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A Day in the Life of FEST-A Mosul Northwestern Division's Forward Engineering Support Team

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Title: A Day in the Life of FEST-A Mosul Northwestern Division's Forward Engineering Support Team

A Day in the Life of FEST-A Mosul
Northwestern Division's Forward Engineering Support Team

21 August 2003
0600 AM:  The copper sun rises over the dusty tan hills of Ninevah. We begin our day in support of the 101st Division, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and the Iraqi people.  We are staying inside a security compound which includes palace buildings, a small lake, and our home, a hotel designated as the Civilian Military Operation Center (CMOC). 

0630 HRS:  Everyone gets dressed and hurries down to the small hotel room we call our office.  We have very limited Internet connectivity. Getting to the room very early or very late for is sometimes the only way to get uninterrupted e-mail.  Even then, getting much more than a few lines of text is uncertain.

0700 HRS:  The 6 person team gathers and begins discussing the day's schedule.  We are going to the Sharat Water Plant and pumping station,  located in a town some 80 kilometers south of Mosul.  We are getting psyched for the trip.  This includes placing grid coordinates into our GPS receivers, and assembling the tools, food, and water we will need.  This is a single day outing, but it is going to be a hot one.  We expect the temperature to approach 120 degrees Fahrenheit!

0730 HRS:  Breakfast, T-Rats.  This is a bulk form of military packaged meals that are prepared for a group of people rather than the MREs that we all have in our rooms.  The sausage is cold, the eggs are brown, the grits are... , well I don't like grits anyway.  I opt for the personal box serving of dry cereal and a small carton of milk with an expiration date of 2004.

0800 HRS:  Today we pick up our security team from the House the CPA has set up.  It is three miles away and out of the compound.  The previous FEST Team stayed at the CPA house however, that location was now being viewed as a security risk.  Staying at the CMOC seems a prudent course of action.  The Gurkhas remain in the house. They have H&K submachine guns.  We have only our multi purpose tools and believe the match up with any potential bad guys would prove less than equitable.

0830 HRS:    With the Gurkhas on line we get into our vehicles and prepare to leave the city.  We always travel with at least 2 vehicles.  Each vehicle has a Gurkha shooter assigned to it.  LTC Ware carries his 9mm Beretta. We have Kevlar helmets and wear our protective vests.  The Corps standard issue hard hat has seen little use here.  We have walkie talkie radios for communication.  We're on our way.

0835 HRS:    We transit through Mosul to reach the highway to Baghdad which in turn will lead us to our link up with a unit of the 101st, the 4th Infantry Division at Quarray West or "Key West" as we call it (Q-West).  Before we getting on the highway, we have to transit the town and several traffic circles.  This can be either exciting, or real exciting.   The philosophy is to keep moving.  We dislike the idea of being a stationary.  This day we are caught in severe gridlock.  People are irate. People are diving across medians, driving on the sidewalks, honking, and generally getting nowhere.  After 20 minutes the local Mosul Traffic Police take charge of the situation.  We finally break free of traffic and reach the open highway.

0930  HRS:    We rendezvous and link up with our guide, Lt Wilson who accompanies us with a humvee full of troops.  Off we go to Sharat.   We monitor the road for IEDs or improvised explosive devices.  These are homemade mines that may be command detonated.  We haven't seen one yet and but remain wary just the same.    The trip in is bumpy but uneventful.  This is wheat, barley, and sheep country.  We pass numerous shepherds tending their flocks of sheep.  They sit sidesaddle on donkeys.  The scene almost looks like it is out of the Biblical times.  The next Mercedes truck that drives by shatters the illusion.  The road is asphalt and varies from 4 lane to two lane, but is in relatively good condition.  We cruise at 80-120 kph so as not to present a target of opportunity.  Faster may be better but occasionally the locals travel on either side of the road, merge without signaling, and wander across lanes with an amazing amount of faith in being able to avoid oncoming traffic.  Throw in a few donkey carts and potholes.  It is a balancing act going fast enough so as not to present a target and slow enough so as not to endanger yourself from crashing.

1000   HRS:  Arrived at the assessment destination.  This is a small town of a couple thousand people.  The houses are concrete block houses with flat roofs.  The streets are gravel.  It is dusty, hot, and the people watch us with curiosity.  Children wave but the adults are more reserved.  As we enter town we are told to "stay close" as this is Faydayeen territory.  We stay close.

