Protecting the Troops

September 1, 2007
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Spc. Nick Faneuff, from 2nd Platoon, Troop C, 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, watches for insurgents as fellow Soldiers and Marines comb a nearby area for insurgents and weapons caches close to the Syrian border with Iraq. Photographed by by Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway, courtesy of U.S. Army.


When U.S. troops in Iraq fielded indirect fire on their bases, the military turned to the experts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to develop a solution for protecting high-density facilities. The Overhead Coverage System (OCS) was developed, tested and validated, and soon progressed to construction. In simple terms, the OCS is a steel structure with two roofs covering an existing structure.

In September 2005, leading construction company Perini Corporation was contracted to build the OCS at multiple locations across Iraq. Tetra Tech, a specialized management consulting and technical services firm, was tasked with designing the structures with assistance from Butler Buildings of Kansas City, Mo., and Stanley Consultants of Muscatine, Iowa. Because Tetra Tech and Perini are both located in Framingham, Mass., a strong design-build relationship was formed.

In order for Tetra Tech to design any new structure, it first had to find out everything there was to know about the buildings to be covered. Management was tasked with sending survey teams to collect data about each site. The teams were directed to not only measure the existing buildings in great detail, but to investigate and report on everything they could find--from electrical systems and rooftop fans to underground utility lines and sewer systems.

The following story describes the Tetra Tech team’s third trip to Iraq, this time a five-member team. As in prior trips, our mission was to deliver a complete as-built survey of existing buildings and utilities that were to be covered. Even though I personally had two trips under my belt, I was apprehensive before boarding the plane because of the unknown dangers. But I still went because I knew the task would be an incredible experience.


Greg Keena, lead surveyor for the Iraq OCS project, locates a building corner behind one of the many concrete blast walls.

Makeshift Survey School

Our third trip involved an intense 21-day stint at a compound located in an area with high insurgent activity. This particular mission was initiated to locate all of the buildings and utilities on several different sites within a compound. The individual buildings consisted of a dining facility, fire station, gym, offices and several living quarters. The team also had to drill for soil samples and evaluate the soil for structural stability.

Finding surveyors willing to work in Iraq was very difficult. Our senior AutoCAD technician, Scott Jeffers, stepped up and doubled as our instrument man. Jeffers had never operated survey equipment before, so a crash training course in operating our Sokkia (Olathe, Kan.) SET510 total station with a Carlson (Maysville, Ky.) Explorer II data collector running Carlson SurvCE software took place the day before leaving the States and again during the team’s layover in Kuwait. We found an area at the hotel that was not being used, and with the management’s permission, we claimed it as our training area. Jeffers set up the instrument several times and practiced locating every object in sight to ensure he and the equipment were operating at peak efficiency. We then downloaded the collected data into a laptop to make sure we were getting the proper information. As soon as we received our travel orders, our makeshift school was out and we moved on to the project site.

In body armor, Scott Jeffers uses a Nikon level to establish vertical control.

From Here to There

The trip to our project site was an adventure in itself. Our first flights were from Boston to London and then to Kuwait. After two, seven-hour flights, we were ready to measure anything just to stretch our legs. Our trip from Kuwait to Iraq was aboard an old Russian turbo-prop, which had to be the noisiest airplane ever built. To get to the project site we had to travel by private security teams. With all the hype over the use of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), we held our breath while our drivers carefully maneuvered us through traffic jams on the highways and along the back streets to our destination. Although the trip left us feeling a little uneasy, it gave us a glimpse into how the Iraqi people live and carry on with their daily lives during these troubled times.

We were very limited as to what we could carry with us. We didn’t face any problems with the major airlines, but once we arrived in Iraq we weren’t sure about our mode of travel so we planned for the worst case scenario. We could only bring the bare necessities, so we packed one tripod for the total station and a Nikon (Trimble, Sunnyvale, Calif.) AC-2S automatic level for vertical control. I used the prism pole as a backsight and foresight. We did manage to bring a level rod but had to take it apart to fit into a bag.

When we arrived at the main gate of the compound, we were greeted by numerous security forces. After a thorough check of our identification and bags, we were allowed onsite. The security teams deployed at the gate made me feel pretty good; they were professional and took their job very seriously. After our security check we were shown to our living quarters, given a tasty meal and a quick tour. Since we had a couple of hours of daylight left, we immediately started measuring the first building.

