War on Terrorism

Monday, February 09, 2009

Improvements Keep Soldiers Connected in Afghanistan

By Army Staff Sgt. David Hopkins
Special to American Forces Press Service

Feb. 9, 2009 - Improvements at Forward Operating Base Blessing in northeastern Afghanistan are helping soldiers stay connected with their families and friends back home. Construction of new buildings and the repositioning of departments on the installation have allowed the base's morale, welfare and recreation facilities to move to a larger space in a newly renovated building.

"We have too many people here for the old facility to accommodate," Army Pvt. Roman Orr, a radio telephone operator with the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team said. "We had to sit and wait an hour sometimes to get on a computer, with nothing to do while we waited."

The former building was cramped, with only small desks for computers and phones and a small bookshelf for reading material. The computer stations were so small the soldiers had to hold the keyboards on their laps to make room for the mouse on the desk.

"All we had before was a little network room," said Army Sgt. Maj. Lou Holzwarth, a battalion operations sergeant major in the brigade. "We didn't have televisions or DVDs or game tables. It was just too small."

The new facility is being constructed in the former dining facility, and it will offer more space for communication equipment, additional entertainment activities and lounge space.

"[The new MWR] will have a TV for news, a large plasma TV for video games, a regulation dartboard, two game tables, couches, a pingpong table, eight computers and four phones," Holzwarth said.

In addition, he said, cubicles were built to provide more privacy for the soldiers while they're communicating with family and friends back home.

The facility also has new electrical wiring. "The phones in the old MWR building would cut out on you, and the computers would lose connection," Orr said.

The updates are important to the soldiers here, Orr said, noting that they patrol regularly and need a fully equipped MWR building to help them relax after walking up and down Afghanistan's mountains.

"We didn't have the same facilities that other [forward operating bases] had," he said. "We all work hard here and need a place that we can go to unwind after the long days. The MWR and our ability to talk with family and friends is also our gateway to the outside world."

The remodeling is doing more than just preparing a better facility for soldiers to unwind and keep connected; it's also providing work for local Afghans, who have done all but the electrical work.

"The soldiers will get a lot out of the new MWR," Holzwarth said. "It will give them something to do to pass the time and help them stay in touch."

(Army Staff Sgt. David Hopkins serves in the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)

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