By Sgt. David E. Roscoe, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 15, 2007 - U.S. Army engineers in Afghanistan are doing their part to restore security and the country's economy by building roads, bridges and levees to connect Afghanistan's people. Afghanistan's rugged terrain and mountainous landscape isolates most of the population from the country's major cities and industrial area. Lack of funding, harsh seasonal weather and flash floods have made it almost impossible to maintain a lasting road system within the country. Only about 35,000 kilometers of roads connect the country's economic centers. This explains why one of the main goals for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other engineer units is to build and repair an efficient road system in Afghanistan.
However, major concerns arise for soldiers constructing roads in a combat environment. Improvised explosive devices, car bombs and ambushes are a constant threat to soldiers working on roads.
"Our company has been attacked by one IED and one (car bomb), found three IEDs, and been ambushed three times while conducting road-construction missions in Afghanistan," Army Capt. Nicholas O. Melin, commander of Company B, 864th Engineer Combat Battalion, said. "The motivating thing about all this is that our soldiers are not allowing these obstacles to stop them, and they have maintained their good spirits in the face of danger."
Unpredictable rainfall in Afghanistan also has been a major threat for local homes and crops as local rivers flood. This was the case in Sira Qala, a community outside Forward Operating Base Sharana, where an aging levee suffered major flood damage threatening the village's economy.
Army 1st Lt. Robert Green, Equipment Platoon leader with Headquarters and Support Company, 864th Engineer Combat Battalion, was tasked to repair the levee. "I think it was an important construction mission with an immediate impact on the population," he said. "While it may not be a permanent solution to the problem, it will at least continue to protect the village for another couple seasons."
Connecting Afghan civilians to cities with medical facilities also has been a major road construction goal for the battalion, dubbed Task Force Pacemaker for its Afghanistan deployment. In June, the battalion's Company A completed a 15-kilometer road that connected the village of Khyur Khot to the town of Mest.
"The Alpha Company road-construction mission was very important because it connected the locals in that area to the town of Mest, which has medical facilities," Army Capt. Mona A. Tanner, TF Pacemaker plans officer, said. "The road also provided coalition forces with freedom of movement between the two areas. The Alpha Company soldiers were consistent, determined and didn't let delays weaken their spirits."
Army Lt. Col. Mark J. Deschenes, the TF Pacemaker commander, added: "The primary purpose of Task Force Pacemaker's road-construction mission is to maximize mobility for coalition forces and the Afghan people. The roads that we are constructing support economic growth and an efficient security presence in the country. Locals are able to travel from point A to point B easier than they were able to in the past.
"They are able to reach medical services and job opportunities with less difficulty," he added. "The roads also allow for an increased security capability for coalition forces, the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, providing a safer environment for everyone."
(Army Sgt. David E. Roscoe is assigned to Task Force Pacemaker.)