Army Engineers Help to Rebuild Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — When the task to help rebuild and recon­struct Afghanistan was estab­lished, Army Col. Thomas H. Mag­ness IV, the com­man­der of Afghanistan Engi­neer Dis­trict-North, ini­tial­ly had con­cerns about how much could be accom­plished.
“We’d shake our heads and be con­cerned about the abil­i­ty for that con­trac­tor to fin­ish,” Mag­ness, a U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers offi­cer, said yes­ter­day dur­ing a DoDLive Blog­gers’ Round­table.

That con­cern, he said, was short lived. Since then, the Afghanistan recon­struc­tion endeav­or has pro­gressed on a sol­id foun­da­tion of accom­plish­ment and pro­fes­sion­al­ism. “Now we are award­ing most of our con­tracts to Afghan con­trac­tors. They are com­pe­tent, pro­fes­sion­al, safe on the job site and ful­ly capa­ble of com­plet­ing the projects,” Mag­ness said.

Recon­struct­ing Afghanistan involves part­ner­ship and close work­ing rela­tion­ships with the Afghan peo­ple, Mag­ness said, not­ing the pace of rebuild­ing is faster and more effi­cient than ever before.

“We have tran­si­tioned from being in con­struc­tion, to fin­ish­ing projects at the rate of one com­plet­ed project per day,” Mag­ness said. “I’ve nev­er seen this kind of con­struc­tion pace. But I’ve also nev­er seen a com­mu­ni­ty — in this case, the engi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion com­mu­ni­ty — that has grown as much as it has. It has risen to the task.” So what exact­ly is the U.S. doing to help rebuild Afghanistan? They’re doing just that, Mag­ness said, lit­er­al­ly recon­struct­ing the foun­da­tions of the country’s infra­struc­ture from the ground up.

“We are putting in elec­tric trans­mis­sion lines, we are doing roads, and we’re doing repairs on some key strate­gic bridges,” Mag­ness said. “We’re also doing infra­struc­ture projects, all of which is geared towards being able to hand this mis­sion off to the Afghans.”

The Afghan engi­neers and con­struc­tion work­ers under his purview are “the best of the best and these guys are capa­ble, they’re com­pe­tent,” Mag­ness said. “For the most part, we recruit them to stay and work on projects near their homes.”

The Army Corps of Engi­neers also is com­mit­ted to ensur­ing that Afghan engi­neers and con­struc­tion work­er receive the prop­er train­ing to excel –- for today and into the future, Mag­ness said.

“We’re not leav­ing this to hap­pen on its’ own,” he said. “We are invest­ing in the [Afghan] uni­ver­si­ties pret­ty sig­nif­i­cant­ly so that we can con­tin­ue to pro­duce those qual­i­ty engi­neers.”

The holis­tic approach to rebuild­ing Afghanistan doesn’t stop with just brick-and-mor­tar facil­i­ties. The Army Corps of Engi­neers, Mag­ness said, also is seek­ing more effi­cient meth­ods to pro­duce ener­gy in Afghanistan.

Solar ener­gy is one option, Mag­ness said. Using the abun­dance of sun­light in Afghanistan as a source of ener­gy, he said, could pro­vide a bet­ter way to increase elec­tric pow­er. For exam­ple, he said, a demon­stra­tion project in Kab­ul is designed to pro­vide ener­gy for sev­er­al build­ings –- an office build­ing, guard tow­ers, lights and ammu­ni­tion bunkers –- using a solar and wind tur­bine. The Corps of Engi­neers also is work­ing with the may­or of Kab­ul to employ solar ener­gy to pow­er street lights.

“There is no reli­able elec­tric grid here in this city of five mil­lion peo­ple, and so we looked at putting in solar street lights as a way to pro­vide safe­ty, secu­ri­ty, improve com­merce in an oth­er­wise dark city at night — part of the mayor’s cam­paign to light up the city at night,” Mag­ness said. The Corps also has estab­lished its own solar-pow­ered light­ing demon­stra­tion project, he said.

“These lights are work­ing great,” Mag­ness said. “We’re also look­ing at oth­er infra­struc­ture [improve­ments] that include putting solar lights on some of our larg­er instal­la­tions and big­ger projects. Those [projects] are all geared towards cre­at­ing a more sus­tain­able Afghan infra­struc­ture.” Mag­ness has noth­ing but high praise for his Afghan team.

“They believe in what they’re doing, and I real­ly believe in them,” he said. “If you want a face to this mis­sion, it is the Afghan engi­neer, it’s the Afghan con­struc­tion work­er — male and female — who have turned a cor­ner and tru­ly will be a major part of the future of this coun­try.”

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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter