Halfway there.

Soldiers of the 555th Engineer Brigade marked an encouraging milestone as they recently crossed the half-way point of their deployment to Afghanistan, where they have been serving as the headquarters and headquarters company (HHC) of Joint Task Force Triple Nickel.

It was a milestone met with spirited excitement, to be sure, but also with quiet reflection, because at the same time, these Soldiers were marking Memorial Day.

It seemed fitting. Before the Soldiers, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., enjoyed their half-way-home celebration at Bagram Airfield, complete with a barbecue and bonfire, they first stood in formation and rendered honors to fallen comrades, remembering the sacrifices of those who have gone before.

Following the tribute to the fallen, brigade commander Col. Nicholas Katers spoke to the unit about the impact being made by the Triple Nickel, and the enduring legacy they're building as the Theater Engineer Brigade.

"Every day, I hear from units throughout Afghanistan about the amazing work being done by our Brigade," Katers said to the Soldiers, who are scheduled to complete their deployment this fall.

Since February, the brigade has been responsible for a multitude of engineer operations throughout Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. As the Theater Engineer Brigade, with roughly 5,000 engineer Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen, JTF Triple Nickel's overall mission is three-fold: Afghan National Army (ANA) engineer development, coalition base construction (and deconstruction), and route clearance.

Development of the ANA engineers is a top priority for the Triple Nickel, because as coalition forces step back and draw down, the Afghan National Security Forces are taking the lead in all operations, including engineering.

ANA engineers have made substantial progress since Triple Nickel arrived, with 25 more Afghan engineer units now certified as independent, 17 of which were directly trained by and partnered with the brigade. In total, of the 44 deployed, 31 engineer companies are now certified as independent, with another 9 just below that, rated as "effective with advisors."

The brigade is also overseeing the roll-out of larger, battalion-sized Afghan engineer units -- Corps Engineer Kandaks. While most are still being established, the first of these units, the 205th CEK near Kandahar, has already taken the lead on engineer projects such as construction of a road in the Horn of Panjwa'i. The 205th is now building a literacy center to support their army's education initiatives.

As another key brigade effort, Triple Nickel has also overseen massive construction and deconstruction efforts across the theater since February, already completing over 130 projects, valued at almost $30 million, in support of the drawdown and consolidation of coalition forces.

The brigade also dispatches small, joint engineer teams to provide maintenance and repairs critical to troop health and safety on coalition bases. These new Configurable Small Maintenance and Repair Teams, known as C-SMART, already completed over ten essential projects, and several more are either planned or in progress.

The third major ongoing brigade effort is route clearance -- patrolling essential roadways to find and eliminate insurgent-placed improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. Thanks to the roughly 50 route clearance platoons under its command, Triple Nickel has already eliminated over 140 IEDs across the country, helping protect coalition forces and the Afghan population.

Because IEDs remain an ongoing threat as the enemy's weapon of choice, JTF Triple Nickel remains focused on combating this threat by working with ISAF and Afghan forces throughout the country and staying closely linked to the larger counter-IED community. This includes advising and partnering with Afghan route clearance companies, coordinating with the coalition's high-tech surveillance assets, integrating the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams under Task Force Paladin, and coordinating for coalition air support as needed.

As the brigade looks forward to the second half of the deployment, it will continue its multifaceted mission, as well as conduct longer-term planning efforts in order to set up for success the Triple Nickel's eventual replacement, the 130th Engineer Brigade from Hawaii.

One of these long-term plans is to support the establishment of the ANA's National Engineer Brigade. The NEB will provide Afghanistan its first national-level military engineering capability and will be responsible for civil-military construction and infrastructure development across the country. It is expected to form this winter, shortly after the 130th has taken over as the Theater Engineer Brigade.

Page last updated Fri May 31st, 2013 at 00:00