Friday, May 8, 2009

Marines construct world’s largest aircraft combat parking expansion in Afghanistan

May 4, 2009
Story by: Lance Cpl. Monty Burton

CAMP BASTION, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – From dawn until dusk, a unit of Marines works diligently preparing an aircraft parking expansion to support the scheduled increase of U.S. Marines and service members in the southern region of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, May 1, 2009.

“The Marines want their aircraft closer to the fight,” said Capt. Carlton Wilson, the Airfield Operations company commander of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371.

That is why the Marines of MWSS-371 are constructing the 1.9 million square-foot parking expansion adjacent to the airfield aboard Camp Bastion in Helmand Province.

The 4,846-foot-long expansion, which is scheduled for completion within the next few months, will provide military aircraft a place to park after landing at the Camp Bastion airfield, a service currently not available due to space limitations.

The project goes hand-in-hand with and supports the construction of nearby Camp Leatherneck, the home of the headquarters of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which will have 10,000 Marines and service members under its command.
Wilson said the expansion project is led by MWSS-371’s expeditionary airfield technicians but almost every Marine assigned to the squadron, regardless of military occupational specialty, is contributing to the completion of the project.

“We have Marines from all over the squadron out there constructing the parking expansion with the expeditionary airfield technicians,” he said. “The expeditionary airfield technicians instruct and mentor the volunteers, and together they get the work done.”
Wilson said that the parking expansion will be the second largest of its kind in the world, behind that of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., but it is the largest ever built in a combat environment.

Lance Cpl. Joe Sullivan, an expeditionary airfield technician, said the expansion project, which is commonly referred to as “slamming mat,” is by no means an easy task. The 12-foot-long by 2-foot-wide sections of aluminum matting, or AM-2, used to construct the expansion weighs up to 150 pounds per sheet, and the Marines install it by hand.

Sullivan added that the environment poses challenges for the Marines working on the project.

“It’s hot and extremely dusty,” Sullivan said. “Almost everywhere you go there are dust funnels, but together, we work through it.”

The expeditionary airfield technicians also work side-by-side with U.S. Navy SeaBees assigned to Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 5 and heavy-equipment operators from within MWSS-371.

“The Navy Seabees and heavy equipment operators do the groundwork, leveling and grading the soil, to ensure the matting goes down flat, so we don’t have to pick it up multiple times,” Sullivan said. “We try to get it right the first time.”

Wilson added that the work is hard, but the Marines are doing the job quickly and efficiently.

“The construction of the parking expansion requires a lot of manual labor, but the Marines are extremely motivated and enjoy contributing to the fight,” said Wilson.

According to MWSS-371’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. David E. Jones, his squadron’s ability to construct projects like the aircraft parking expansion provides the Marine Air-Ground Task Force with a capability that’s unmatched.

“MWSS-371 extends the reach of the MAGTF and makes U.S. Marine Corps aviation expeditionary,” Jones said. “We help make the MAGTF the dynamic organization that it is.”

Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 is part of the 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade’s air combat element. The mission of 2nd MEB is to conduct counterinsurgency operations, and train and mentor the Afghan National Police.
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