Return to Guardlife Homepage
Building a fence
TAG at Operation Jump Start

The desert stretches for miles – an abundance of nothing. Slashing across that vast space is the fence – a black line that separates the faded blue sky and the dull sand and sagebrush landscape.

Thirty-seven Airmen from the 177th Civil Engineering Squadron spent their annual training assigned to Task Force Diamondback – part of Operation Jump Start at Yuma, Ariz., – building the fence separating the United States and Mexico from August 18-31. While the mission is a combined Air and Army effort, the command and control is under the Arizona Army National Guard.

“Working with the Army Guard is significantly different for this group,” says Maj. James Layton Jr., Commander, 177th Civil Engineering Squadron. This fence, when done, will be part of a 900-mile long barrier between the U.S. and Mexican border. It does not extend the entire length of the border because certain portions are inaccessible and there isn’t a need for the fence to be built there. In some areas, sensors or vehicle barriers are being installed. In locations where there are roads or towns near the border – specifically Yuma where the 177th Civil Engineers deployed – primary, secondary and tertiary (chain link) fences are being built. The primary fence is made up of 1,400 pound sheet steel panels that are eight feet wide by 14 feet tall. Running along the center – top to bottom – is an I beam with two metal collars attached – one about five inches from the bottom and the other five feet above it. The panels are trucked in from, of all places, Mexico. Beginning at 6 a.m. until 2 in the afternoon the CE Airmen split into two groups.

“One team worked south of Yuma on the hybrid (primary) fence,” states Capt. John M. Cosgrove, 177th Civil Engineering Squadron. “The other team worked on a secondary fence in San Luis which is about eight miles to the west of the hybrid fence site.”

At the San Luis site, Master Sgt. Bill Brown and his group work with a team of full-time Army and Air Guardsmen placing the foundations for the fence, which in this case is a heavy steel mesh. Closer to the town of San Luis, Tech. Sgt. Howard Achilles and his crew load the foundations on a flatbed 18- wheeler and truck them out to Brown’s site.

At the main site, an Airman attaches a clamp to the top of a panel; a crane lifts the panel, which is then guided by a three-man team over the bollard, once it is in place, the crane lowers the panel until the collars slip over the bollard (poles attached to sheet metal plates that serve as anchors for the panels); then the panel is dropped with a loud crash, the clamp is released, the crane operator taps (slams) the panel into a more upright position, straightens the next free bollard and the process starts over – for the rest of the day. The first day – August 20, is the learning curve day; everyone is figuring out what to do and how to do it; the CE Airmen learn how the process works, and promptly go on and break the record for installing the most panels in one day – 192. Eight days later, they broke that record again and installed 218 panels.

“The cooperation between the Army and Air was great,” notes first time CE deployer Staff Sgt. Sam DeMaio III. “They brought us up to speed really quickly and we were able to accomplish the mission successfully.” Further down the fence line are the arc welders. All work along the fence is nasty – but this is plain brutal. Each panel has to be welded to the bollard, which line up next to the edge where one panels joins with the next panel. Two Airmen teams adjust the level of each panel – meaning manually adjusting the 1,400 pound panel with crowbars and sledgehammers to drive wedges to keep them in place. Then a welder comes along, drives another wedge into the panel forcing it next to bollard and welds the two together.

“The 177th installed 1,055 steel panels of primary fence for a total of 1.4 miles. While 103 foundations and 94 mesh panels were installed at the San Luis site,” continues Cosgrove. According to the Desert Sentinel, the Arizona National Guard Public Affairs Office official Operation Jump Start magazine, “62 units from 35 states have come to Arizona to help with the tactical infrastructure border mission.” No other CE team has come close to accomplishing what the 177th did during its tour with Task Force Diamondback.


Table of Contents
Volume 33 Number 3 Staff / Information
(c) 2007 NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs