In tangle with rebar, Marines in Iraq improvise quick solution
July 19, 2006
FALLUJAH, Iraq — The same question played on everybody’s mind: “How does something like that even happen?”
Like some bizarre, metal-work puzzle, an enormous length of metal rebar had wrapped itself around the rear axle of the high-backed Humvee and left both ends sticking out whip-like beneath the rear bumper, like huge cockroach antennae.
The Marines’ frustration grew from moment to moment as they studied the rebar. It was too thick for bolt cutters, and it would definitely cause problems for them to drive back to camp with it hanging on like that.
“How are we going to get that off? We’re going to have to take the wheel off,” one Marine said plaintively as others from 1st Platoon, Weapons Company scanned the windows and rooftops for snipers.
“Hey, there are some guys working on a building over there. I’ll see if they have a saw,” said Cpl. Brian Tomsovic, 35, of Norman, Okla.
As Tomsovic trotted over to the crew of Iraqi laborers, a fellow Marine expressed his doubts with sarcasm. “Oh yeah, we’ll just wait right here while you find a saw and a blowtorch.”
The troubled vehicle belonged to the 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, or “New England’s Own.” The reserve infantry unit, which is made up of companies throughout America’s Northeast, is responsible for keeping the peace in Fallujah, a one-time insurgent stronghold.
On this particular day, 1st Platoon was busy patrolling the narrow streets of “The Pizza Slice,” a contentious swath of western Fallujah shaped like a pizza wedge. The patrol had wheeled into an open area strewn with smoldering trash and piles of rebar and the ends of the metal rods rolled over them.
“When I saw the rebar popping up and down I knew nothing good was going to come of it,” said Lance Cpl. Lindon Atwood, 24, the driver of the high back. “That’s when the truck behind told us we’d got wrapped up in something,” said the Lakeville, Mass., resident.
Beside the clearing was one of many new apartment buildings under construction in Fallujah. A crew of Iraqis dusted in fine white powder stood out front by a gas-powered generator. Tomsovic figured they should have some useful tools. When he came running back to the high back, he was wearing a wide grin.
“They’re cutting marble over there. They’ve got a carbide saw we can use,” he said.
Within moments Atwood had pulled the vehicle over to the work site and Tomsovic was using the electric circular saw to unravel the metal knot. The blade emitted a shower of sparks that flew into Tomsovic’s face as he crawled beneath the Humvee and cut the metal rod in several places.
“Whew, that was a pain in the ass,” Tomsovic said when he had finished. The rebar lay in pieces on the ground.
“That worked out well,” said Sgt. Terrence Burke, 28, a police officer from Boston. “It’s almost like it was planned. They were pretty nice about it too. They could have told us to hit the road.”
Eager to show their appreciation, Marines handed bottles of water and leaflets to the Iraqi workers and children clustered around the scene. It was all they had on hand. “One of the guys asked me for some money,” Burke said. “I’d have given him a few bucks if I had any on me but I don’t. It’s not exactly like I’m at work back home.”