By Dan Lafontaine, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Public AffairsApril 11, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- American Soldiers with a mission to advise the Afghan uniformed police finished securing a key coalition compound with the assistance of deployed U.S. Army civilian engineers and technicians.
Before Soldiers from Security Forces Advise and Assist Team-8 could occupy their patrol base in Kapisa Province, they needed engineering expertise to help fortify the location. Four civilians from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command took on the challenge of developing a solution.
Capt. Mitchell Monette, the SFAAT-8 officer-in-charge of force-protection improvements, said the contributions of the RDECOM Field Assistance in Science and Technology-Center, or RFAST-C, Forward Deployed Prototype Integration Facility were critical to ensuring his unit's safety.
"By implementing these improvements, it allows us to focus solely on the mission when we go on patrol, which is to advise, assist and mentor our counterparts at the Provincial Headquarters Police," Monette said. "When we have to worry less about outside threats within a close distance of the compound, it allows us to better concentrate on the task at hand."
RFAST-C finished the project's first two phases -- designing, constructing and installing a metal door and frame as well as observations screens to allow movement in the compound without being monitored -- in February. The third phase, completed April 6, was to attach steel panels to the inside of the compound to provide ballistics protection.
Completing the security improvements was vital to future successful missions for the SFAAT-8 and future teams, Monette said.
The project presented challenges for the RFAST-C team because it required implementing engineering solutions outside the forward operating base at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, said Nick Merrill, who led the third and final phase of the group's effort. Merrill is a mechanical engineer with RDECOM's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
Because of the compound's remote location, the RFAST-C team created a plan to fabricate, transport and install 48 steel panels, each measuring 1-foot by 8-feet spaced armour and weighing more than 200 pounds, without a crane or forklift typically used to move heavy material, Merrill said. The team made considerations during the design process for this extra obstacle.
"There is absolutely no mechanical equipment at this outpost," Merrill said. "Therefore, we designed and fabricated hooks to allow for manual carrying of the spaced armour panels. The only thing we had was people power."
Merrill; engineering technician Bob Spetla, Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center; engineering technician Courtney Johnson, ECBC; and engineering technician Brian Seifert, Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, comprised the RFAST-C team that completed the third phase.
Johnson and Seifert fabricated the steel panels at the RFAST-C facility. Merrill and Spetla then traveled to the compound for the installation to work side-by-side with the Soldiers -- SFAAT-8 members Monette, Staff Sgt. Joshua Debaun and Sgt. Jason Aguilar and 27th Brigade Support Battalion welders Sgt. Marco Palomo, Sgt. Nicholas Rosales and Spc. Benjamin Bininger. The SFAAT-8 and 27th BSB are both located at Bagram Airfield.
Unlike work at an Army stateside facility in which engineers can choose from multiple materials, the RFAST-C developed a solution with only readily accessible supplies at Bagram Airfield.
Merrill said ballistics armor is typically used, but the shipping costs from the United States would have been four to five times the cost of the material because of its weight. Also, because the Soldiers needed a solution quickly in order to occupy the facility, there was not enough time to wait for supplies to be purchased and shipped.
The team began to evaluate steel panels as an option with the help of Maj. Joshua Keena and Sgt. 1st Class Adam Adams of the Regional Command-East Science and Technology Assistance Team, which is also part of RDECOM's FAST network. STAT members are uniformed science advisers embedded in theater who provide operational commanders with access to the Army's research and development community.
The RC-East STAT used its resources and reachback capability to provide the necessary research and analysis to ensure the proposed solution would keep Soldiers safe.
"The STAT did the legwork in finding out how we would be able to use our in-house materials to give Soldiers adequate protection in the compound," Spetla said. "It took a long time [for everyone to brainstorm] how we could even begin to create something that was manageable just by people power. We called in extra help -- that's where the STAT team came in. It took everybody putting their heads together. The normal methods of how we do things weren't available to us."
RFAST-C Director Mike Anthony said the solution for the Soldiers' facility would not have been possible without the contributions of joint civilian and uniformed teams throughout Afghanistan.
"The RFAST-C team left no stone unturned when it came to developing a field-expedient solution for the unit," Anthony said. "The Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan STAT also assisted CJTF-1 STAT on field testing and obtaining crucial ballistics information, which informed the ultimate solution. This truly was a successful team of teams approach."
Spetla, who has worked since January on all three phases of the compound improvements, said the RFAST-C and Soldiers developed a strong sense of camaraderie because of the large scope of the project and the challenges the teams solved together.
"From start to finish, it's one of the largest projects that we've ever undertaken as far as time, size and manpower," Spetla said. "It was very, very challenging. We had to find ways to do things that we're not normally accustomed to.
"We've built quite a bond with this unit. It's really cool to work with the Soldiers. Together we were able to design, fabricate and install an expedient solution."
Monette said force-protection upgrades would not have been possible without the RFAST-C's assistance because the unit's internal engineering team was busy with projects such as closing FOBs across two provinces in preparation for the drawdown in Afghanistan.
"It would have been an absolute degradation in the mission if we weren't able to implement this utilizing the RFAST-C assets," Monette said. "It's been a profound difference. By them assisting us with all these improvements, it allows freedom of maneuver and the ability to stay multiple days, which ultimately benefits both us and the Afghans in the long run."