Story and photo by
Army Sgt. LeeAnn Lloyd
22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
|Army Capt. Andrew Wagner, operations, 3rd Brigade, 205th Regional Security Assistance Command, and Chief Engineer Navy Cdr. David Rypien, discuss construction materials at Afghan National Army Forward Operating Base Price, near Gereshk in Helmand Province. The mud walls (left) represent what the barracks at Price used to look like, and the new buildings (right) are what replaced them.|
The soil beneath the boots of any Coalition soldier in Afghanistan is most likely soil that was fought for. Once a location has been acquired, firebases and camps are built up and ways are immediately sought to improve the quality of life for troops who will reside there. The same desire to provide the best to their fighters applies to the Afghan National Army, and helping make their ambitions a reality becomes the mission of a U.S. Army Logistical Support Team.
The 3rd Brigade, 205th Regional Security Assistance Command Logistical Support Team based at Forward Operating Base Tombstone recently implemented the renovation of the ANA’s FOB Price near the town of Gereshk in Helmand Province. The project is more than 90 percent complete, and the keys will be handed over to the ANA any day now. Where mud huts once “protected” fighters from insurgents, reliable concrete buildings now exist.
According to Army Capt. Andrew Wagner, 3-205th operations, the difference at FOBPrice is like night and day, and assisting with the construction and renovation of a FOB is just the first step toward spelling success for the ANA.
“A lot of these compounds are just mud walls and mud huts,” Wagner said. “Water is a well that is dug in the ground, drawn up by bucket. Some of the ANA houses are existing buildings, but the conditions are still rough. The soldiers are there, living in something like a combat post, and it’s rough. We want to improve on that.” Everyone knows a happy soldier is a productive one, he said.
“These structures and FOBs are going to be permanent; The ANA is not going anywhere,” Wagner explained. “Their compounds need to be able to sustain soldiers, because the bottom line is this: A happy soldier, one that feels he’s being taken care of, he’s going to be able to perform better. His morale is going to be higher, and he doesn’t need to worry about what’s going on in the FOB. He can worry about his combat mission outside the FOB.”
What is going on outside the FOB is a fight against terrorism and insurgencies as well as a battle for the Afghan people to establish an identity outside of the Taliban that at one time defined them. Village elders are still trying to find ways for their people to no longer live in fear. Over time, that security will come from confidence gained in the ANA troops. Which will lead to step two of the pyramid, Wagner said.
“The second step is using the ANA to interface with the locals. We do that with shuras (meetings); help build that rapport and confidence so that the elders will actively seek out ANA soldiers for assistance with village problems,” he said. “Then we can help the ANA facilitate what they need.”
According to Navy Cdr. David Rypien, LST chief engineer, not only are troops interfacing with locals, but most FOB renovation projects require contracting facilitated within local communities. That means the same money that is helping ANA troops build their military compounds is also helping locals strengthen their economy.
“Most of these projects are contracted with locals. A ‘Request For’ proposal will be drafted and sent out,” Rypien said.
“They’re hiring people from the local communities, and wages will be between $4 and $6 per day. That seems like very little, but for an Afghan that is a lot of money, particularly for unskilled type of labor,” Wagner said.
The bolstering of a local economy leads into the third step of accomplishing an environment where the ANA acts independently; where it relies on Coalition support not as a middle-man conduit, but as a background support element.
“We want the ANA to be the ones with all the knowledge,” Wagner said. “We want them to be able to come to us and say, ‘This village has a problem. They need a well, or they have a medical issue.’ We can help facilitate that. But ultimately we want them to have that strong relationship and trust with villagers.”
At the top of the pyramid lays success, but below are steps that could take years, possibly even decades, to achieve. It’s a fight that is essential, and success could lie in the fundamental aspects; the first step in the right direction is something as simple as making sure the troops are happy. FOB Price is just one project of many to ensure that happens.
“The ANA soldiers at FOB Price, they have pride in this place. They can’t wait to move into these buildings,” Wagner said. “They can’t wait to be able to have clean showers and latrines. It’s all so simple, but very necessary. It helps boost morale,” Wagner said.
FOB Price is the project most recently completed by the LST. Next they will dive into the next project in the queue, which includes assessing FOB Robinson in Helmand Province.
“The whole key to this is to develop the Afghan people, the Afghan Army, so they can be self-sufficient. The benefit is basically to get them to point where they have the ability to build their own structures, so the soldiers can actually live in them and fight from them if they have to,” Rypien said.
The end result of all this shaping and building of a nation is one hoped for by nearly every person in the country.
“Hopefully,” Rypien said, “There is going to be peace here one day.”