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Prime BEEF on the Menu

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq -- Sitting still doesn't suit the approximately 60 civil engineers assigned to Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq.

Camp Speicher is 16 square miles about 100 miles northwest of Baghdad and it isn't much different than other camps in northern Iraq - ankle-deep dust, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines with a job to do and doing it.

Camp life is a little like home life. You need a place to eat, sleep and work, a place to put your stuff, a little light, a little heat and a few improvements to make the place comfortable enough to hang your hat at the end of a long workday.

Approximately 60 of the Air Force's finest are deployed to Detachment 10, 732nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron at Speicher to help make that happen. Their mission is to help repair, renovate, construct and maintain base facilities in lieu of Army engineers.

Detachment 10, 732nd ECES is an element of the 732nd Expeditionary Mission Support Group headquartered at Balad Air Base, Iraq. The 732nd EMSG falls under the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. An important part of the wing's mission is to provide combat-support to Airmen.

Detachment 10 is the first Air Force CE Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force detachment at Speicher with Airmen from nine other civil engineer units. The largest contingent comes from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and others from bases as diverse as Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., to Sembach Air Base, Germany.

Upon arrival, these Airmen began by fixing their work place and sorting their own tools before they could begin helping others.

"We did some scrounging," said Master Sgt. Bruce Stocking, 732nd ECES operations superintendent deployed from the 28th CES at Ellsworth AFB. It was quick work - within a week of boots-on-the-ground, they were in full-operational mode.

Detachment 10 also handles projects large and small including repairs, maintenance and operations in garrison facilities, as well as new building construction when required.

The work runs from changing light switches to building a chapel. "From a $1.50 to $150,000," according to officer in charge Maj. Craig Johnson, deployed from the 355th CES at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.

"It's the repair shop of your dreams," he said.

There are four teams -- electrical, heavy, mechanical and operations -- consisting of electricians, power production specialists, carpenters, heating and air-conditioning specialists, heavy-equipment operators, plumbers and more. Whether a building needs rewiring to eliminate safety hazards and improve efficiency or a new office space needs to be designed with cubicles and work stations, Det. 10 is the point-of-contact, just as a Prime BEEF unit would be at any Air Force base.

"We do the same thing here that we do stateside, except a whole lot more of it," Maj. Johnson said.

That volume is challenging because of the common complicator in Iraq -- weather. Dust, wind, rain and a supply system that doesn't stock everything typically required to maintain a base make this project especially demanding.

"If our supply doesn't stock it, we can't go to (an off-base hardware store)," the major said.

There are other problems to solve including parts in metric measurement and parts in the wrong length or shape or function. Detachment 10 makes it work.
Equipment is used hard in this desert environment.

"The fleet is 15 years old," said Master Sgt. Don Anderson, the heavy repair superintendent deployed from the 431st Civil Engineer Squadron at Sembach. "The graders, dump trucks and rollers the detachment inherited are "a challenge to keep running, but we manage," he said.

The trick?

"(It takes) a lot of creativity to get simple repairs done," said Master Sgt. Brad Branfield, electrical shop superintendent, deployed from Ellsworth. "You keep looking, keep trying until you get what you need," whether it's batteries, spark plugs or generator parts. "There's no end to the fixing."

Urgency is the normal operating mode at a contingency base and this one is no exception. The base is expanding, with its population expected to grow by 50 percent in 2007. For the focus to remain on the mission, the support structure has to be in place and fully operational.

But there is always a bigger picture. It's not just brickwork or plumbing a toilet.

"Think about the task. What's it for? We're not just installing a light switch," Sergeant Branfield said. "We're providing power for a provincial reconstruction team (in a unit) that works directly with Iraqi civilians and town leaders to improve the lives of the local citizenry. "

"We have an impact on the Soldiers' lives," said operations officer Capt. Mike Pachel, also deployed from Ellsworth. The results are immediate. Improved billets. Post exchanges set up near living areas. "We're contributing," Capt. Pachel said. "It's a support role, but it allows others to do their important work outside the wire."

The list is impressive - one chapel and three post exchanges built, nearly 500 barriers placed and filled, 120 Army billets remodeled, a whole building rewired and re-plumbed and painted, two unmanned aerial vehicle weapon systems bedded down, two satellite dishes installed and dozens of other projects big and small - but it all means one thing, said Master Sgt. Philip Aitken, mechanical superintendent, deployed from Ellsworth AFB.

"We're helping people out, making things better than they were before we came," he said.

(Editor's note: All deployed members of the 28th CES have returned safely from their 7-month deployment to Camp Speicher.)