Afghanistan — Face of Defense: Guardsman Creates With Metal

GARDEZ, Afghanistan — Just as some look at a blank can­vas and imag­ine art, Army Sgt. Theodore Sweet looks at a piece of met­al and sees inno­va­tions.

Vermont National Guard
Army Sgt. Theodore Sweet of the Ver­mont Nation­al Guard stands behind a mount for an M240B machine gun that he cre­at­ed for use on an all-ter­rain vehi­cle at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Light­ning, Afghanistan, May 18, 2010.
U.S. Army pho­to by Staff Sgt. Whit­ney Hugh­es
Click to enlarge

With the cre­ativ­i­ty of a sculp­tor and the weath­ered hands of a met­al work­er, he uses his work­shop as his stu­dio and scrap met­al as his can­vas to cre­ate every­thing from brack­ets to bed frames.

His work isn’t dis­played in an art gallery. It is used by sol­diers every day in the field.

Sweet is a welder from the Ver­mont Army Nation­al Guard serv­ing here with Com­pa­ny E, 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 172nd Infantry Reg­i­ment. His inven­tions and repairs have been inte­gral to the suc­cess of not only the sol­diers in his bat­tal­ion, but also the Afghan army and spe­cial oper­a­tions sol­diers.

“It seems like every day I make a new cre­ation,” Sweet said. “Some­times it seems like they’re look­ing for mir­a­cles, but in the end it always works out.”

One of his inven­tions is a mount for an M‑240B machine gun that he engi­neered for an all-ter­rain vehi­cle for Spe­cial Forces sol­diers. The vehi­cle, sim­i­lar to a com­mon four-wheel­er, had no weapon sys­tem before Sweet got his hands on it.

It turned out to be an effec­tive tool aid­ing spe­cial oper­a­tions sol­diers dur­ing a fire­fight.

“It def­i­nite­ly enhanced our capa­bil­i­ty to maneu­ver on the ene­my,” said one sol­dier, who did­n’t give his name for secu­ri­ty rea­sons.

Anoth­er of Sweet’s inven­tions is an improved ammu­ni­tion box for a Mark 19 auto­mat­ic grenade launch­er. The weapon is mount­ed in the tur­ret on top of the mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed vehi­cles that sol­diers use every day to trav­el around Afghanistan as one of their first lines of defense against attacks on their con­voys.

Nor­mal­ly, the sol­diers can expend about 50 rounds of ammu­ni­tion before they have to reload. With Sweet’s inven­tion mount­ed in the tur­ret, they can fire three times as many rounds before hav­ing to reload. This inven­tion has also been test­ed and proven in com­bat by sol­diers, Sweet said.

Sweet said he’s asked dai­ly to invent or repli­cate tools and hard­ware that nor­mal­ly are made by indus­tri­al machines.

“I just give him a draw­ing and he makes it work,” said Ger­ard Pan­tin, a civil­ian con­trac­tor. “Any type of weld­ing we want, he comes up with the design and exe­cutes.” “It’s like mold­ing clay,” Sweet said.

Sweet has only been a cer­ti­fied mil­i­tary welder for about two years. As a tra­di­tion­al Nation­al Guard sol­dier, this is not his full-time occu­pa­tion. At his home in Burke, N.Y., Sweet is a Clin­ton Coun­ty cor­rec­tions offi­cer. His back­ground in weld­ing came from grow­ing up on a farm, restor­ing old cars and work­ing in a junk­yard.

Sweet also knows first-hand the impor­tance of hav­ing effec­tive equip­ment in com­bat. In addi­tion to his civil­ian expe­ri­ence, he draws on his com­bat expe­ri­ence from his first deploy­ment, where he served as a tanker in Rama­di, Iraq, from 2005 to 2006.

“There’s not much we can give him that he can’t fix,” said Army Chief War­rant Offi­cer Lar­ry Grace, the sup­port main­te­nance tech­ni­cian super­vi­sor for Com­pa­ny E. Through his inge­nu­ity, Sweet has proven that it is pos­si­ble to not only think out­side the box, but also to take that box and weld it into a life-sav­ing inno­va­tion.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)