Engineers in Afghanistan Oversee Base Expansion

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan — When 30,000 U.S. troops surged to Afghanistan, space for them to live, work and store equip­ment became a crit­i­cal need.
This base in Afghanistan’s Pak­ti­ka province is meet­ing that need with the help of the 243rd Engi­neer Detach­ment Con­struc­tion Man­age­ment Team from the 18th Engi­neer Brigade based in Hei­del­berg, Ger­many.

 Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan's Pakitika province
Army Sgt. Ray Brutch­er, left, and Army Spc. Dako­ta Mays, both of the 902nd Engi­neer Com­pa­ny, 15th Engi­neer Bat­tal­ion, lev­el con­crete forms to grade for tow­er foot­ers on an unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cle land­ing strip project on For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Sha­rana in Afghanistan’s Pak­i­ti­ka province, April 29, 2011.
DOD pho­to by Karen Par­rish
Click to enlarge

Army Maj. Aaron Wolf leads the team, which has been here for three months. Before the surge, the base was a third the size it is now, he said.

“Every­thing after the surge has been con­struct­ed,” Wolf said. “It’s a mas­sive engi­neer­ing effort, in facil­i­ties that have been built along with those we’re still build­ing.”

Liv­ing space for troops was the first pri­or­i­ty, Wolf said, and four tent vil­lages have been added to the base. The vil­lages are made up of Air Force “Har­vest Fal­con” tents, includ­ing floored, heat­ed and cooled sleep­ing tents and latrine and show­er facil­i­ties, he added.

“Oth­er things that have been pro­grammed include larg­er facil­i­ties to hold sup­plies and ammu­ni­tion, and the new Sol­dier Cen­ter West that we’re build­ing,” he said. The sol­dier cen­ter com­plex will include a chapel, a large gym, a post exchange, a cof­fee shop, a bar­ber shop and a legal cen­ter with offices for oth­er func­tions such as equal oppor­tu­ni­ty, Wolf said.

“It’s geared to facil­i­ties for the sol­diers them­selves,” he said, not­ing the com­plex also will house a morale, wel­fare and recre­ation build­ing large enough to hold a phone and com­put­er cen­ter where troops can talk to their fam­i­lies, as well as pool and ping­pong tables and con­ver­sa­tion­al-seat­ing areas.

Wolf’s team plans and over­sees con­struc­tion, he said, while build­ing on base is accom­plished through three means: troop labor, local labor and LOGCAP, the Logis­tics Civ­il Aug­men­ta­tion Pro­gram that pro­vides con­tract­ed con­tin­gency sup­port to the Army.

The sol­dier cen­ter employs all three, Wolf said, adding that he hopes the com­plex will be com­plete in three to four months. “Troop labor depends on what’s avail­able, and [with] local nation­al labor, it’s some­times dif­fi­cult to get them onto the base to build,” Wolf said. Local work­ers also some­times have inter­nal sup­ply issues and reli­gious hol­i­days that can make sched­ul­ing a chal­lenge, he said.

“It’s very unpre­dictable,” Wolf acknowl­edged. “If we were back in the states, we’d have a con­trac­tor and we’d have every­thing laid out, and the con­trac­tor would meet all those mile­stones. We’d have great con­fi­dence in say­ing we would be done on a cer­tain date. It’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent here.”

The oth­er main con­struc­tion effort is a C-17 land­ing strip, Wolf said, although small­er projects, includ­ing canine team ken­nels and a pow­er plant, also are under way. A quar­ter of the way into their year­long deploy­ment, Wolf said, his team is com­fort­able with the par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges of doing their job in Pak­ti­ka province.

The team includes nine Army engi­neers, a civil­ian acqui­si­tion ana­lyst, and sev­en civil­ian inspec­tors, drafts­men and engi­neers, each of whom has more than 20 years of expe­ri­ence in the field, Wolf said.

“We all know what our job is, but until we get on the ground and under­stand what the envi­ron­ment is, … we real­ly don’t under­stand all those lit­tle things that will make the job bet­ter,” he said.

Much of the team’s pri­ma­ry effort involves work­ing with local labor­ers, Wolf said. “Some of the local nation­al con­trac­tors are very good at con­struc­tion, and they’ve got great fore­men,” Wolf said. “Oth­ers are not so good, and that’s a chal­lenge for my guys to … pro­vide some men­tor­ship.”

Army Capt. Justin McMil­lan is the mas­ter plan­ner for the team, and he is work­ing to pro­gram the pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal, fire sta­tion and oth­er facil­i­ties for the land­ing strip. Pro­gram­ming involves plan­ning “the place­ment of struc­tures, their build-outs, pow­er and util­i­ty require­ments,” he explained.

Wolf not­ed con­tract­ed U.S. work­ers com­plete the pow­er and util­i­ty work and most of the fin­ish­ing work.

Army Sgt. Maj. James G. Scul­lion, the team’s senior enlist­ed advi­sor and oper­a­tions sergeant major, said the deploy­ment has been a learn­ing expe­ri­ence for the detachment’s junior mem­bers. Scul­lion said three team mem­bers — a sec­ond lieu­tenant, a spe­cial­ist and a pri­vate first class — are all on their first deploy­ment and have been in the Army for about a year.

“These young sol­diers came here with no ‘hands-on’ expe­ri­ence,” he said. “I believe they now under­stand how to apply the skills they were taught in the school envi­ron­ment to real-world mis­sions.”

Scul­lion said the team’s work with Afghan con­trac­tors is a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty.

“The team gets to pro­vide them tech­ni­cal advice and per­haps bet­ter ways of doing cer­tain con­struc­tion tasks, as well as learn­ing from them,” the sergeant major said. “In return, we get qual­i­ty con­struc­tion for all the sol­diers to ben­e­fit from, … from force pro­tec­tion to facil­i­ties that allow them time to relax and unwind.”

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

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