Each team member was assigned a small building to be utilized for sleeping, bathing and hiding out. It was also used as office space, equipment storage and dining. Our quarters were located near the middle of the compound. Since we didn’t have a vehicle and did a lot of walking while carrying our equipment, the location of our temporary living quarters worked out well when we needed additional tools or equipment.


At the entrance to the compound, the Tetra Tech team waits for a security team to take them back to Kuwait City, then on to the States.

Innovation and Determination

Our original plan of action was to set control points on top of the main building, but because of security considerations, we had to adjust our mode of operation so that the activities did not become targeted by anyone “outside the wire.” As with any survey, we carefully chose the location of each control point with one being outside the local office manager’s office. It felt strange carrying survey equipment through the office, but the personnel were very cordial. The rest of our control points were crosses drawn by a straight edge and a black ink marker on top of the concrete curbs. (We had to use something semi-permanent so they weren’t taken out by the maintenance personnel.)

Most of the building corners to be located could not be seen because they were surrounded by concrete blast walls. So, we first measured each structure and drew up a building template. Then we located the ridgelines and eaves of each building with our Sokkia total station so we could place each structure into the base drawing. This process required me to climb on the top of each building. Carrying a ladder along with a prism pole got to be pretty cumbersome--I became quite proficient at finding ways to the roof without the use of a ladder (and soon had some strange nicknames).

At the end of each day Jeffers downloaded our shots into Autodesk (San Rafael, Calif.) Land Desktop to update the AutoCAD base drawing. We did this to check each day’s work to see if anything had to be located or measured with a tape. This is a pretty standard procedure, of course, but now we were in a situation where if something was missed we had to get it taken care of immediately. We had one chance to get it right because there was no way we were coming back.

We posted our drawing and field notes on an FTP site at least every other day so the design team in the States could review our activity. This process worked well as long as we had access to the Internet. If there were questions or concerns, the project manager would send us a list via e-mail. We then proceeded to answer the questions while measuring another site.

Even though each building or set of buildings was its own individual project, we tied all the utilities together. This is the main reason we decided to locate everything by the use of a total station and show it all on one base map. On Tetra Tech’s previous trips, the underground utilities weren’t a concern. However, after construction started, buried utility lines started showing up under the footers so we were directed to pick up everything in sight on this trip.

Locating the buildings was the main focal point, but we also located the water, sewer and electric lines with the help of Marc Laderman, PE, a Boston-area electrical engineer. We also located the soil boring test holes after Scott Nagel, a Boston-area geologist and Tetra Tech team leader, and Randy Kelly, a Tetra Tech driller, drilled them. We ended up taking enough shots on the site to develop a full topographic drawing of the compound.

After the first week, Jeffers’ laptop crashed and we had to use mine to continue generating the drawings. He used my laptop as our backup along with CDs so we had the most recent data readily available. Our home office sent another laptop via private courier and it arrived within a week, which was quite a surprise.

For the bulk of the project we located the buildings and utilities with the Sokkia total station. However, we still had to do a lot of measuring with a tape. Everything was measured in metric (which is very easy to use one you get used to it). We not only had to measure all the buildings, but all items sticking out of the walls and roof, like air conditioning units, kitchen vent fans, antennas and guy wires as well.



Keena takes one of hundreds of shots to locate one of many units at the Iraqi compound.

An Experience to Grow From

Working in a war zone was both physically and psychologically exhausting. The most dangerous part was riding in the vehicles through the city to get to and from the site. The first few days onsite we had to wear body armor. The extra weight was a little annoying and because it was bulky, it was constantly bumping into the tripod. The temperature was always above 100 degrees, so the body armor acted more like a sauna suit. (We didn’t lose any weight but we drank a lot of water throughout the day.) The workdays were 10 to 12 hours long, seven days a week--and we rarely got a full night’s sleep due to multiple nighttime rocket attacks.

Our third trip to Iraq was another incredible experience. It was a remarkable example of how individuals--some with limited surveying experience--worked as a team and did whatever it takes to complete a survey mission under very difficult conditions and circumstances. We worked long hours in a hostile environment and a very hot location, were bombarded with rockets almost every night, and still delivered the required survey data to our design team on time and within budget. I am very proud to have been part of this mission and am especially proud to have worked alongside the members of this team.

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