Commentary: Alaska District awards contract for women's dorm in Afghanistan
November 13, 2013
By Chris Tew
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan sought contracting assistance to build a women's dormitory for Herat University, the Alaska District offered to help on a project that almost never happened.
Many people thought it was too hard to achieve given the shifting priorities in a mission that is winding down, but they were wrong. "Essayons" paid off.
The $5.27 million project broke ground during a ceremony with Afghan and U.S. State Department officials Oct. 3. With construction scheduled for completion by Dec. 20, 2014, the dorm will house up to 372 women with rooms, study areas, computer lab, cafeteria, library, volleyball and basketball courts, and all necessary support infrastructure.
The United States has made a long-term commitment to help Afghanistan rebuild itself after years of war. The nation, along with others in the international community, currently provides resources and expertise to Afghanistan in a variety of areas, including humanitarian relief and assistance, capacity building, security needs, counternarcotics programs and infrastructure projects.
Expanding opportunities for women in all aspects of society and protecting their rights is a cornerstone of the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. The people of Herat are particularly interested in improving avenues of success for females, so this investment not only nests well with U.S. efforts, but also those of the local citizens.
Nearly one third of the students at the university are women, and the dorm will provide critical facilities that currently are lacking.
The South Afghanistan District, which closed in July, needed help to execute the project in Herat. Its command priorities and resources were focused on Afghan National Security Forces projects as it knew it would soon shutter operations.
Facing this challenge, the district turned to Alaska to award the dorm contract for several reasons.
The Alaska District had experience with the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which builds projects that benefit the Afghan people among other things. Alaska also had the partnerships and contracting mechanism in place--an indefinite delivery indefinite quantity contract tailored for CERP construction -- to speed execution.
The Alaska District developed this capability in April 2011 to specifically to deal with CERP projects after my return from a tour in Afghanistan during which I encountered challenges in executing small projects within the Corps' typical project execution framework. I further drew upon experiences in Iraq, as well as the Alaska District's humanitarian assistance program, which has been wildly successful in addressing the scalability challenges associated with executing smaller projects in remote, foreign locations.
Having deployed three times to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan in the past decade, two years in total, I spent a good deal of time working on the counterinsurgency aspects of the mission. In doing that, I have come to appreciate the importance of CERP projects like this dorm in pursuit of the greater effort. We can't win hearts and minds and build a durable peace through the application of force alone in these countries.
While the Alaska District performs the contracting requirements for this project, it is partnering with the project management, engineering and construction operations components at the Middle East District, which is the Corps' enduring organization with responsibility for all work in Afghanistan and throughout the U.S. Central Command's area of operational responsibility. The team has professionals onsite who are experienced in all the challenges that come with working in Afghanistan. The cadre of Afghan engineers, who can access the site when U.S. civilians cannot, is vital to the project's success as well.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to do a lot of great work in Afghanistan. We have the kind of professionals, processes, systems, and institutional depth and experience necessary to succeed on projects like this even under the most difficult circumstances.