The water pumping station is located on the outskirts of town near the Tigris River.  We meet with the operating staff of the plant, using interpreters to assist with this tedious process.  As-Built drawings are generally unavailable.  We agree that we should take a 15 minute overview tour of the plant.  The plant is operating, but in need of maintenance and repair parts.  We break up into teams consisting of at least 2 FEST engineers, a security detail, and local operators as guides.  We share interpreters.  There are never enough interpreters and we do not speak Arabic.  We note the kind of equipment, the condition of the equipment, manufacturer nameplate data and take lots of digital photographs.  These are engineering pictures and not the glossy magazine sort, although Mr. Bob Schloss does take a lot of human interest shots.  We follow the plant piping down to the Tigris and document the intake structure by the river.  This is a long walk several hundred meters away and down a steep slope. 

1400 HRS:  Time to go.  After several hours at the plant, wearing protective vests and walking up and down these hills we are beat.  It is 50 degrees centigrade and we are soaked in sweat, fried by the sun, and ready to pack it up and return.  One of our group is very hot and requires a break, now! We have MREs in the truck but everyone has lost their appetites.  We pull the entire 6 person FEST Team back together with the security team and the detachment from Q-West.  We ask if everyone has sufficient data to complete the assessment.  With everyone full of data LTC Ware declares it a wrap and we load up and return to Q-West.

1500 HRS:   We arrive at Q-West and split off from the Army personnel. This leaves only the FEST team and the security detachment of 2 Gurkhas to race back North to Mosul.

1615 HRS:  We pass the gates of Mosul on our way into the City.  Each major highway entrance to Mosul has a grand archway or gate structure made of concrete, masonry, and decorative tiles.  It is beautiful in the tradition of Iraq.  There is some highway repair work underway. We are "home" but remain alert.  We see Army patrol humvees at various locations providing some margin of security. 

1645 HRS:  We weave our way through traffic and return to the CPA house for an evening meal.  The Gurkhas live here, and since we had to drop them off, it is a good idea to get a good meal here rather than eat MREs.  The food at the CPA house is excellent, but unless our mission gives us the opportunity to stop there, we eat MREs or T-Rats.

1800  HRS:   We leave the CPA House and pass through the University Market area, a crowded mass of shops and humanity.  Each small shop has a specialty, be it baked goods, clothing, plants, or satellite TV dishes.  We pass by, but do not stop.  Stopping in this area is perceived as dangerous. The stoplights are operating but still, we do not stop.  No one stops.  Stopping is seen as unwise.

1815 HRS:   We arrive back at the CMOC.  We pass through the gate and security detail, stopping at a series of barrels filled with sand.  This is the weapons clearing area and all loaded weapons are unloaded and made safe.  The final step is to dry fire the weapons into the barrels to make sure they are truly cleared.  Weapons are carried by their owners at all times, even within the compound.  The difference is that within the security compound they are unloaded (guards not withstanding.)

1900 HRS:   The FEST team now sits down and begins a wrap up session on the assessment.  This occurs in our office at the CMOC - just a room that we have all piled into.  It does have A/C and the electricity seems to be on right now.  We pull out a paper chart and write down our major observations, our concerns, and our recommendations.  Each person gets a chance to provide input.  LTC Ware leads the discussion and the chart becomes our outline for the report.  The paper is taped to the wall and provides a framework for the official written report.

2000 HRS:   Everyone is now putting their own personal notes together and researching the costs of various items.  We are using written estimating guides, Means estimating software, the internet, and if need be, the Iridium Cell Phone to call up manufacturers.  However, there is a 12 hour difference between us and the United States time zone.  To call them we have to stay up late.  We are preparing a ROM or Rough Order of Magnitude estimate.  Call it a programming document for funding.  We are not designing!  We are stating what it will take to get the plant running efficiently.  In this case, dependable electricity, replacement pumps, and serious maintenance.  We debate the various solutions and bemoan the lack of as-builts, but the team is experienced and has the expertise to assess this water plant for follow on contracts.

9:00 HRS:   The day is ending.  The copper sun has sunk below the horizon.  People are checking the internet for messages from home, or telling loved ones about the day in electron form.  The write up is well underway and when the research is complete, a good basis for repair needs and costs will be available to the 101st Engineers.  People start wandering off to their rooms to clean up and get ready for tomorrow.

A week later the team returned to the same water plant by helicopter.  Gail Hicks and Bob Schloss effected repairs to several panels and instructed the local operators on how to complete this maintenance themselves.  They immediately start performing similar maintenance on their own.  This is not continuous electricity, or new pumps, but it is something done immediately to help the people of Iraq help themselves.

Essayons  from the FEST-A North in Mosul IRAQ.

LTC Al Ware
Eric Arndt
Bill Workman
Gail Hicks
Bob Schloss
Simeon Francis