KABUL - Several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees from Massachusetts met U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts at the U.S. Embassy on Sunday, May 15. The Democratic senator thanked them for the work in Afghanistan and spoke briefly about ending the war.

The Corps of Engineers' mission in Afghanistan is focused on the United States' exist strategy for the nearly decade-long war. It is the primary organization building army bases, police stations, roads, airstrips and other infrastructure projects in Afghanistan to increase the country's stability and economy, allowing the Afghan government to assume control of its own affairs.

Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations, stopped at the embassy for a series of meetings while en route to Pakistan for discussions with Pakistani leaders concerning the U.S. special forces' strike that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden north of Islamabad on May 2.

Eight Corps of Engineers employees, along with about 125 embassy employees and other guests, greeted Kerry in the shade of several trees just outside the main embassy building on a sunny morning. Kerry ambled through the crowd, speaking one-on-one, shaking hands and standing for snapshots with civilians and military personnel alike.

He mostly inquired about the workers' hometowns and their duties in Afghanistan. When asked, he offered his opinions and insights about the war and reconstruction effort.

Concerning public support for the war in the United States, he told the Corps of Engineers employees, "For you guys, it's there. But for the war, there are a lot of questions right now. You know it's been going on for a long time. People are wondering: How do we get it wrapped up' Nobody wants to just pull it, but get it wrapped up."

He said public reaction to the attack that killed bin Laden's death was positive, but that his death hasn't had a direct effect in bring the war to a close. He repeatedly urged the Corps of Engineers civilians to take care of themselves and to remain safe while working in Afghanistan.

The Corps of Engineers employees in attendance included Massachusetts residents architect Stephen Born of Stoneham, architect Bogdan Figiel and contract administration office engineer Vee Figiel of Canton, architect Dave Miles of Winthrop, police project manager Tim Shea of Holden, and police program manager Bud Taylor of Westminster.

A couple of non-Bay Staters - travel specialist Michelle Arter of Victorville, Calif., and police project manager Alicia Hill of Anchorage, Alaska - also made the short trip in an armored vehicle from the Qalaa House compound, where the Corps of Engineers is based a few blocks away from the embassy within the Green Zone in downtown Kabul.

The half-hour session was informal. One of the most recognizable members of the Senate was dressed in a sports jacket, striped shirt, tan slacks and athletic shoes. Taylor, who knows Kerry personally and set up the visit, later told his colleagues, "It was obvious when the senator was speaking with all of you, he enjoyed it, especially the Boston accents."

The Corps of Engineers employees said they appreciated a chance to get up close and personal with the man who ran for president in 2004, though they wished the event had been more intimate allowing for deeper discussions.

Miles said, "We didn't get to talk much, but it was a great photo op." Indeed, Kerry stood for photos until everyone in the crowd had a shot.

Born, who has heard Kerry speak at events in the United States, said he appreciated speaking directly with him in Afghanistan. He acknowledged that Kerry's schedule was tight, but he would have liked to have spoken with him at greater length about his mission in the region.

"I understand that he's on his way to Pakistan to try to smooth things over there. He's got a tough job ahead," Born said. "Maybe it's things he really can't talk about right now, but it's on a lot of people's minds."

Hill, the wayward Alaskan, posed alongside her colleagues for photos with Kerry, but quipped, "I thought Sarah Palin was going to be here. That's why I came."

Page last updated Mon May 16th, 2011 at 22:46