Face of Defense: Engineer Prepares Airmen for Afghanistan

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. — As 22 com­bat engi­neers from the 452nd Civ­il Engi­neer Squadron pre­pared to deploy through­out south­ern and east­ern Afghanistan recent­ly, one air­man stepped up to ensure they were ready for the job at hand.
Know­ing his expe­ri­ence on a sim­i­lar deploy­ment would be an asset, Air Force Capt. David Simons Jr., the squadron’s chief of oper­a­tions, vol­un­teered to serve on active-duty orders to ensure the logis­tics of the squadron’s deploy­ment prepa­ra­tion ran smooth­ly.

452nd Civil Engineer Squadron at March Air Reserve Base, Calif.
Engi­neers assigned to the 452nd Civ­il Engi­neer Squadron at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., and the 934th Civ­il Engi­neer Squadron at Min­neapo­lis-St. Paul Air Reserve Sta­tion, Minn., train at Fort McCoy, Wis., for a deploy­ment to Afghanistan.
U.S. Air Force pho­to by Staff Sgt. Kim­ber­ly Hick­ey
Click to enlarge

Embed­ded with Army units at six loca­tions, the deployed engi­neers have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to direct­ly affect troops’ liv­ing con­di­tions and improve the qual­i­ty of life for Afghans in near­by vil­lages, the cap­tain said.

“I’ve been very impressed and proud of these air­men and their deter­mi­na­tion,” said Simons, who returned from a deploy­ment to Afghanistan in the fall. “I can see it in their eyes. They want to go over there and make a dif­fer­ence.

“Because of what we do and our skill sets, we can affect people’s lives in ways that go on and on for gen­er­a­tions,” he added.

As the father of three young girls, Simons said, he felt most con­nect­ed with the youngest gen­er­a­tion of Afghans, the chil­dren he would see play­ing in the streets as his con­voy drove through vil­lages. He said it was heart­break­ing to know the children’s only source of water was from ditch­es, rivers and shal­low wells that were con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed with high counts of cholera bac­te­ria from fecal mat­ter and urine, and fre­quent­ly taint­ed with improp­er­ly dis­posed engine oil.

When Simons and his team would drill wells for the for­ward oper­at­ing bases, they some­times were able to divert a por­tion of the clean water to local vil­lages. Some of the air­men who are now deployed will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to build wells like these direct­ly inside the Afghan vil­lages, he said.

“Thir­ty years from now, it will be my children’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to work with these chil­dren on a glob­al scale,” the cap­tain said. “We have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the children’s lives bet­ter. This will help them grow up healthy and edu­cat­ed, mak­ing it eas­i­er for the next gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans.”

Dur­ing his deploy­ment, Simons and his team built sev­en new for­ward oper­at­ing bases and com­bat out­posts and helped to bring up to stan­dard the infra­struc­ture of count­less out­posts by installing wells, plumb­ing, elec­tric­i­ty, roads and bridges.

Many for­ward oper­at­ing bases, he said, were built using expe­di­ent meth­ods, usu­al­ly con­vert­ing old Russ­ian bases, he said. “They weren’t done with thoughts of waste, san­i­tary sew­er issues and water,” he explained.

The 452nd Civ­il Engi­neer Squadron com­bat engi­neers who are now deployed are respon­si­ble for sim­i­lar projects in some of the same remote, and often hos­tile, regions of Afghanistan. “It’s always a high ops tem­po,” Simons said. “You always have to be think­ing four or five steps ahead, espe­cial­ly when it comes to what the ene­my is doing and how are you going to stay safe. Then, you’re still expect­ed to go out and do your job, which, along with hold­ing a weapon and walk­ing around a city, includes doing such things as plumb­ing, elec­tri­cal, [heat­ing, ven­ti­la­tion and air con­di­tion­ing], and sur­vey­ing.”

Simons esti­mat­ed that he spent 75 per­cent of his deploy­ment out­side the wire, and his team fre­quent­ly encoun­tered small-arms fire, impro­vised explo­sive devices, mor­tars and rock­et-pro­pelled grenades. Some­times, he said, when there was­n’t enough day­light to return to a for­ward oper­at­ing base after a day’s work, the team would set up watch­es and sleep under the stars.

“We’re tak­ing ordi­nary air­men … and putting them in extra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tions, expect­ing them to fight and still do their job,” he said about the engi­neers who are now deployed. “They’re going to excel at this.”

Simons helped the engi­neers before their deploy­ment by show­ing them pho­tos and videos of his deploy­ment and talk­ing with them about what to expect. “Almost all of them had nev­er deployed before, and many of them were appre­hen­sive,” he said. “Once they knew more about what to expect, they were excit­ed to be able to help the fight.”

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Kim­ber­ly Hick­ey of the 934th Air­lift Wing con­tributed to this sto­ry)

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

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