Heading to Iraq
By France Griggs Sloat
Since a somber farewell ceremony at the Cintas Center on Feb. 19, 1st Lt. Steven Easley and his fellow soldiers of the 1193rd Panel Bridge Company spent five weeks preparing for their deployment to Kuwait, eventually shipping out for the Middle Eastern country on Wednesday, March 26. Easley, who is an information systems coordinator in Xavier’s office of admission, is writing regular dispatches about his experiences for Xavier magazine’s web site. His first installment is expected after he lands in Kuwait. In a telephone interview before he left, though, he talked about the uncertainty of the destination and how the events that lie ahead have brought the 112 men and women of the bridge battalion closer together.
While living amongst 15,000 troops at Camp Atterbury, Ind., Easley, a first platoon leader, worked with his recruits to get them focused on the reality of the upcoming months. They’ve been living in open barracks, sleeping on cots and enjoying their last taste of the comforts of American life—namely electricity and hot showers. Some brought small televisions and radios for personal entertainment, but Easley said he’s encouraged them to find something that doesn’t plug in to keep them busy.
The result is they began building bridges among themselves. “I’m trying to get these guys to realize that when we get to Kuwait, they won’t have electricity. They’ll have a tent and no outlets or lights, so they need to find something that has batteries or something else to do,” he said.
As the weeks wore on, he discovered they became closer to each other. Larger and larger groups would gather around a others who were playing guitars, singing songs and entertaining each other.
“It’s a new experience on a whole lot of levels,” he said. “These are luxuries that just aren’t going to be there. We’re requiring them to work and to focus on what they’re about to do. It’s been a good experience for them. We had a church service and they showed up. They really take care of each other now that they’re being forced to live with one another. They are becoming a source of entertainment for each other. You walk in the barracks and never know what’s going on.”
Their physical training has concentrated on a more practical form of bridge-building. The company specializes in three types of temporary bridges—a girder bridge, a link bridge and a commercial English bridge. The company was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for additional training. Easley said 24 soldiers can put up a steel girder bridge in less than an hour and have it ready to support 80,000 pounds of soldiers and vehicles. He also learned about a float bridge that is pushed by boats after it is loaded. Easley says he was allowed to drive the boat and push the bridge on his birthday, March 16.
In Kuwait, he says, the company’s work will involve making it possible for an infantry division to go where it needs to go, even if it means crossing a river or a chasm that has no bridge. He’s certain they’ll enter Iraq. But the busiest time may come in the war’s aftermath, when the U.S. helps clean up the mess and rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure.
“As an engineer, we’ll still be there. I don’t have any hopes of getting out soon.”