AL ASAD, Iraq -- Thought to be one of the four rivers to flow from the Garden of Eden and known to be the heart of ancient civilizations like Sumeria and Babylonia, the Euphrates River now supplies water for coalition forces based in the Al Anbar province.
Marines and Sailors from Marine Wing Support Squadron 272 and Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24 keep water flowing from the Euphrates, despite the efforts of insurgents.
“They blow up the pipes, we go fix them,” said Sgt. Richard Tulley, a hygiene equipment operator and Hammond, N.Y., native. “It’s that simple. We take out the busted piece, replace it, put a bandage on any cracks, seal it up and try to cover it so they can’t get to it again.”
The Untouchables of ’272 have already conducted several of these missions since taking over Wing support from MWSS-271 in August. When they are not outside the wire fixing what others have broken, the Marines tend to water supply tasks around base.
“We get some requests around base for plumbing help, other small taskers,” said Sgt. Michael Stroscio, hygiene equipment operator and Johnstown, Pa., native. “We also supply some units around base with water, so between that, off base jobs and keeping track of our equipment, we stay pretty busy.”
The Marines are a section of the squadron’s utilities division. The division handles functions ranging from water supply installation, operation and maintenance to electrical systems and air conditioning. While the work done by the Marines benefits everyone on base, most do not realize who their supporters are, said Gunnery Sgt. Mark A. Lewis, utilities chief for the Untouchables and a Mount Airy, N.C., native.
“Most people probably have no idea these Marines are behind some of the basic things they use every day,” Lewis said. “Their performance has been off the scale. They came out here not knowing much about what they would be doing. There were changes to what they might have done last time they were out here and few of them had previous experience.”
Adapting to new situations and learning on the job has been a key to the Untouchable’s success so far, Lewis said.
“They got a lot of hands-on training during our turnover with ’271,” Lewis said. “It was a good opportunity to get off base and learn from Marines with experience. They took to it well.”
When the Marines leave base on a mission, they run the risk of attack by insurgents or improvised explosive devices. Security is provided for them by the Soldiers from 1st Battalion of the 109th Infantry (Mechanized). The Soldiers escort the engineer convoys, clear the area and hold perimeter security while they work.
“When we’re going out, you think about what we’re up against,” Stroscio said. “I think about what the situation is going to be like, what kind of break we’re working against and how we’re going to fix it.”
The security provided by the Soldiers lets the Marines focus on their jobs, instead of looking over their backs, Tulley said.
“We definitely feel safe going out there,” Tulley said. “It seems like every time they go, out they get a little better. It really lets us just focus on the pipe and get the work done faster and better.”
The Navy construction battalion’s Seabees contribute their experience, knowledge and elbow grease to the effort as well, said Cpl. Scott New, a hygiene equipment operator and Apopka, Fla., native.
“They have been really helpful, just by being there and having their experience to draw from,” New said. “They really know their stuff and they aren’t afraid to get dirty with us.”
Water experts might not be at home in a desert, but as long as there is a need, the Untouchables utilities Marines will answer the call, Lewis said.
“There has been great teamwork from all the services,” Lewis said. “This isn’t the most high-profile job out here, but these Marines are doing great things and they will continue until we can all go home safely. That’s the ultimate goal."