OLD SALTS Harrington (left) and Woodmansee draw on years of private sector experience to keep military support working.

Doug Harrington and Glenn Woodmansee, two old salts at the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Engineering Group's forward staging area in Iraq, harken back to the Seabees' early days. In World War II, 325,000 skilled tradesmen enlisted for the military's combat construction force. Their median age was 38, roughly double the median age of the typical recruit.

The pair of construction engineers with Seabee Maintenance Unit 303 widens the gap even more: Harrington is 49 and Woodmansee a feisty 53. His helmet cover inscription warns: "The first one who calls me Grandpa, I'll kill."

Both have been in and out of the service for several stints. Harrington, a resident of Madera, Calif., joined the Marines at 17, then joined the reserves after his initial hitch was up. Along the way he married, started a family and became a union electrician.

"After 14 years of making money for other people, I went into business for myself," he says. D&D Electrical Contracting is being run by his 24-year-old son and wife Denise, who took the reins last fall when he returned to active duty. He is credited with 16 years' service. "I've got a good friend, a competitor, who's taking some of the load while I'm here," he adds. "I knew I had a couple of jobs coming my way, so I asked my buddy to take them on. He'll give me a little commission."

Woodmansee has a couple of hitches with the Seabees, starting in 1969. He was in the reserves and working as an electrician with San Diego's school system when 9/11 hit. His two children were grown and his marriage was ending. When 170 members of his unit were activated in December 2001, he saw an opportunity to combine patriotism and "make a new start and put my life in order." Operation Iraqi Freedom extended his commitment. "I've served 18 years in five different decades," he says.

Both men worked on Gen. Tommy Franks' command post in Doha, Qatar, last year. After that, it was on to Kuwait with an amphibious construction battalion, "unloading ships bringing in supplies, everything from beans, to bullets and bandages," says Harrington.

The next mission was wiring Camp Commando, the MEG's operational base in the Kuwaiti desert. "Telecom equipment now is very sophisticated and sensitive," says Harrington. "It doesn't like power spikes, surges or sags. It's our job to smooth them out."

As the battle neared Baghdad, MEG commander Rear Adm. Chuck Kubic ordered his operations staff to prepare a "hunting lodge" set-up with the 1st MEF's logistical staging area at an airstrip south of Baghdad. The lodge would enable Kubic to move his command and control forward, without losing communications. Seabees built a fully wired, insulated modular, air-conditioned tent, called a DRASH, from DHS Systems, Orangeburg, N.Y.

COOL Air-conditioned modules are fully wired for support.

One module contains telecom, radios, secure and open Internet access and power strips and tables for a full complement of support staff laptops. The second has a conference room. Kubic's berth, desk and refrigerator occupy the third module. The coup de grace is the flag head—the admiral's personal shower, sink and toilet, with seat. Everyone else in camp avails themselves of two 6-in. pipes driven into a berm and three adjacent plywood outhouses.

Both men say private sector experience gives them advantages that some younger Seabees do not enjoy. "I was out here for Desert Storm and they didn't have air conditioning then," says Woodmansee. "It makes sense to have it. But to deal with power spikes and sags, you also need things like uninterrupted power sources and line conditioners. A lot of these kids have only heard of these things. We see them all the time on the outside."

"We see wiring challenges eight or 10 or 12 times a year that some of these kids may only see once, if that," adds Harrington. "The manuals in the military are typically 15 to 20 years behind the times."

Their camp wiring job passed Kubic's demanding standards on his first trip to the lodge April 12.


ENR Managing Senior Editor Andrew G. Wright is in Baghdad
with the Engineer Brigade of U.S. Army's Third Infantry