11/15/2002 — 769th Soldiers Help Improve Conditions at KMTC

Related Photo
By Staff Sgt. Rhonda M. Lawson
28th Public Affairs Detachment

KABUL, Afghanistan — Work conditions and quality of life improvements for U.S. troops assigned to Forward Operating Base 195 at the Kabul Military Training Center are being made everyday, thanks, in part, to a five-member team of soldiers from the 769th Engineer Battalion, Louisiana National Guard, from Baton Rouge, La.

The team, consisting of a squad leader, Small Emplacement Excavator operator, a plumber, electrician and a well digger, has been part of a number of large projects at KMTC, including water heater installation, upgrading electricity, placing mortar positions and well digging.

The job may seem large for such a small team, but Spc. Travis Holloway, the team's electrician, said they work together to lighten each other's load.

"Whatever's most important that day (gets the focus)," he said. "We assess all of that at night."

However, he said their job isn't hard.

"It's steady. There's a lot to do," he said. "Most everyday, the day is full. Even if there's nothing to do, we have something that happens, like a pipe breaking."

Sgt. Victor Duncan, the team's SEE operator, added that having a small team is an advantage.

"It's better because we don't have as many people to worry about," he said. "Everybody has their own job to do, and we get it done."

One of the main projects the engineers have right now is well digging. Currently, the compound's main water source is an off-site well located about five kilometers away from the center. Spc. Royal Freeman, also with the 769th, works with a team of two local contractors to build a new well on the compound, which will improve force protection measures, according to Master Sgt. Emanuel Valdez, NCOIC of the Field Engineer Team that oversees the 769th, which also has a team working at the Palace in Kabul.

"We can't control the amount of water that comes in," he said. "And anywhere along the way, if the city power goes out, this pump goes out. We have two points of failure."

"Also, even without anyone tampering, the water really isn't safe to drink," added Maj. Thomas Rafferty, who heads the FET.

Because of this, troops in the FOB must drink, cook and brush their teeth with bottled water. Rafferty said the Greek army has donated a water purification system to cut down on this.

Electrical and power source upgrades are another big project for the team. Valdez explained that the FOB is powered from two small generators with no backup, resulting in a number of power failures.

"Everyone's got electric, but it's all temporary," Holloway said. "Our immediate goal is to improve what they've got and get it to where it's more comfortable."

"Right now, we've maxed out on our generators," Valdez said. "If those go down, we're quite literally in the dark."

Duncan said these minor setbacks don't pose a large problem because Holloway usually fixes them right away.

"If (a generator) breaks down, he gets right on it, so I guess we've been lucky," he said.

"It really doesn't make the job harder; it just gives us something extra to do," Holloway added. "Whenever something is maxed out, we just try to make it more efficient. We had to cut back a lot because the generators aren't big enough."

Valdez added that Duncan has also been indispensable to the team.

"Duncan is our high-demand guy because until we got the extra help from the Italians and Spanish, Duncan has been doing a lot of work," he said. "Whenever they need something dug, or cut, or pulled, or pushed, Duncan is the guy they turn to."

Duncan, however, credits that to being the only SEE operator in the FOB.

"I've been doing this for so long," he said. He has 12 years' experience as a heavy equipment operator, and currently works for a contractor in Baton Rouge.

The engineers are now working on installing larger generators that will not only power the FOB, but provide heating in the near future. Brown and Root has been contracted to take on the heating project.

The next project in the works for the engineers will be the sewerage problem. Currently, the sewers don't flow well, so a truck must come and take the waste away.

"If we can get that squared away, that will be a big morale booster," Valdez said.