Soldier fills civilian gap, supports troop build-up
May 22, 2009
- Obama administration indicates lack of civilian experts in Afghanistan
- Reservists may be asked to fill civilian roles in Afghanistan
- Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan Soldier uses civilian engineering skills to support troop build-up
As thousands of troops arrive in Afghanistan, the Obama administration expressed concern over having enough civilian experts to fill an increasing shortage in support roles.
In April the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, stated that he may ask reservists skilled in certain areas to deploy and fill these roles until replacements arrive. Months before these announcements were made by the Pentagon, the Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan already utilized civilian skills of some Soldiers.
Army engineer 1st Lt. Alex R. Chester III originally filled an environmental science officer role with the 143d Expeditionary Sustainment Command at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
Chester, who holds Master of Science degrees in structural engineering, civil engineering and electrical engineering, has worked in the engineering field for 22 years and owns his own company, TAK Environmental Services, Inc.
"Before we moved out here, they found out that I had some engineering degrees and backgrounds," said Chester. "They asked me to be part of the torch party and come out here and fill that position and start the build-out [building] of the 143d compound."
The torch party deployed before the main body of the 143d ESC and ensured that living and work spaces were ready for the main body.
His current Army job is almost identical to his civilian job, said Chester.
"The only difference is that I don't have hazardous material to work with here," said Chester.
Approximately 60 percent of Chester's civilian job is engineering. As a part of engineering, he removed hazardous materials, performed demolitions and rebuilds.
Now that he works in an engineering role for the Army, Chester will continue in that role for the rest of his deployment.
Chester believes his civilian education and background benefits the Army.
"It helps a lot," said Chester. "In the Army you're basically training with a single [military occupational specialty]; whereas with my civilian background, I've had 22 years of work. I've been trained in a multitude of skills, and I can use those skills here."
As hundreds of Soldiers arrive at KAF weekly, Chester's expertise in engineering is an integral part of the build-up of forces in Afghanistan.
For Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan, Chester designs and builds. He designed the compound for the 143d ESC and will build it as well. The 143d ESC leads the JSC-A in controlling movement of supplies and personnel into and throughout Afghanistan.
"One of our issues at the 143d is power issues with the generators," said Chester. "I'm up night and day fixing the power, keeping it running. Which is exactly the kind of stuff I like to do. I love electrical stuff."
Besides working for the JSC-A, He volunteered his services as the only licensed engineer on base to Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, a U.S. enterprise that uses civilian contractors to support U.S. servicemembers.
"I work a lot with LOGCAP," said Chester. "I do a lot with electricity. They come to me for advice on what to do."
Master Sgt. Albert O. Ouellette, the 143d ESC engineer noncommissioned officer-in-charge, works with Chester building the 143d ESC compound. The two Soldiers have worked together since February. Besides building desks, walls, floors and chairs, they have worked on generators and electrical wiring.
"He's willing to help pretty much anybody," said Ouellette.
According to Ouellette, people will see Chester and stop to ask him for advice. People will bring by sketches for him to review or supply lists of materials for him to check.
Chester helps contractors by rewiring buildings and planning structures. Employing his skills, more bathrooms and showers can be built for Soldiers' living quarters. He has also utilized his abilities to build the briefing and training office, and the personnel and reception center for Soldiers arriving at KAF as part of the troop build-up. Because of Chester, buildings and tents get built faster.
Chester enjoys using his civilian proficiencies to support the troops arriving in Afghanistan.
"I think it's great, because I'm not sitting around a desk doing slideshows," said Chester. "I'm out doing hands-on work, which I like to do. It's helping the troops and helping the efforts out here that we're here to do."
Other Soldiers have noticed his work-ethics and skillfulness.
"He's willing to put out as much time necessary," said Ouellette. "He's relentless. It'll be pouring rain, or they'll call him at three in the morning to work on the generator, and he'll come on down."
After finishing the 143d ESC compound, Chester plans to visit forward operating bases, using his expertise to further support the additional troops.
"I'll be going out primarily to do some inspections and some rewiring and build-out," said Chester.
Chester continues to work with what materials are available, blending his civilian skills with his Army-trained skills to support the Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan as it prepares for and supports the influx of troops into Afghanistan.