Field notes from Spectrum executive editor Glenn Zorpette, now on assignment in Iraq:
Traveled to the al Quds power station today from the Green Zone. I made that same trip two and a half years ago and the experience became the lead of the story I wrote about electrical reconstruction. "We had an incident, the engineer tells me."
Today we didn't have an incident, and that fact seemed to pleasantly surprise the handful of Army Corps of Engineers officers and civilians on the trip. The territory between the Green Zone and Quds (or, as the military insists on calling it, Qudas) has become somewhat more dangerous in the last couple of years. The trip to Quds is always a bit of a risk; it goes through dense, urban territory in north Baghdad, with lots of tall buildings and alleyway escape routes lining the travel route. There are many choke points, check points, and traffic tie ups.
About a mile past the checkpoint out of the Green Zone, we saw a young man in a red hooded sweatshirt, standing on a high concrete platform, looking at us, waving a black flag and looking in a different direction, and then looking at us again. Look at armored convoy, wave black flag, look at armored convoy, wave black flag. I'm not a security expert but I didn't think that was good. The Navy Commander who is the executive officer of the Army Corps division in charge of Quds seemed fairly sure we were going to get hit. He's survived more than a dozen IED attacks so I figured his judgment is probably pretty good on this subject. But we weren't hit. Blissfully event-free.
I was reassured, sort of, by the fact that this time we were in Revas vehicles, rather than in armored Toyota Land Cruisers, which is what we were in last time. The Revas are made in South Africa. They have a V-shaped hull to deflect an IED blast outward, and
they're much higher off the ground than humvees. They also have level 6B armor. I have no idea what that is. But the security team leader, from Aegis, said it in a way that was clearly meant to be reassuring. So I took that cue. The Revas also have two canopies on the roof where gunners get a very good look at the surrounding situation.
So we made it to Quds, and I saw dozens of diesel fuel trucks, and I knew what that meant. They got the LM6000 turbines running! Or at least a couple of them, anyway. In one of the lousier decisions of Iraqi electrical reconstruction, somebody decided to put four GE LM6000 turbines at Quds. LM6000s like natural gas, or highly pure diesel fuel. Neither is available at Quds.
The diesel fuel they've been trucking in is fairly crummy, and the LMs haven't run much so far. But lately they've gotten either better fuel or figured out how to operate the plant's fuel filters, so two of the four LM6000s are running, and adding about 150 megawatts to Baghdad's power supply. Last time I was there, none of them were running. It was starting to look like none of them were ever going to run.
It's good news that two of the turbines are running, but the bad news is that just those two units consume diesel fuel about as fast as it can be brought to the plant. There were about 35 tanker trucks in a queue that snaked all around the Quds facility today (the line can't go outside the facility because it's not really safe out there). Those 35 trucks hold one day's worth of fuel for the two turbines, I was told.
One of the Corps of Engineers assistant site managers, from Roswell, New Mexico, was surprised earlier that day when her Iraqi workers slaughtered a lamb to celebrate some milestone in an ongoing expansion project to add two more turbine-generators to the Quds facility.
Let me digress a bit here to say there's some machine gun fire that's pretty audible now outside. There have been about half a dozen short bursts. I suspect it's some sort of training, because I'm on the Victory Base Complex, surrounded by miles and miles of blast walls, razor wire, checkpoints, and countless other security measures.
Back to that Navy commander who is the executive officer of the Corps of Engineers group that oversees Quds, the guy who survived all those IED attacks. He survived those attacks while traveling through extremely dangerous territory to construction sites where Iraqi workers were building health clinics, with Corps funding, for women and children in Iraq. One of the IEDs that hit him was an EFP, an explosively formed penetrator, a particularly dreaded form of IED. It forms a heavy projectile of semimolten metal that travels at speeds great enough--more than twice the speed of a rifle round--to penetrate armor. I've seen the holes it leaves in armor--they're like the clean, perfect holes that Bugs Bunny used to leave in the cartoons, rabbit ears and all.
He and the other people in his vehicle survived that EFP attack, but they were all gravely injured. He had to be airlifted to Germany and he needed 600 internal stitches to stop his internal bleeding. And then he came back here.
I asked him why. He said it was because of the feeling he got when he saw women and children using the health clinics he set up. Yeah, go ahead and call that mawkish. But only after you've earned the right to do so by surviving a horrendous EFP hit.