Marines, soldiers 'revive' economic, social development in western Euphrates River Valley

14 Feb 2007 | Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes

Local Iraqi leaders, members of local Iraqi Security Forces and Marines and Soldiers serving in western Iraq came together Feb. 1, 2007, in Ramana, Iraq, to celebrate the grand opening of a bridge which stretches across the Euphrates River here.

The celebration included a ribbon cutting ceremony, followed by a feast hosted by the mayor of Ramana, Raffi Harrab.

Local sheiks along with Lt. Col. Scott C. Shuster, commanding officer of Task Force 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based battalion, and the mayors of Husaybah and Ramana marked the celebration by walking across the bridge after the ribbon was cut.

The bridge was decorated with a palm-made arch over the south entrance of the bridge, flanked by two Iraqi national flags.  All of the day’s events were planned and organized by the local Iraqi people, and security was left up to the local Iraqi Security Forces.  Shuster said he was pleased the Iraqi people, army and police had done such a thorough job for the ceremony.

The bridge was constructed by an Army platoon with 362nd Engineer Company, a unit based out of Fort Benning, Ga.  The construction of the bridge began December 2006 and was completed less than a week before the grand opening. 

Budgeted at $6.5 million, the steel, double truss designed bridge, known as a Mabey-Johnson Logistic Support Bridge, was named, once again, the Ramana Bridge.  At 268 meters in length and with two lanes for vehicles traveling North and South across the river, the bridge connects the two Euphrates River Valley cities – Karabilah and Ramana. 

The bridge was originally an Iraqi-constructed bridge.

In November of 2005, Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, a Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based battalion, destroyed sections of the original bridge with an air strike in order to interdict insurgent activities and to support counter insurgency operations in the area.  This was just three months before a 16-day operation dubbed Steel Curtain where Marines and other Coalition Forces here ousted insurgents from this area.

Since then, the effects of the disabled were “tremendous” for the people of Ramana, Karabilah, and other local cities such as Sa’dah, and Husaybah,said Army 1st Lt. Po Chun Tsui, platoon commander with 362nd Engineer Company. 

Shuster said it was clear the loss of the bridge had a very negative impact on the local populace and local businesses.

“The bridge served not only as a link to commerce and economic development but also a conduit to relationships, families and a complex social network with far reaching effects,” said Tsui, a Honolulu native.  “The restoration of the Ramana Bridge is a step toward garnering support to the Coalition Forces and 3/4 [3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment] effort in the area.” 

In June 2006, an assault float bridge, more commonly known as the Ribbon Bridge, was emplaced by the 74th Engineer Company, an Army unit out of Fort Bragg, N.C., to assist locals in resuming vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the Ramana area.

But, in October 2006, sections of the bridge were damaged due to rain storms and flooding on the Euphrates River. 

Although the Ribbon Bridge, which was dubbed the Golden Gate Bridge, was emplaced across the river, it was designed for tactical application and not for long term use such as a fixed bridge, said Tsui.

The Marine Corps purchased the MJLSB from funding allocated for Iraqi civil infrastructure development, said Tsui.  After a month without a bridge between Karabilah and Ramana, construction began in December.

Building materials and labor came directly from the U.S. Army bridge building company, said Shuster.

“This project showed our commitment to the Iraqi people and positive growth in the area,” said Shuster.

During the ceremony, Mayor Raffi Harrab, the mayor of Ramana, said the connection and relationship between Ramana and Karabala was almost dead, but thanks to the rebuilding of the bridge, it is “revived.”

“We’re all very happy for such a good achievement from the Americans,” said Harrab through an Arabic-English interpreter.  “We all give our thanks to the troops who made this good project happen.”

The MJLSB project required the effort of every Soldier from 362nd Engineer Company’s 1st Platoon, said Army Staff Sgt. Glenn Fulton, senior boat operator with 1st Platoon, 362nd Engineer Company.

“For most soldiers in the platoon, the construction of the [bridge] is one of the highlights of their military career,” said Fulton, an Oakdale, Conn., native.  “The thought of leaving a legacy of their time in Iraq for the Iraqi people was a motivation for of all soldiers involved.  Every member of the platoon played a major part in this mission.”

The construction of the Ramana Bridge also improves logistical and Quick Reaction Force support for the battalion, said Shuster. 

The Marine battalion, nicknamed “Shanghai” for their garrison duty in Shanghai, China, in 1927, is currently serving its fourth deployment to Iraq since the initial push to Baghdad in 2003, which they were a major part of.  The Marines and Sailors of the battalion are now into their sixth month of a nine-month deployment. 

Daily life for 3/4’s service members means patrolling the streets of these Euphrates River cities in search of insurgent activity.  They’re also tasked with mentoring and monitoring the local Iraqi Security Forces, imparting with them essential military tactics and procedures they will need in order to man their country on their own.

Coalition overwatch on the bridge site is maintained by Marines with 3/4 from a nearby outpost.  Local Iraqi Security Forces are constantly conducting security on the area through patrols and random vehicle searches at check points.  As long as the task force is serving the area, overwatch on the bridge will continue, said Shuster.

“For the same reason we want to use the bridge is the same reason the terrorists want to stop us from using the bridge – we’re providing support for the Iraqi Security Forces,” said Shuster.

Aside from combat operations in the area, this bridge will mostly be used by the local populace, said Sgt. Dmitriy Y. Degtyar, a team leader and civil affairs specialist with 4th Civil Affairs Group, an attachment in direct support of Task Force 3/4.

Funding allocated for civil infrastructure development was granted to local Iraqi contractors in Ramana.  All materials needed for construction projects come from south of the Euphrates River, across from Ramana.  But, without the bridge, these materials had to be rerouted to another bridge, several miles away from Ramana, costing more money to the contactors, said Degtyar.

“This was very inconvenient to the local contractors,” said Degtyar, a Denver native.  “Now, with the bridge put in, construction projects in the area will surely speed up.”

“The Raman Bridge is an open gate toward economic development and growth,” added Degtyar. 

To a land of mostly farming and sheep herding, this is a very important development to this area, say some Iraqi people here.

“The Ramana Bridge’s presence will serve as a symbol of the United States commitment to the nation of Iraq and the Iraqi people,” said Tsui.  “This is a significant leap forward.”
Headquarters Marine Corps