Jesse Ballenger: Captain leads effort to preserve ancient Iraqi city





Blackanthem Military News, AL HADR, Iraq – Even as he is mired in the present concerns of coordinating logistics for Q-West Base Complex, Capt. Jesse Ballenger, 153rd Field Artillery Brigade, has one eye on the future.

Ballenger keeps another eye on the past, a consequence of his ongoing studies in archaeology as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Arizona.

With his current project at the Hatra ruins, the Army National Guardsman and Norman, Okla., native is bringing together his military and civilian skills to facilitate the construction of a fence to protect and preserve the 2,000-year-old site.

Accompanied by a team of engineers from the 412th Engineer Command under the 130th Engineer Brigade, and the local Iraqi Army commander, Ballenger visited the site July 14 to complete the design for a protective fence that will encircle the entire site, including currently unexcavated areas.

“If all goes well in Iraq, energy and archaeological tourism [will be] the two big industries,” said Ballenger. As one of the most famous ancient sites, Hatra could be a draw for the tourism industry in the area.

Col. Ra’ad, commander, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division Iraqi Army, gave his full endorsement to the project. As he and Ballenger traveled around the perimeter and through one of the few sites excavated in the 1970s, Ra’ad shared stories of the previous work of archaeologists in the area, as well as the ancient legend of how the fortified city-state fell to the invading Sassanids around 241 A.D.

Col. Daniel Prine, commander, Detachment 8, 412th ENCOM, made notes on the location and design of the fence, as Ballenger notated a series of global positioning system, or GPS, points around the perimeter.

Inside the site, amidst the rolling hills of sand covering unexcavated houses, streets, walls and civilization, Prine’s team of engineers recorded a series of seven different possible sites for permanent markers.

Although a dust storm severely limited visibility, the satellite coverage enabling the GPS markers was good, according to Sgt. Roger D. Ashley, engineer technician, from Vicksburg, Miss. The next group of surveyors will be able to use this information to do a more precise survey and map of the site, which will be necessary before excavations can begin and will happen after the fence is built.

“You start with the map,” said Ballenger. Once archaeologists have a good topographical understanding of the site, they can understand it spatially, better conceptualize the site formation processes and address other archaeological concerns.

Ashley, a Vicksburg, Miss., Reservist who is a railroad conductor/brakeman for the Kansas City Southern, said he did not expect the site surveyors to have too many problems with the GPS, and that they will hopefully have better visibility.

Although some parts of the fence in the area around the front gate might be salvageable, most of the old concrete posts have crumbled into the dirt, and the old barbed wire is twisted into a tangled mass. Prine, who as a civilian works as a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Colombia, made careful notes about what might be usable.

In the coming weeks, Ballenger hopes that the fence design and funds for the construction will be approved by Multi-National Corps-Iraq.

“There’s much work to do,” said Ballenger....

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