RAWAH, Iraq — In an unforgiving desert in northwest Iraq on Friday, sand sailed endlessly in search of any obstacle that could stop it.
Near the city of Rawah that obstacle was a command outpost being built by the 94th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) based out of Grafenwöhr, Vilseck and Hohenfels, Germany.
Since mid-July, the 94th Engineers have battled the sand that they call “moon dust” to erect the outpost that will eventually be an expeditionary base where troops can keep an eye on people coming into Iraq from Syria.
In the distance, a portion of the city of Rawah can be seen between two large, sand-covered hills that separate the outpost from the city.
The outpost was originally to be built on another site nearby, but it quickly proved to be undesirable because of constant heavy winds and frequent dust storms.
“We went to another site first, and that place was a nightmare,” said 1st Lt. Alex Young, operations officer for the outpost construction project.
An area worse than the current site, which the soldiers aptly call the “hell hole,” is hard to imagine.
Construction at the previous site stopped after a couple of days, but the engineers were stuck there because of sandstorms that prevented travel, said Spc. Seth Dominique, a technical engineering specialist for the battalion. When the engineers arrived at the current site in mid-July, there was nothing but sand.
The battalion — with the help of the 463rd Engineer Company, a reserve unit from Pennsylvania and Ohio — excavated the area, including cutting out a hill to make way for the tent city. Soldiers now are constructing a tent city and other buildings to include showers, a dining facility and tactical operation centers. The tent city has 48 medium-sized tents that will house the soldiers based there.
In just over a month, work is nearly complete and the outpost should be done by Sept. 1, Young said.
“It’s a good feeling to see it go up so fast,” said Young, who works about 20 hours each day to keep things at the site running smoothly.
“I just think it’s amazing that the military has all this equipment to be able to come in and build something like this in such a short period of time,” said Spc. Joey Jochim, a heavy-equipment mechanic who helps keep the equipment like bulldozers and forklifts running for the mission. “I volunteered to come out here. It’s actually kind of fun.”
Most soldiers at the site probably wouldn’t go so far as to call the work fun, but they do realize what their work will mean to future units that will be based there.
“We’re improving the living conditions for others,” Moran said Friday at the start of his platoon’s 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, which was put in place to keep the soldiers out of the relentless desert heat. Powerful light sets provided ample lighting for the crews.
“If we have to live hard for a few weeks to make other people’s time here better, well, that’s one of those things engineers expect.”