After battle for Fallujah, Seabees take on task of cleaning city, restoring services
January 5, 2005
More than a month after a U.S.-led assault against Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah, residents are returning to a city still in ruins.
Standing water remains on some streets. Downed power lines are draped over buildings and across alleyways. Piles of garbage and rubble litter the streets.
The overwhelming job of cleaning up the city and restoring basic services, such as water and electricity, lies in the hands of Navy Seabees with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Four, along with Iraqi contractors.
Hard work is nothing new to the Navy’s construction workers, but even they admit that helping rebuild the city is a monumental task that will take time. “Well, we’re pretty good at what we do,” Chief Petty Officer William Wright, a builder with the Port Hueneme, Calif.-based battalion, said in a telephone interview. “We’ve got a lot of this debris out of the road. We’re clearing the roads. But we’re taking it one step at a time right now.”
Sweeping the streets clean of the muck and debris continues to be one of the top priorities in addition to helping deliver humanitarian aid to the thousands of residents returning to the war-torn town.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Stewart, a utilitiesman with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Four, compared the mess to the swath of destruction left by a high-powered hurricane.
Since Dec. 3, the Seabees have pumped 60 million gallons of water out of the city. But the job isn’t done, yet.
Some parts of the city are below the water table and pumps are required to keep water at bay. But during the conflict, many of the pumps didn’t work or were deliberately turned off, flooding the streets with water. The standing water has only made clearing the debris and rubble that much harder.
“Hurricane Andrew when it hit Miami in the early ’90s would be a pretty good description of the level of debris,” Stewart said. “The buildings themselves are pretty much still structurally sound, still standing.”
Destruction in some parts of the city are a lot worse than others. Areas where insurgents hid from coalition forces got the brunt of the operation’s brute force to kick them out of town or kill them.
“Those parts of the city were struck harder than others,” Wright said. “There are parts of the city that look pretty good, while others are pretty much destroyed.”
The battalion’s Seabees arrived in August and immediately boosted force protection for Camp Fallujah, where many Marines and unit members call home in Iraq. The unit has small detachments spread out across the country supporting Marine units. The battalion also has Seabees deployed to Rota, Spain, and across Europe.
Although helping rebuild Fallujah is a tremendous chore, Seabees have noticed a precipitous drop in the number of insurgent attacks. Before the operation, members of the battalion came under attack almost daily from roadside bombs and small-arms fire. On Sept. 4, 2004, Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Lyle Knott, a steelworker with the battalion, was killed in a mortar attack at Camp Fallujah.
“We still get some small-arms fire, but not as much,” Wright said. “Not nearly as much [improvised explosive devices] and not near as many mortar attacks.”
After finishing pumping out the water from the streets and clearing the debris, Iraqi contractors and Seabees will focus on restoring electricity. In the next couple of weeks, the battalion will help build polling stations and provide support for elections scheduled Jan. 30.
A typical Seabee with the battalion works as many as 14 hours a day, seven days a week. One of the biggest challenges is making sure sailors get a break once in awhile so they stay mentally and physically sharp, Wright said.
“The work is good,” Wright said. “[I’m] proud to be here helping the Iraqis. I just hope it all works out in the end.”