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NEWS | Dec. 7, 2010

SD Soldiers improve base infrastructure, Afghan labor force in Kabul

By Sgt. Rebecca Linder Task Force Rushmore Public Affairs

CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan – For 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Dakota Army National Guard Soldiers, constantly striving to better camp living conditions for the more than 9,000 U.S. and coalition forces stationed throughout the Kabul Base Cluster (KBC) and the future Afghans who will reside here is the goal for the unit.

To help build base infrastructure, the Directorate of Public Works (DPW), a section within the 196th, relies on using Afghan labor as a means to improve the 11 camps throughout the KBC.

“We focus on base infrastructure, building maintenance and ensuring building safety,” said Maj. Trent Bruce, DPW officer in charge, 196th. “Our mission is to ensure troops within the KBC have a place to sleep, eat and try to give them the best quality of life so they can focus on their primary mission.”

When troop labor isn’t available, DPW uses the “Afghan First” program to hire local Afghan contractors. The operations section within DPW has personnel who work with regional contracting commands and contracting officer representatives to complete the more than 350 projects underway throughout the KBC.

“It helps to provide them jobs. If they weren’t working on those projects, who knows what they would be doing,” said Master Sgt. Gary Devries, DPW noncommissioned officer in charge. “They’d either be unemployed or possibly even going to the other side – insurgency. The more we can employ the better, but it will help with the economy in the long run too.”

Using the Afghans to help ensure this happens will also help build other skills, said Devries.
“One of the benefits of going with the local contractors or the ‘Afghan First’ program is the training of some of the local Afghans,” continued Devries, of Omaha, Neb. “They are getting some hands on training and they will have those trades long after the coalition forces leave this country.”

Helping enforce the policy, the land management section within DPW, takes project requests, makes them into packets, and gets them approved by senior members of the 196th so these Afghans can continue working on camps throughout the KBC, which will eventually house their own Afghan National Security Forces.

“The land management division is responsible for the planning, organization, coordination and oversight of master planning, execution of design, construction and real property management for the Kabul Base Cluster,” said Maj. Brian Phinney, land management officer in charge.  “Other responsibilities and tasks included in this division include engineer design, writing statements of work and geospatial engineering, or mapping products.”

Bringing several civilian skill sets from home to help augment this mission, Bruce and his 17-man crew have been able to make sure the planning and building processes are being completed to proper standards.

“The skill sets we bring from our civilian occupations have proven to be very beneficial for this role because we are able to understand the complex nature of project management and construction oversight,” said Bruce, of Rock Rapids, Iowa. “We have a good understanding of what right is suppose to look like and how projects are supposed to progress.”

Bruce also said his staff has brought a lot of skill sets that have helped them to be successful here and will pass on those skills to the Afghans to help develop their trades.

“In our section, we have professional engineers with civil, mechanical and project management experience,” said Bruce, an engineering project manager in Northwest Iowa. “We also brought Soldiers with client-customer relationship skills and a significant amount of construction expertise from their civilian acquired skills, which have been very valuable; they are able to get out there and make sure things are done right.”

Using the experiences these S.D. Soldiers brought with them is helping to better the economy and the future of Afghanistan.