Engineers work to get Iraq's oil back on line
RUMEILA, Iraq — When Spc. Garett Michaels’ engineer unit deployed to Southwest Asia, the West Virginia National Guardsman expected a combat mission.
Instead, Michaels, 20, is pulling security for Army engineers and civilian contractors attempting to bring Iraq’s oil production online.
“I’m learning a lot about the oil industry,” said Michaels, who studies forensics at West Virginia University.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to restore Iraqi gas and oil separation plants above the Rumeila oil fields, said spokeswoman Alicia Embrey. Team RIO — short for restore Iraqi oil — works with civilian engineers from Kellogg Brown & Root to return such plants to working order, she said.
“We’re getting the oil production back to pre-war standards,” Embrey said.
The teams arrived in Kuwait in February and followed U.S.-led coalition troops into Iraq.
Hanging around the engineers all day is becoming a learning experience, Michaels said. Already, he understands why naturally occurring pressure forces small lakes of oil to churn and spurt up like black geysers. And he can name the several gases burned off in 40-foot flames near the plant.
The West Virginia troops, part of the 1092nd Combat Engineer Battalion, stay at Camp Commando, a small base north of Kuwait City, said Pfc. John Forester, 19, of Moundsville, W.Va.
Each day brings a new mission, he said, often to major towns in southern Iraq. Over the past month, the Guardsmen have had shots fired at their convoy and rocks thrown through their windows.
But they are undeterred.
“It’s a good mission,” Forester said. “We’re seeing and learning a lot.”