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U.S. soldiers use a grader and a loader to construct a new road amid moon-like terrain near Iraq’s border with Syria on Tuesday. The road is due to be completed this spring.

U.S. soldiers use a grader and a loader to construct a new road amid moon-like terrain near Iraq’s border with Syria on Tuesday. The road is due to be completed this spring. (Monte Morin / S&S)

U.S. soldiers use a grader and a loader to construct a new road amid moon-like terrain near Iraq’s border with Syria on Tuesday. The road is due to be completed this spring.

U.S. soldiers use a grader and a loader to construct a new road amid moon-like terrain near Iraq’s border with Syria on Tuesday. The road is due to be completed this spring. (Monte Morin / S&S)

A soldier drives a vibrating compactor over the surface of the new road.

A soldier drives a vibrating compactor over the surface of the new road. (Monte Morin / S&S)

A water dispersal truck wets the surface of a new road for compaction near the Syrian border Tuesday. A damp, compacted ground facilitates road construction.

A water dispersal truck wets the surface of a new road for compaction near the Syrian border Tuesday. A damp, compacted ground facilitates road construction. (Monte Morin / S&S)

Humvees travel over a section of newly constructed road near the Syrian border on Wednesday.

Humvees travel over a section of newly constructed road near the Syrian border on Wednesday. (Monte Morin / S&S)

COMBAT OUTPOST NORTH, Iraq — Don’t look for any Whoppers or double lattes here.

Located just south of the Syrian border amid the rugged hills and jagged waddis of the Jazirah Desert, Combat Outpost North is among the newest and most austere of U.S. outposts.

The camp serves up nightly T-rations and lukewarm showers and has zero phone connections.

The combat outpost, or COP, receives water, food, mail and other supplies over a winding, spine-hammering supply route that slows vehicles to a grinding crawl.

COP North is further isolated by deep dunes of flourlike sand, or “moon dust,” that mire vehicles up to their axles, or blind drivers in orange clouds of dust.

In the last two months, however, soldiers from the 913th Engineer Company have been trying to change all that.

The Tennessee National Guard unit, attached to the 46th Engineer Battalion, which itself is attached to the 30th Naval Construction Regiment, has begun construction of a gravel roadway it hopes will improve transportation in and out of the outpost.

The 18-kilometer stretch of highway will wind between deep sand traps and boulders, and connect the COP to a flotation bridge spanning the Euphrates River north of Qaim.

The road is due to be finished by spring, but its progress has been slow because of the difficulty of delivering supplies and construction material.

Commanders say the new road is critical, because the outpost will eventually serve as a base for Iraqi army and border patrol personnel, whose vehicles are hard-pressed to supply the camp at present.

The road will cut their travel time from 18 hours to just two.

“Without this road, things can get pretty nasty here. This junk can get to be 3 feet deep,” Capt. Tim Roberts said of the loose soil.

“With a road here, they’ll be able to cruise on through without getting stuck — hopefully.”

On Tuesday, a new delivery of heavy equipment arrived and the vehicles were quickly pressed into service.

Road graders planed the earth flat, while bucket loaders and dump trucks heaved sand and gravel on the northernmost section of the road.

In order to make the road as durable as possible, soldiers compacted the earth along the roadway by wetting it down with an enormous watering truck and then pressing it flat with large vibrating rollers.

The need for water requires frequent trips to the Euphrates, a 1½-hour excursion down the uncompleted portion of the road.

“You have to drive real slow, so it’s real boring,” said Spc. Harry Hooper, as he helped fill the watering truck at the river’s edge Tuesday.

The 25-year-old, Clermont, Fla., native belongs to the 947th Engineer Company, which also is working on the project and is attached to the 46th Engineer Battalion, from the 54th Engineer Battalion.

Working in the dry, loose sand is a challenge, but recent rainy-season downpours have helped with the construction, said Lt. Bryon Grimco, 36, of Martin, Tenn.

“When it’s just dust, there’s no way to define a route,” he said.

Soldiers in the 913th said they considered themselves lucky to be doing jobs that they had been trained to do, and hadn’t been detailed to other jobs.

The company’s first sergeant, Bill Taylor, 53, of Trimble, Tenn., compared it to similar projects he had worked on in countries like Honduras, bringing basic services to small villages.

“These kind of projects make you feel good,” Taylor said.

“In Honduras, we had all these macho Latino guys in tears because we brought water to their village. When you see that, it does something to you inside.”

For those who live at COP North, the slowly growing road is just one of a number of recent improvements.

Newer amenities include a volleyball net and four-hole latrines — wooden outhouses that replaced open-trench toilets.

Next, said Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Sevey, the camp’s “mayor,” is a satellite Internet link.

Sevey, who oversees COP North’s upkeep and maintenance, said that despite it’s current deprivations, the soldiers, Marines and Navy Seabees who live there consider it home.

“It’s not a bad place to be,” said Sevey, of the 947th Engineer Company, which is attached to the 46th Engineer Battalion.

“It could be worse. We could be getting mortared every day in Ramadi.”

Sevey, who takes great pride in the camp, doesn’t like to hear it maligned by visitors.

“The most difficult thing has been getting a supply line flowing into this area,” Sevey said.

“After the road’s done, hopefully it will be a nice place.”


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