Marine Combat Engineers Fortify U.S. Camp

By Jim Goodwin

TURAYBIL, Iraq (CENTCOM)– Not far from the Iraqi-Jordanian border, a handful of Marines are providing an extra layer of protection for the small, remote forward operating base here.

After a suicide bomber killed two Marines and injured six others early last month, combat engineers from Combat Service Support Battalion 7 have spent the past three weeks fortifying the camp.

“I never imagined I’d be standing on the Iraqi border getting rained on and freezing,” said Lance Cpl. William A. Fishburn, a military truck driver who joined the Marine Corps two years ago to “make a difference in the world.”

Today, the 20-year-old Marine reservist from Springfield, Ill., is providing security for the combat engineers as they work. Just several yards in front of him, civilian vehicles are entering and exiting Iraq through the large steel arches of the border crossing – the same road the suicide truck driver used to ram into the U.S. military compound.

Behind him, the combat engineers are hard at work – sparks sprinkling the pavement from a welder’s torch, the rhythmic ‘beep’ of a large tractor moving barriers into place.

In just under a month, the Marines have worked daily to emplace [B1] barriers, elevate watch towers, set concertina wire, and install gates so the Marine provisional infantrymen who operate here can better control traffic.

“We even dozed two nearby (abandoned) farmhouses which individuals were using to observe the FOB,” said Sgt. T. R. Sparenberg, a 28-year-old from Virginia, Ill., and platoon sergeant for the engineer detachment here.

The Marines assigned to this remote area on Iraq’s western border are charged with providing security and assisting the Iraqi Border and Customs Police with vehicle inspections and searches at the border. Additionally, the Marines here act as a liaison for Jordanian trucks which convoy fuel into Iraq.

Recently, U.S. forces operating here have been the target of insurgents’ attacks, to include small arms fire in addition to last month’s truck bombing.

“It’s been a rebuilding process for everyone,” said 1st Lt. Joshua B. Kling, platoon commander for the camp’s detachment of Marine. “We just have to keep pressing with the operation.”

Beefing up the compound and adjacent vehicle entry control point will prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering the area, said Kling, a 27-year-old Hot Springs, Va., native.

From the border crossing point, people entering Iraq are pulled into a vehicle entry control lot where Iraqi Border Police, supervised by Marines, inspect vehicles and verify passports.

Now, in addition to the steel gate, dozens of cement barriers now stand between the border’s road and the compound.

“This increases our survivability and (we can) control vehicle movement into the compound better,” Kling said.

Maj. Jon D. Quehl, the engineer company’s commanding officer, pulled Marines from various other engineer projects throughout Iraq’s Al Anbar Province to quickly establish needed extra protection here.

“This is something that can save Marines’ lives," said the Decatur, Ill., native. “It means a hell of a lot more protection for them.”

Since arriving in Iraq more than four months ago, CSSB-7’s combat engineers have completed numerous projects throughout western Iraq, to include fortification of the smaller outposts and the construction of an Iraqi National Guard academy.

They also provide several teams of mine sweepers, known as obstacle clearing detachments, to counter insurgents’ efforts against military logistics convoys on Iraq’s open roadways.

On a recent convoy, the engineers encountered – and cleared – more than 20 mines. Fishburn was driving a 7-ton truck full of Marines that day.

“Somebody’s son, husband, or whatever, are coming home because these guys did their job and cleared the mines,” said Fishburn, who says he wants to pursue a career in law enforcement when he returns to Illinois. “I’d like to go to college, maybe the University of Illinois or something.”

When questioned about being activated for service in Iraq, Fishburn shrugs and says he expected to come to Iraq, and that a member of his family has served in every major U.S. war since World War II.

“I can say I did something, not just sit at home and watch it on the news,” he said.

But operating in a combat zone is nothing new for these Marine engineers, the majority of which are reservists from the Peoria, Ill.-based Charlie Engineer Company. The unit was activated to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom during last year’s push to Baghdad.

Lance Cpl. Matt R. Hashter, a 24-year-old combat engineer, has served more than a year in Iraq between his activation last year and his current stint with CSSB-7. Despite that fact, the Springfield, Ill., native says the Marine Corps has provided him the direction he needs to be successful in life. Before deploying, he obtained his realtor’s license and plans on making a career out of selling property.

“It gave me a chance to mature and focus on what’s important,” said Hashter, who is also providing security as his fellow combat engineers work. “I’ve had a chance to think and figure out what I want in my life.”

Pausing, Hashter’s eyes move to a vehicle driving along the road adjacent to the engineer’s position, leading to the border. His smile has disappeared. After a moment, he smiles again before speaking: “Besides, I would have hated to be at home the whole time,” he said.