Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan -- Homeowners know that in addition to their mortgage, insurance and utilities, there are hidden costs in owning a home. Light bulbs burn out and need to be replaced, heating and air conditioning units need to be serviced, and sometimes the plumbing needs to be repaired. Those same hidden costs exist in the facilities the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- Transatlantic Afghanistan District (USACE-TAA) builds for the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP).
To cover those day-to-day costs USACE-TAA administers an Operations and Maintenance (O&M) service contract for approximately 30 ANA and ANP sites (a number that fluctuates as sites are transitioned or added). This year that contract will cost U.S. taxpayers and international donors $37 million. To eliminate those annual costs, USACE-TAA has instituted a National O&M Training Program for the ANA and ANP.
"Rather than us paying a contractor every year to take care of these facilities and support systems, what we're doing is paying that same contractor to actually teach the end-users how to maintain their own facilities," said Jon Allen, contracting officer's representative, technical services branch, USACE-TAA. "There's a lot of trailblazing going on here. We've never relied on an O&M contractor to design and implement a training program. This is the first time it's ever happened in Afghanistan under the auspices of the Army Corps of Engineers."
Allen spearheaded a team which developed a basic and advanced course for each of the four critical infrastructure systems -- heating, ventilation, and air conditioning theory and maintenance, power generation, fresh water treatment and waste water treatment -- as well as certification courses in site facility engineering and building management.
"The hands-on training will greatly enhance the long-term sustainability of the large investment we have made in the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense Security Forces) infrastructure," said Col. Paul Owen, commander, USACE-TAA. "This training program is a key part of our goal to build partner capacity."
All of the courses are based on a 20 percent classroom and 80 percent on-the-job training (OJT) concept designed to give the students as much practical experience as possible.
"The training is important to develop ANDSF facility maintenance managers, administrators, operators, and repair technicians, and to build Afghan capacity for their self-performance of O&M," said Roger Green, chief, technical services branch, USACE-TAA. "The training improves Afghan knowledge and practical skills to operate and maintain their facilities and infrastructure safely and reliably, while reducing (and eventually eliminating) the dependence on the U.S. and the coalition for O&M support."
"The whole idea here is we're trying to work ourselves out of a job," Allen said.
To ensure the maximum number of soldiers and policemen are trained, three methods of delivering the courses are being implemented -- Academy Training, Mobile Team Training (MTT) and a Mentor-Protégé Training (MPT) program.
Under the Academy Training style, students come to one central location for training. This program works best in heavily populated areas such as Kabul where there are several ANA and ANP sites in close proximity. The Mobile Team Training model (instructors going to individual sites) works best in the more remote regions of Afghanistan.
"If you take a map of Afghanistan and you put a dot on each one of the O&M sites, you'll notice that some of them are relatively close together and then again some of them are out there in the rural areas. Most of our sites are in the Kabul area, but we do have some that are off by themselves like the ANA site at the Khyber Pass (near the Pakistani border)," Allen said. "These remote sites are targeted for the MTT program."
The third teaching methodology the program uses is the Mentor-Protégée Training program. This training is aimed primarily at sites with special functions such as the Gamberi Regional Hospital. The support of medical facilities and support systems requires a higher level of technology than normal ANDSF facilities. MPT provides training to Afghan contractors in order to familiarize them with the sustainment and maintenance needs of these types of facilities.
"The idea here is to create the first generation of ANA and ANP personnel who can take care of their own facilities. Once we can get a good foundation of trained personnel, they can take on the challenge to sustain it," Allen explained. "It will be up to the personnel with seniority and experience to pass this information down to the new guys coming in."
Allen went on to explain how the national O&M training program will not only save U.S. taxpayers money, but will also provide a long-term economic benefit to Afghanistan.
"The information and education that the ANA and ANP are getting is a vocational education that can serve them after their military career is over. They're going to have the basics, what they're going through is an apprenticeship," he said. "Not only can they maintain and sustain their military facilities, but once they're done with their military career, they will have skills to offer to employers.
"That helps them with their lives, it helps them support their families, it winds up having a cultural ripple effect," Allen added. "It helps a Soldier begin a family and have a better way of life. It has profound value that goes far beyond the scope of the contract."