GUEST POST BY: Spc. Cassandra Monroe, 135th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq — With each Soldier comes a specific duty, task and military occupational specialty. However, some Soldiers bring additional skills that contribute to their wartime mission.
“Right now, my mission here is culvert denial — keeping the insurgents from putting bombs under the culvert, which are tunnels under Iraq’s highway system and roadsides,” said Spc. Ryan Thomas, a combat engineer with 3rd Platoon, 573rd Clearance Company, 1st Engineer Battalion. “A lot of them have been poorly denied already.”
When culverts are poorly denied, they are usually surrounded with ruined, crumbling sand barriers, or littered with trash and other waste products. This results in complications with water flow throughout the provinces. To deny a culvert, this simply requires an application of a steel grate, blocking any objects or personnel from entering the tunnel.
Specialist Thomas, a Seattle native, welds rods of steel to create a framework of parallel and crossed bars that are used as a cover for the tunnels. He is tasked with welding the grates used to deny the culverts.
Before denying a culvert, the team performs a reconnaissance mission, inspecting a culvert and categorizing it by whether it needs to be fixed or not. If the culvert requires the team to build a custom grate, that’s a cue for Spc. Thomas to assist the team with the assembly and emplacement. A welding trailer attached to the platoon’s trucks allows Spc. Thomas to weld grates on-site.
Some challenges the platoon and Spc. Thomas had to overcome were preventing hot slag, which is a liquid matter derived from fusing two metals together, from falling into Spc. Thomas’s face. Additionally, wearing all of the proper protective equipment, such as the combat helmet and body armor, while still trying to weld with the required welder’s mask complicated the process.
“The welder’s mask wouldn’t fit onto my head while I was already wearing a [helmet], so we had to work something out so I could still wear my gear,” said Spc. Thomas.
After using a headband from a miner’s helmet and an old welder’s helmet, Spc. Thomas and his team drilled them together, making a custom welder’s helmet to fit over his Kevlar. This allowed the team to continue the mission of on-the-spot welding.
“He’s our MacGyver,” said Sgt. Will Grumet, a combat engineer with 3rd Plt., 573rd Clearance Co., 1st Eng. Bat and a Las Cruces, N.M. “Any kind of interesting tasks, Spc. Thomas is the guy to take care of them.”
Specialist Thomas, who is serving on his second deployment, believes that his mission here is worthwhile.
“Whenever something needs to be fixed or fabricated or needs a part, I might be able to make one,” he said. “I’m a thinker, if there’s something I can fix, I think of how I can make something happen to get the mission accomplished.”
Specialist Thomas’ efforts and skills are a combat multiplier. He’s one of many Soldiers using life skills to assist Iraqi Security Forces in keeping the roads of Iraq safe for the populace.
“He does all of these good things just to do them,” said Sgt. Grumet. “He is one of the seniors in our group and embodies the ‘adapt and overcome’ concept. He’s an all-purpose asset for what we do.”
Because of his crafty welding skills, he also helps the unit by welding and fixing broken equipment or parts. “When we aren’t busy with the missions, you can find me welding out at the motor pool,” he said. But he added that the mission always comes first.
EDITORS NOTE: thank you to Spc. Cassandra Monroe for offering us this story– and an extra special thank you to Specialist Ryan Thomas and the 3rd Platoon, 573rd Clearance Company for all the hard work you’re doing!