2nd ID engineers train to be ‘Mr. Fix-it’ in Iraq
CAMP FALLING WATER, South Korea — When the air conditioner breaks down in Iraq, who you gonna call? If you’re a member of the 2nd Infantry Division’s Iraq-bound 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the people who can help you are going to be soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division’s 44th Engineers Battalion.
Directorate of Public Works staff members at Camp Falling Water in downtown Uijongbu are training 11 engineers from the battalion, part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, to fix air conditioners and heaters, hook up and maintain generators, repair plumbing and do basic construction such as laying concrete pads, erecting small buildings and fences, renovating larger buildings and installing doors and locks.
DPW, which has more than 300 South Korean employees, does maintenance and repair work for 10 camps, including 1,200 buildings covering 45 million square feet of floor space, that are part of the Camp Red Cloud Garrison. But in Iraq, soldiers will not have the luxury of calling DPW to fix broken buildings and equipment.
At Camp Falling Water on Friday, Pvt. Michael Schmitz and Spc. Justin Rahn learned how air conditioners work and how to fix them when they don’t.
DPW worker Kim Yong-il, who fixes air conditioners in Area I, told the soldiers the most common problems involve dirt clogging pipes or packing around air conditioners’ condensers.
“Nothing is breaking, but they always need checking and cleaning,” he said.
As a combat engineer, Rahn may be more used to blowing things up than repairing them, but he said air conditioners are important pieces of equipment in Iraq.
“I’d say it is pretty hot over there. We are probably going to be mostly running patrols and manning checkpoints. We will be doing our regular job all the time, but when an air conditioner breaks down, we can go fix it,” he said.
The 2nd ID soldiers are not taking their own air conditioners with them and will rely on equipment already installed wherever they’re based, officials said.
Engineers’ skills are useful when it comes to understanding the concepts involved in maintenance work, Rahn said.
“With the air conditioners, you have to know a little bit about the electronics in order to troubleshoot if it stops working.” But the learning curve is steep, he said: While air conditioning trade school takes one or two years, “we have only a week to learn this.”
Next week the engineers will have hands-on training.
“We will open a couple of air conditioners and play around in the guts of them,” Rahn said.
In another part of Camp Falling Water, Sgt. Jovan Maddox and Pvt. Rickey Drum were learning how to weld.
Public works staffer Son Hui-chin showed the soldiers how to set up the welder and adjust the flow of air and the various gases involved, then use a hand-guide to keep the welder steady while they cut metal.
“First you have to make the metal hot, then cut it,” he told them.
Maddox said he never had welded before the training.
“It’s real fun once you get the hang of it,” said the young engineer, who said he hopes he can use his skills to provide things for other soldiers that were lacking during his first Iraq tour with a different unit last year.
“The frustrating part was not having electricity and running water when we first got there. Now they say they have got those things. It would be nice to have those comforts, but we can operate without them,” said Maddox, who was based in Baghdad.
When he leaves the Army, he said, he plans to put his new skills to work renovating a house in his home state of Washington.
“I’m going to take all this knowledge and make it a dream home. The first thing I will probably do is lay a concrete patio,” he said.
Nearby, Staff Sgt. Randy Field and Pfc. Dustin Aldridge were learning how to use generators to provide electricity to buildings in Iraq.
“We are learning how to connect them to a building so we can use them … how to wire up boxes and circuit breakers,” Field said.
“And maintenance to keep them running,” added Aldridge, who reported having some experience as a civilian electrician.
CRC Garrison commander Lt. Col. Brian Vines said the training will not teach soldiers to build to code.
“Nobody is expecting them to finish this training and then build houses and schools. What it does is expose them to a lot of different aspects of construction. It saves them from having to bring additional soldiers over and they can use these skills for civil affairs. Anything they can do with the outside communities makes them safer,” Vines said.
“They can do basic concrete, and fix and repair their own facilities and those of neighboring towns. Hooking a generator up to a school or a government building will pay big dividends for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team,” Vines said.
The soldiers appear to enjoy the training, he said.
“Because they come from the 44th Engineers, they already have a vision of what they are going to use these skills for. A lot of them have already been in Iraq. Had they not had the experience already in Iraq, this course would have taken two to three weeks,” he said.
The garrison is prepared to train more soldiers once the initial group returns to its unit, he said.