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Lance Cpl. Bradley Sheets, a heavy equipment operator with engineer operations, Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 based out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz, drives a compactor to flatten a new section of the training center’s expeditionary airfield here Sept. 17. Sheets is one of a handful of Marines who were augmented to MWSS-373, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., to help complete the repairs and improvements to the EAF.

Photo by Cpl. R. Logan Kyle

Marines break sweat to upgrade Bridgeport airfield

25 Sep 2009 | Cpl. R. Logan Kyle

Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., are in the process of upgrading the expeditionary airfield here to help meet the Corps’ ever-changing logistical needs.

Gunnery Sgt. Brad Lenox, the project chief with MWSS-373, said he and his team of nearly 70 Marines started working on the EAF in August.

“We’ve pretty much broken this project down into three phases,” said Lenox, a Kenosha, Wis., native. “We’re putting down new matting, moving the runway, and widening the taxiway and runway.”

The matting gives aircraft a flat, smooth surface to maneuver around and take off from the airfield, he said. Once they finish, the squadron will have put down about 220,000 square feet of matting, Lenox said.

Each airfield mat is installed by hand and is six to 12 feet long, and weighs up to 150 pounds. Once the mats are placed, Marines take jackhammers and sledgehammers to drive metal stakes in the ground to secure the mats.

Lance Cpl. Kenneth Thomas, an EAF technician with airfield operations, MWSS-373, said driving the stakes is a long, hard process.

“We’ve driven about 20 stakes in the past two days,” said Thomas, a Silverton, Ore., native. “By the time the EAF’s done, we’ll probably have about 120 stakes in the ground.”

The EAF’s 1,000-foot runway is being moved away from the squad bays the units training aboard the base use, to avoid any safety issues. It is also being widened from 78 to 96 feet to accommodate the VM-22 Osprey, Lenox said.

Lenox said in order to move the runway away from the squad bays, his Marines had to use tractor, rubber-tired, articulated steering, multipurpose vehicles to dump enough dirt to elevate the back of the runway 15 feet. These are heavy-duty bulldozers Marines use for construction needs across the Corps.

However, with dirt comes a runway’s worst enemy – rocks.

Lance Cpl. Donald Linville, a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear specialist with Headquarters Company, MWSS-373, was one of several Marines tasked with picking up large rocks along the new section of the runway.

“They don’t have machines that pick up rocks,” quipped Linville, an Albuquerque, N.M., native, about his laborious tasks. “If there is a machine that can do this I don’t want to know about it.”

Despite the strenuous labor, Linville said he is glad he volunteered for the working party.

“I had never heard of Bridgeport before August,” he said. “It’s beautiful up here, and I’m just enjoying the scenery and getting some good cross-training in.”

The Marines are also using a variety of other vehicles including 7-ton trucks to move large boulders and compacters to flatten the new section of runway.

First Lt. Kathleen Halle, the mission commander for the project, said she is proud of the hard, quality work the Marines are doing.

“This airfield belongs to 3rd Marine Air Wing and each year a different MWSS is tasked-out to perform maintenance,” said Halle, a Bakersfield, Calif., native. “Our Marines have been out here for nearly two months and still have about a month to go, and they’re doing an outstanding job.”

The EAF is slated to be operational by the end of October.

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