give the go-ahead to pull that military bridge."
The bypass will allow Route Arnhem to remain open as a main route to Contingency Operating Site Garyowen and a conduit for a large part of southern Iraq. Starting at Amara, it cuts across Maysan province and into Dhi Qar, into Karbala, then north to Baghdad.
"There's a lot of traffic out there," Barron said. "We want to maintain the average Iraqi's ability to move west from Amara without having to take a huge, three-hour bypass or take dirt roads."
Most of the work on the bridge is done at night, when there is less heat and traffic. During the day, the soldiers live in tents near the construction site. Two Iraqis who operate the excavators and buckets work with the soldiers.
They were excited to get on the machines, get on that equipment," said Army 1st Lt. Nathaniel Waybrant, battalion design engineer.
When American forces leave, the bridge will be turned over to Iraqi oversight and allow the river of commerce for the people of Iraq to flow unabated from Amara to Baghdad.
(Army Pfc. J. Princeville Lawrence serves with the 1st Armored Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.)