EL CENTRO, Calif. -- For combat engineers in the United States Marine Corps, training is focused around expedited military operations, but particular skill sets are transferable across the profession. In El Centro, Calif., a platoon of Marines worked in conjunction with external government organizations and participated in a unique mission to enhance regional security for the nation.
“This is an outstanding mission,” said Sgt. Michael Solis, a platoon guide for 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force. “I’m glad that we had a chance to do something like this while in the Marines.”
Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 371, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., and 7th Engineer Support Battalion, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., joined together with Joint Task Force North and the United States Border Patrol, El Centro Sector to construct improved roads as part of West Desert El Centro All Weather Road Improvements on the United States and Mexican Border throughout January and February.
“We are building this is to basically provide better mobility for the Border Patrol ground forces to counter narcotic trafficking for homeland security,” said 1st Lt. Austin Brown, the mission commander for the project.
Since JTF North is the proverbial glue for this type of mission, the U.S. Border Patrol put in the improved road request to them. These Marine Corps unit rose to the challenge and volunteered their time and service to develop the project.
“Our vision is for JTF North to be the most effective integrator of Department of Defense support to Law Enforcement Agencies,” said Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., the commander of United States Northern Command. “Fostering our important relationships with LEAs, State National Guard counterdrug task forces, and the Mexican military is vital to securing our nation’s borders against drug traffickers and their associated criminal activities.”
With this extremely vital project assigned to the two engineering units, they had their work cut out for them, and began combining their assets immediately. Taking the reins from another unit, similar to a deployment, this new composite unit had six weeks to complete the task at hand.
“We were tasked with construction of 2,000 linear feet of improved road, three low water crosses and one culvert,” said Brown, an engineer officer with MWSS-371. “Also, we emplaced ditches to assist in the drainage of water.”
Completing vertical and horizontal construction projects are what Marine Corps engineers are trained to do. What makes this mission distinctive from the usual task of military construction is the longevity of the road.
“The catch phrase is ‘meant to withstand the 100 year storm,’” said Brown. “This type of road is meant to last for a long time. It is more of a civilian project, where many of the military orientated projects are for expedited use. Those are usually meant to last for only as long as the mission requires.”
With Marines constantly accepting the challenge and raising the bar, this platoon of Marines worked 12 hour days and 6 days a week to see it through. In the end, the final result showed exactly what Marines are capable of, an impeccable product finished ahead of schedule.
“MWSS-371 and 7th ESB are truly a new generation of military engineers constructing a commercial project,” said Gabriel Valdez, a JTF North mission planner for the El Centro project. “In a combined effort that was seamless, they were able to successfully complete three low water crossings, one culvert and 2,000 linear feet of roadway in less than 35 days.”
Not only was this project a way for the multiservice unit to work together and increase the security of the southern borders, but it was an invaluable tool for both Marine sections to take away learning points and improve their individual units.
“7th ESB values the opportunity to exercise our capabilities in general engineering with federal law enforcement agencies,” said Lt. Col. John Martinko, the 7th ESB battalion commander. “This operation not only allows our Marines to hone their skills in an austere and real world environment, it also allows Marines to play a vital role in securing our nations southern border.”
“This JTF North Project has provided the Marines of MWSS-371 an opportunity to gain high level horizontal construction experience seldom available in standard training venues,” said Lt. Col. John Fleming, the MWSS-371 commanding officer. “This experience will be applied directly to upcoming exercises, and deployments in support of contingency operations.”
Although this project was only a fraction of the overall JTF North mission, it played an enormous role in the enhancement of our nation’s security. Demonstrating yet again that the Marines’ mission is not always on foreign soil, but also here at home protecting our fellow American