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AL ASAD, Iraq ? The post and beam construction of this building makes it unique to Al Asad. No nails were used in the construction. Instead the Marines on the project used chisels to cut out joints and used wooden pins to join the different pieces of wood.

Photo by Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Workhorses raise the roof old-style

9 Aug 2005 | Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Ingenuity is a trait important to engineers whose skills are necessary to completing the mission with creativity, and resourcefulness.  And with their most recent construction the engineer company of Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 used all that, and some old ideas. 

The Workhorses are wrapping up their deployment here soon, and will leave their footprint as they step out the door. The engineers have erected a structure with flare, creating probably one of the most unique buildings on this former Iraqi air base.   They built a multipurpose structure used for billeting, worship services, movies, and other recreational activities.

“The building was modeled after a chapel with its one open room,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Baron, the construction foreman in charge of the project and New Brookfield, Mass., native. “Its many uses will be enjoyed by anyone, not just MWSS personnel. The Marines in the surrounding area as well as those passing through may attend church services or enjoy a movie while traveling.”

The characteristics of this unique structure are what separate this building from others around the base. Eight-foot arched doors, ballistic humvee windows and a rubber lined roof are only a few of the things that give this building its personality.

Its real uniqueness is in the no-nail construction. The posts and beams are what set this building apart from any other in Iraq.

“Post and beam construction is mainly seen in the northeastern United States. Although not often used, it is a very structurally sound way to build,” Baron said.

When the idea first came to Baron, it was out of necessity. There were not enough materials to build using conventional materials like two-by-four pieces of wood for the frame of the structure.

“I noticed that we had eight-by-eight wood beams that were not being used. I first started calling people I used to work with in the construction world to get information about post beam construction,” Baron said. “After researching it for a while I brought the idea to our commanding officer and he liked it so I started drafting plans for our project.”

After making a blueprint, the team began preparing the beams by chiseling out sections for the joints where the different pieces of wood would meet. After preparing all of the beams, they were put together and secured with pins that would keep them in place. When each frame was completed, they were raised with the help of a crane.

“It took a lot longer than building sea huts, but the final product is a lot better,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony Ugarek, a combat engineer from Bangor, Maine.

“Post and beam constructed buildings have the capability to stand strong for many years, while a sea hut usually only lasts about three years,” Baron said. “Back home these types of buildings have stood for more than 200 years.”

The construction of the building took three and a half weeks. Not very fast, but going above and beyond the call of duty has been the hallmark of the Workhorse engineer company.

“Being a combat engineer is about confronting a problem and working out a solution,” Baron said. “We look at what the needs of a project are and then work based on the availability of materials. Then we get to add our own artistic flare.”

The engineers have also helped the Marine Corps cut costs. By using discarded lumber and using post and beam construction the engineers saved close to $25,000 in construction costs.

They used 70 to 75 eight inch-by-eight inch beams of various lengths to build the bulk of the structure.  According to Baron, “Those beams can withstand years of wear and tear without any problems. So this building can be used for as long as needed if it is properly taken care of.”

Although combat engineers did a lot of the work, it takes more than one section to build any structure. Heavy equipment Marines operated the crane to set the frames, while the utilities platoon wired lights, air conditioning, and electrical outlets. Surveyors and drafters worked side by side with the combat engineers to ensure the project was done correctly.

“This project was a total team effort from every platoon in our company,” Baron said.

The Marines are excited to finally see the project completed and know that their hard work will make life easier for fellow Marines who set foot on Al Asad.

“This is probably the last time I’ll ever build anything using post and beam construction in my life,” Ugarek said. “It was a great experience to have the opportunity to build something in a different way. I know all the work was worth it. This building will serve a great purpose for Marines in the future.”

Now with the project completed the engineer company is able to close the book on a successful deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Workhorse Marines didn’t just build structures; they improved the quality of life for service members now and in the future.

*For more information about this story please e-mail Cpl. Alex Herron at*

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