A walk in Helmand: USACE South District engineers visit project sites in Nawa district
December 29, 2011
By Mark Ray
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The engineers and quality assurance specialists of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Afghanistan Engineer District-South travel many different ways to visit project sites. Sometimes, they fly by helicopter; sometimes, they ride in MRAPs or up-armored SUVs. If the project is on a forward or main operating base, they may drive to the site in a regular (non-armored) vehicle.
And sometimes, they walk.
On Dec. 11, a group of South District personnel, including district commander Air Force Col. Ben Wham, went on a foot patrol with the Marines from Combat Outpost Jaker to visit an Afghan National Police district headquarters and a road project under construction in Nawa district, Helmand province.
Before the patrol, Wham and Matthew Duncan, a Department of State employee stationed at the outpost, visited with district governor Abdul Manaf. The governor, speaking through an interpreter, praised the district's efforts to encourage its contractors to hire as many local workers as possible, and spoke of the importance of the road project, which he said would allow the local farmers to transport their produce to markets in Lashkar Gah.
"Build us a strong road, that will last a long time," Manaf said. "The people here are happy that this road is coming."
The group also discussed the local security situation, and Manaf stressed that he would work to resolve any issues with the local populace that might arise from the construction. "It is important that we trust each other and work together," he said. "Come to me if there are problems. I will take care of them."
After meeting with the governor, the team received a mission brief from the Marines who provided security for the foot patrol. Then it was time to leave the outpost.
The first stop was the district police headquarters. To reach it, the team walked down a path with the outpost wall to the left and wooded fields to the right, through a schoolyard filled with Afghan children and their teachers, crossed a narrow footbridge over a canal and proceeded along the main road between Nawa and Lashkar Gah.
At the site, project engineer Henry Egbuka inspected the contractor's work and discussed issues and concerns with the lead contractor present. Construction at the site progressed slowly initially, but the contractor has made strong efforts recently, bringing the project to nearly 80 percent complete. The $1.5-million facility will provide housing and offices for 60 Afghan police, along with self-contained water and sewer systems, a generator for electricity, a vehicle fuel point and a stone perimeter wall with guard towers and entry control points. The Afghan police should be able to start using the facility in February 2012.
The team then proceeded to the Nawa-Lashkar Gah road project. This $17.6-million project will provide 23 kilometers (14.3 miles) of paved, two-lane road between Nawa and Lashkar Gah. Work began on the project in August 2011 and should be completed in February 2013, with the road fully useable in March 2013. At the project site, Wham and project engineer Mohammad Ahmed discussed various challenges with the contractor's representative, including a high-water table along part of the route (which follows a major canal) and disputes with local landowners over property rights. Wham told the contractor of the district governor's comments about the importance of the road to local residents, and urged the contractor to press hard to keep on schedule.
After the inspecting the road construction, it was time to return to the outpost. The team walked through the local bazaar on the return route, and finished its mission with no incidents.
"Nothing can compare with on-the-ground inspections to confirm quality assurance reports and ensure progress and quality of work at a project site," said Lt. Col. Ronald A. Bahr, officer-in-charge of the district's Helmand Area Office.
"It is remarkable to actually walk the ground here in Afghanistan and see how people live," said Wham. "It gives those of us with the South District a first-hand understanding of how our projects will help establish security and improve the lives of the Afghanistan people."