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Lance Cpl. Brandon Airey, 19, of Tinton Falls, N.J., who is with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172's Combat Operating Post Rawah detachment, operates a hydroseeder Monday. The detachment is building a helipad at Combat Outpost Rawah in Anbar province. The hydroseeder sprayed water onto the site to help pack the surface before gravel was laid down.

Lance Cpl. Brandon Airey, 19, of Tinton Falls, N.J., who is with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172's Combat Operating Post Rawah detachment, operates a hydroseeder Monday. The detachment is building a helipad at Combat Outpost Rawah in Anbar province. The hydroseeder sprayed water onto the site to help pack the surface before gravel was laid down. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)

Lance Cpl. Brandon Airey, 19, of Tinton Falls, N.J., who is with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172's Combat Operating Post Rawah detachment, operates a hydroseeder Monday. The detachment is building a helipad at Combat Outpost Rawah in Anbar province. The hydroseeder sprayed water onto the site to help pack the surface before gravel was laid down.

Lance Cpl. Brandon Airey, 19, of Tinton Falls, N.J., who is with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172's Combat Operating Post Rawah detachment, operates a hydroseeder Monday. The detachment is building a helipad at Combat Outpost Rawah in Anbar province. The hydroseeder sprayed water onto the site to help pack the surface before gravel was laid down. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)

Sgt. Adam Mears, center, 28, a heavy equipment operator from Greenwich, Conn., directs the operators of two bucket loaders as they fill a scraper with gravel at Combat Outpost Rawah in the Anbar province Monday. The gravel will be used to build a helipad.

Sgt. Adam Mears, center, 28, a heavy equipment operator from Greenwich, Conn., directs the operators of two bucket loaders as they fill a scraper with gravel at Combat Outpost Rawah in the Anbar province Monday. The gravel will be used to build a helipad. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)

A bucket loader kicks up a swirl of dust as it scoops up gravel at Combat Outpost Rawah.

A bucket loader kicks up a swirl of dust as it scoops up gravel at Combat Outpost Rawah. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)

RAWAH, Iraq — The aircraft landing area at Combat Outpost Rawah bustles with activity as a small detachment from Marine Wing Support Squadron 172 builds a helicopter pad.

The pad will allow the outpost to bed down more aircraft as U.S. servicemembers pull back from a camp at Al-Qa’im, a former Iraqi train station that is scheduled to return to that function, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dennis Rice, detachment commander, said Monday.

The pad will increase the aircraft parking space by half, Rice said. Some landing areas will be improved to boost safety, he added.

But building a helipad in the fine sand and dust at Rawah is hard work, according to the detachment of squadron Marines working there.

In some places the "moon dust" at the pad site was 6 inches to a foot deep, said Cpl. Brandon A. Railling, 23, a heavy equipment operator from Palatka, Fla.

"You really can’t do anything with it, so we have to move it first," Brandon said.

The sand is so fine that once it’s scrapped from the pad site, "it just blows away," said Sgt. Guarionex Illas, 30, a heavy equipment operator from Buffalo, N.Y.

With the dust gone, the Marines water the solid base down and add a gravel surface that has to be packed down and leveled. A soil cement compound will be added to harden the surface.

The whole process will take the heavy equipment operators of the detachment about 10 days, Illas said.

"The dust has been the biggest hindrance," he said.

But the detachment has done several other helo pad projects and have the process "down to a science," Rice said.

Once the new pad is completed, the detachment will move onto other improvements at Rawah, preparing for future personnel and equipment, he said.

"Our goal is to build a better base for the units that will replace us," he said.


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