By Capt. Micala Hicks, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 27, 2008 - Task Force Pacemaker's engineers have conducted construction workshops throughout eastern Afghanistan to promote positive relationships with Afghans while providing them with skills critical to rebuilding their nation and economy. January marked the beginning of four separate construction workshops for Afghan men between the ages of 18 and 60. The task force is made up of three combat heavy engineer construction line companies, the headquarters and support company from 864th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), out of Fort Lewis, Wash.; and 76th Engineer Vertical Detachment Company, out of Fort Knox, Ky.
The workshop was held at four remote forward operating bases -- FOBs Fenty, Kushamond, Orgun-E and Sharana -- and trained 200 unskilled laborers in basic wood-, concrete- and masonry-construction techniques.
Each Afghan student received about $1,200 worth of construction tools funded by the Commander's Emergency Relief Program. The tools included saws, hammers and other items instrumental to construction work.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, about 40 percent of Afghanistan's 25 million citizens are unemployed. This percentage has steadily increased over the last several years as Afghan refugees who fled to Pakistan and Iran have started to return.
"With high unemployment, a lack of arable land and an economy based mostly on subsistence farming, returnees have few chances," stated a recent Investor Relations Information Network report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Army 1st Lt. Grayson Pranin, Task Force Pacemaker civil military officer, used a demographic survey that determined about 80 percent of the workshop students were consistently unemployed and generally unskilled in construction or other trades. Over the 10-day courses, soldiers provided training that allowed students to successfully build 8-by-4-by-20-foot storage sheds, complete with windows, door frames and rafter rooftops.
The instructors used a standard list of training objectives and general information, but instructors applied their own unique methods for demonstrating construction techniques in a manner easily understood by Afghan students.
For example, mimicking a demonstration he had seen in his advanced individual training course, Army Sgt. Kyle Drube showed students the necessity of using rebar to reinforce concrete pads.
Several days before his class, he poured a circular mold of concrete about 10 inches in diameter and 2 inches thick. In front of the students, he took the hardened concrete and broke it over his knee. Drube then showed the students how a similar-sized piece of concrete with rebar emplaced did not break under the same force.
The junior soldiers seemed to enjoy the challenge of researching and rehearsing their classes and the unique leadership opportunity they had with their teams as instructors. Generally, two soldiers were paired with each team to provide hands-on guidance and oversight. Five interpreters worked with each group of 50 students, allowing them to break down into teams as small as 10 students.
When the Afghan students graduated from the workshop, they were provided with certificates and reference cards that acknowledged the successful completion of their training. These cards help local contractors and coalition forces determine who to hire for major projects either on forward operating bases or in local communities.
These workshops have allowed unskilled laborers to progress to the point that they are now contractors with other construction laborers working for them. Not even two weeks after the completion of the workshop at FOB Sharana, the top 20 students in the class were hired to assist in building two Combined Joint Task Force 82 construction projects on FOB Sharana.
Army Maj. Kenneth Frey, Task Force Pacemaker operations officer, has been working on proposals for engineers to deploy in teams with a primary mission of instructing and managing construction projects with Afghans.
"After almost 15 months of being in this country, it feels good to give something back," Drube said.
(Army Capt. Micala Hicks is commander of 585th Engineer Company.)