'Hammer Time' engineers, infantry Soldiers work to improve conditions in 'Lion's Den'

Story by 1st Lt. Patrick Hanson
Co. A, 62nd Eng. Bn.,
and Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Ballog
16th Eng. Bde.

PATROL BASE LION'S DEN, Iraq — For the Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, who reside at Patrol Base Lion's Den, the unit's deployment in Iraq has been spent patrolling with Iraqi army soldiers from this small forward patrol base to secure the southwestern outskirts of Baghdad.

The "Den" began as a small, temporary outpost when the unit arrived five months ago but recently has begun to add more coalition personnel, mostly Iraqi army soldiers, who will eventually take over complete responsibility for the security of the region.

Primarily established to become an IA base, its only permanent structure - an old warehouse - was not suitable for long-term housing.

There had been no improvements made at the post due to lack of IA funding.

Thinking ahead to the future of the base, Capt. Steven Cunningham, 2-502 Inf., requested assistance from Fort Hood's 62nd Combat Engineers (Heavy) to make improvements in both IA and U.S. Soldiers' living quarters on the base.

"We are currently patrolling together. We train the Iraqi army up and then move them out to secure other locations in Iraq," Cunningham explained. "With that in mind, I knew we couldn't afford to see a difference between U.S. and Iraqi army soldiers' living conditions.

"In terms of a standard of living, most Soldiers can make themselves comfortable just about anywhere," he added. "But from the minute our unit arrived here in October, I knew the base needed vertical construction help due to its lack of infrastructure."

Approximately a dozen Soldiers from the 62nd Eng. Bn., nicknamed "Hammer Time," became involved in making the improvements a reality. The Soldiers brought with them the necessary skills: those of carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

The engineers first evaluated the base camp Jan. 16 to assess what most urgently needed to be done. Forty-eight hours later, the engineers returned to the site ready to work. Safety and security issues facing troops living in the Den were a priority. Non-existent plumbing, poor or missing septic systems, spider-webbed electric wires hanging over pools of water or shorting to metal frames, and broken walls surrounding crowded living quarters made the base unsafe.

1st Lt. Tzana Hafner, platoon leader with Company A, 62nd Eng. Bn., and Staff Sgt. Michael Buchta, noncommissioned-officer-in-charge, coordinated the combined effort that involved skilled Soldiers from every company in the battalion.

The Hammer Time Soldiers had a difficult job to tackle, from the initially unsafe electrical conditions to the safety considerations involved in digging out clogged septic tanks.

Conditions were often less than ideal, but the engineers "worked hard and did what needed to be done," said Capt. Morgan Reese, commander of Co. A, 62d Eng. Bn.

The original work was planned to last only a week, but the identification of additional critical improvements and material shortages because of the unexpected needs extended the mission's time to over a month.

As engineers worked on the base upgrades, more and more items needing immediate repair became evident. The Den's infantry Soldiers were able to help gather materials for the extra projects.

U.S. infantry and IA soldiers often labored alongside the engineers, "helping them help us," explained Capt. Cunningham.

"The enhancements and construction effort greatly improved the safety, force protection and comfort level of the Lion's Den Soldiers," said Lt. Col. John , commander, 62nd Eng. Bn.Boule

"This project made a tremendous contribution to the quality of life for both the Iraqi Army and American Soldiers living at the patrol base," Boule said "It's a whole lot better than it was."

"Ninety-nine percent of the projects at Lion's Den directly benefited the IA soldiers, so this was a great mission for the engineers to take part in," said Lt. Col. Scott White, 16th Engineer Brigade (Theater Army) operations officer.


Sgt Kevin Lindert
PATROL BASE LION'S DEN, Iraq - Sgt. Kevin Lindert, Company A, 62nd Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), cuts wood to use in decking upgrades at the Lion's Den. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Tzana Hafner, Co. A., 62nd Eng. Bn.)

1st Lt Jason Holvey
PATROL BASE LION'S DEN, Iraq -1st Lt. Jason Holvey, assistant battalion construction officer, 62d Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), inspects the decking of newly constructed living quarters here. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Morgan Reese, Co. A, 62nd Eng. Bn.)