Natick engineer back from Afghanistan after 18 months
October 9, 2012
NATICK, Mass. (Oct. 9, 2012) -- He originally intended to stay for only six months, but after deploying to Afghanistan with the Army Corps of Engineers, Steve Belmore had a difficult time leaving the important work he was doing there.
That explains why Belmore, a mechanical engineer with the Systems Equipment and Engineering Team, or SEET, Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, wound up spending 18 months with the Corps' Afghanistan Engineer District-South.
"It doesn't seem like a big deal when you're in it," Belmore said. "It just seems very necessary. There's always a deadline. There's always something happening. So it's a very, very quick battle rhythm, for sure."
Belmore, a 54-year-old Attleboro, Mass., native and Air Force veteran, spent his time as a project manager building bases for the Afghan National Security Forces. He worked on 11 projects totaling $450 million in contracts. His efforts earned him the Superior Civilian Service Award.
"I wanted to be involved in something that was bigger than me, and this was a big effort," Belmore said. "It's been going on for a long time."
Belmore had the support of Bob Bernazzani, his team leader with SEET, and CFD Director Gerry Darsch from the outset.
"When Steve mentioned that he would like to deploy in support of the Army Corps of Engineers, even though it did not directly support the NSRDEC mission, we knew helping to rebuild Afghanistan was what the military mission is all about," Bernazzani said. "We had one worry -- once the ACE (Army Corps of Engineers) got their hands on Steve, we knew that they were not going to let him come back. This is because he is a very motivated and knowledgeable worker."
Belmore finally returned to Natick in mid August. He's happy to be home, but he continues to think about Afghanistan.
"You feel kind of funny because there's still so much work and you're leaving some good people behind, colleagues behind," Belmore said. "Yeah, it's good to come back to family and friends and things, but those (Corps) people sort of become your family, too. You develop a bond that's very close, because you're working very close under difficult conditions."
Belmore described workdays that routinely lasted 10 hours and sometimes stretched to 16 hours. He worked seven days a week while deployed, and he traveled to sites all over southern Afghanistan by private jets, helicopters and mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles.
"There was quite a lot of coordination just to get out to the different sites," Belmore said. "Sometimes you couldn't go. There was a lot of coordination just to make these projects happen."
Belmore never went anywhere without his blue Combat Feeding bag.
"Everywhere I went, when I went on a mission, I always took this with me," Belmore said. "You can't forget where you came from."
In fact, he never did, according to Bernazzani.
"While there, even though it was not part of his ACE mission, he observed Soldiers using NSRDEC items and brought back a wealth of information that can be used to support our R&D projects," Bernazzani said. "We are glad Steve is back safely and look forward to Steve using his earned knowledge in support of the CFD/NSRDEC mission, which is the same mission as when he was deployed -- to support the war fighter."
Among Belmore's favorite projects in Afghanistan were the arch span steel buildings the Corps built while he was deployed.
"Those buildings will last a hundred years in that desert, literally," Belmore said.
Digging wells was also important to him.
"A simple thing like water in the desert is a big deal," Belmore said. "I think it's going to make a big impact for the quality of life for the people."
Despite the rising number of "green on blue" attacks lately, Belmore said he never felt in any real danger in Afghanistan.
"We got rocket attacks pretty regularly, but they were just pot shots," Belmore said. "I never saw any real damage when I was there. We did have one suicide bomber outside the gate. This was in Kandahar. It shook our building so bad, it knocked me out of my chair. You just go, 'What the heck was that?'"
His experiences in Afghanistan have left Belmore with a greater appreciation for the military and for what's important in his life here.
"The things that you see that people get upset about now, they just seem so trivial," Belmore said.
Does Belmore have any regrets about his deployment?
"All around, it was difficult, but I would go back tomorrow, actually," Belmore said. "You know, you miss your friends and family and life and things, but when you're immersed in that environment and you just engage it, it flies."