FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- If you build it, they will come--in mid-March, Forward Operating Base Ripley was still just a blueprint in the hands of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). Almost overnight, a small tent city and some concertina wire surrounding it marked the beginnings of a new home for coalition military forces in Afghanistan.
However, none of assets the coalition has now at FOB Ripley would have been possible were it not for the efforts of the combat engineers of the MEU Service Support Group 22 and supporting National Guard Units.
Whether constructing the various projects aboard FOB Ripley themselves or supervising working parties of Marines, Soldiers or local nationals, the combat engineers were the key to that the initial tent city grew into a bona fide military operating base.
"Everyone was involved on way or another," said Gunnery Sgt. Mark D. Rapoport, a MEU Service Support Group 22 engineer and Rensselaer, N.Y., resident. "They possessed the leadership and ability to supervise other Marines, Sailors, other military personnel and nationals in direct support of the construction of the FOB," said Rapoport.
The Marines have been working almost non-stop in building up the defenses and infrastructure of the FOB.
"I've been working my tail off," said Lance Cpl. Manuel Sanchez, a Welch, Tx., native and MSSG-22 combat engineer, "but it's been going pretty good. We've been working sun-up to sundown."
There have been a score of challenges that the engineers faced. The ground on which the FOB is placed has been a source of frustration.
"You've got about four or five inches of dirt and then it's bedrock," said Sanchez.
The close proximity of the bedrock to the surface makes it difficult to pound any stakes into the ground. Stakes are a necessary item for erecting concertina wire, a fundamental force protection measure. With over four miles of triple stranded concertina wire, it amounts to a lot of stakes - and a lot of headaches.
However, concertina wire isn't the only force protection measure the engineers have set up. Over 7,500 feet of barriers know as "Hesco" barriers also protect the Marines inside the FOB. These barriers are containers that hold solid rock and dirt, protecting personnel from shrapnel and small arms fire. The entire FOB is enclosed with concertina wire and barriers.
Keeping bad guys out of the FOB is only one part of the equation. Building up the support services of the FOB is another aspect that the FOB would not be able to survive without. The engineers built the infrastructure for the airstrip, constructed showers and other field sanitation stations, and raised shelters to protect personnel from shrapnel. Many of the major projects have been completed National Guard. One of the major accomplishments of the Army engineers was the lengthening of the airstrip by 1,500 feet, allowing larger aircraft to land, thus increasing the supply pipeline to the FOB. The construction of the FOB couldn't be completed without the mutual support of the Marine and Army engineers of each other.
"It's been a conjoined effort between us and the Army," said Rapoport.
The relationship between the two teams of engineers has been one of cooperation and effectiveness.
"The Marines seem to be appreciative," said Army Staff Sgt. Jeff Philley, a Bastrop, La., native with the 528th Engineer Battalion. "I've been here since the very beginning and intend to stay until they leave."
Living under the same conditions as the Marines has helped bring a unity of purpose under adverse conditions.
"[The Marines] came in and we have some great conversations," said Spc. Robr Ortiz, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native and a National Guard combat engineer from the 204th Engineer Battalion attached to the 528th Engineer Battalion. "Working with them was pleasant. You get used to the Howitzers going off."
Members of the 204th have a special connection with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan - they were the first unit providing security at Ground Zero in New York City when the World Trade Centers were attacked. The experience provides them with extra motivation in their duties.
"A lot of us re-upped at that time," said Oriz. "Some of the younger guys signed up at that time."
For others, Marine or Army, the motivation comes not from where they're coming from, but from what they'll leave as a legacy in Afghanistan.
"When we leave out of here and look down, you're going to see what we built," said Rapoport.
The 22nd MEU (SOC) is in Afghanistan conducting combat and civil military operations as Task Force Linebacker for Combined Joint Task Force 76 in the Oruzgan province.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.