Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Klamath Falls airman relates experiences in Afghanistan following return from deployment

Capt. Tim Bruner, of the 173rd Fighter Wing's Civil Engineering Squadron in Klamath Falls, Ore., recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. He related some of his experiences while there.

Prior to a Joint Expeditionary Team deployment, all airmen are required to attend Army Combat Skills Training, or CST. CST is a one month training course to familiarize other services with the Army way of doing things. Courses included weapons qualifying, Combat Life Saving (CLS), HMMWV (Humvee) training, convoy training, Army force structure, basic tactics, and a five-day field deployment.

The three Air Guard S-Teams all attended the same CST course at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. One of the benefits was that our class was all civil engineers preparing to deploy to various locations in Afghanistan and Iraq. This provided a great networking opportunity allowing us to get to know other engineers that would be in the same theaters.

We were known as a Staff Augmentation Team, or “S-Team”. Our primary mission was to provide highly technical engineering staff in the areas of public works, design, project management, planning, and command and control.

Our team was made up entirely of Air National Guardsmen. There were three Air National Guard S-Teams deployed to Afghanistan, each consisting of seven members. Each of them was located at Army Forward Operating Bases, or FOB’s.

On the FOB, we were known as the Facility Engineer Team, or FET. Aside from myself, members of our team were from the 240th Civil Engineering Flight at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. Our FOB called FOB Fenty was near Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Our primary mission was planning, programming, designing, and construction of facility and infrastructure projects. Overall, this experience has been great. The highlight of the deployment was being able to work with the other members of the team, who are all motivated, dedicated, and well-trained professionals.

Everyone except the commander was assigned construction projects that they are responsible for, from initial planning to completion. The commander is responsible for overseeing our entire operation, and acted as a liaison between the FET and the Army command element. He was also responsible for entertaining distinguished visitors, of which we had more than our fair share in the four months I was there.

In many ways, we felt that we had the best jobs on the base. We fell under the Army for tactical control (TACON) but under the Air Force for admin control (ADCON). We were an independent liaison, providing engineering support and working with everyone on the base since everyone has a need for facilities and infrastructure. We found that the Army is great to work with because they are used to austere living conditions. They were very appreciative of the facilities we provided. Anything is a step up from living in a tent!

We converted from an expeditionary base to a permanent base while we were there. In doing so, buildings were put in before basic infrastructure, such as water and sewer, were established. We tackled this difficult process of trying to develop this infrastructure while working around existing buildings.

Power and communications lines were put in to provide lighting, heating and air conditioning systems, and computers. We only drank bottled water and most of the toilets were portable units that must be pumped daily. There were a few water wells on base, but only part of the water is treated with ROWPU units (mobile filtration) to provide potable water for the dining facility and hospital. The rest of the water was treated with chlorine and used for showers and bathrooms, and therefore was not suitable for drinking. This is typical at most FOBs.

One of the most rewarding parts of our job was our daily interaction with the locals. We had two interpreters who were invaluable to our operation. They knew the local construction methods and the local contractors. Besides bridging the language barrier, they took the time to discuss their culture and religion with us.

The contractors work hard considering their lack of modern tools. For example, most building foundations are created with hand shovels and pick axes. Most of the buildings are built with brick and mortar. I personally saw times where concrete was poured by a “bucket line” of workers with large bowls!

For a first deployment, this was a great assignment!

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