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.
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)