458th's engineers prove themselves useful for any task in Iraq

Spc. Matthew Rhodes, left, and Spc. Christian Kessler work to hook together lengths of drainage pipe on Camp Victory. The pipe was eventually used under a new roadway along the camp's perimeter.


By JASON CHUDY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 15, 2004

“You can’t swing a dead cat in Baghdad without hitting a soldier from the 458th,” claims the 458th Engineer Battalion’s executive officer, Maj. Adam S. Roth.

That may be a stretch, but members of the Army Reserve combat engineer battalion based in Johnstown, Pa., have definitely gotten around since they arrived earlier this year.

“They are the division’s 9-1-1 force,” said Col. Kendall Cox, engineer brigade commander for the 1st Cavalry Division. “They can do anything that a combination of engineer units can, but they do it as one unit.”

The 458th’s soldiers have searched and cleared improvised explosive devices from more than 9,000 kilometers of Baghdad-area supply routes, transported more than 83,000 rounds of captured ordnance for destruction, and placed more than 12,000 concrete or dirt-filled barriers around the city for either facility protection or the random road checkpoints that the division’s brigade combat teams set up.

They have also left their lasting mark, joining with other engineer units to renovate a mile stretch of Abu Nuwas park on the Tigris River in central Baghdad.

“As long as engineers can work they’re happy,” said battalion Sgt. Maj. James Hall. “They love their stick time.”

The battalion also has a heavy rescue mission, providing a quick response team to find survivors in bombed or collapsed buildings.

Of their 500-plus soldiers deployed to Iraq, 55 percent came from other reserve units, coming to the battalion within 45 days of deploying.

“We lost 129 soldiers to Operation Iraqi Freedom I,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Dave Chesser about the need for the additional soldiers.

Roth said they have soldiers from nearly all 50 states and every one of the Army’s reserve regional readiness commands.

“You’d have thought they’d been together for years,” Cox said. “They’re absolutely well-trained and prepared for any combat mission we give them.”

The unit has been able to accomplish their varied missions, Chesser said, because of the varied background of their reservists. “We’ve got doctors, lawyers, civilian engineers, architects, therapists,” he said. “You name it, we’ve got it.”

A handful of those who deployed to OIF I returned for the battalion’s current deployment.

One of those returning is 1st Lt. Noel Milian. He deployed to Kuwait last year with a unit of road builders.

“I’m proud to do it,” said the New York City native, whose platoon clears IEDs from supply routes as part of Task Force Iron Claw.

“We’re making a difference. We’re not only helping the Iraqis, but we’re finding the bombs that are aimed at us.”

Spc. Matthew Fox, left, signals to move a concrete barrier after Spc. Sean Stivason hooked the barrier to a crane at Camp Victory, near Baghdad. The two soldiers are from the 458th Engineer Battalion at the camp.

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