By Mr. Stephen Baack (USACE)February 26, 2018
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Feb. 26, 2018) -- With a growing number of American troops in Afghanistan, there is no shortage of electrical safety and repair work for the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, Ordnance and Explosives Design Center.
This electrical safety mission is part of Task Force POWER, Afghanistan, which is a congressionally mandated program that provides 10 electrical inspector and repair teams for Department of Defense facilities throughout the country. POWER stands for Protect Our Warfighters and Electrical Resources.
The Ordnance and Explosives Design Center's Global Operations Division has been managing this mission since 2010, when U.S. troop numbers were at their highest at nearly 100,000. Since 2011, though, the number has dropped with the transfer of authority between NATO and Afghan forces. By the start of 2017, all but nearly 9,000 U.S. troops had departed Afghanistan and many facilities had been demolished in the wake of their exodus.
An order from the new administration in late 2017 to increase that number is now expanding the electrical mission for the Ordnance and Explosives Design Center.
"Now that we have more forces coming in, expansion is going on again and semi-permanent buildings are being put up again as well," said Eduardo Granados, chief of Global Operations for the Ordnance and Explosives Design Center. "As U.S. forces and military engineers wire those for electricity, our teams are supporting them. Our teams go in to help make sure everything is wired correctly so that those buildings are safe and sound for the new troops coming in."
According to a Feb. 9 report from Global Operations, since May 2015, Task Force POWER, Afghanistan has mitigated 190,185 life, health and safety hazards and non-code-compliant electrical deficiencies in 9,124 facilities in the country.
Global Operations' Andrew Brand is the on-site program manager and contracting officer's representative. Brand, who is based at Bagram Airfield, has been in theater since September. He serves as the liaison between stakeholders and the 10 teams of contractors he oversees, ensuring all requests can be accomplished and, more importantly, that all finished work meets safety standards.
"The military [here] is currently in a growing phase, and so that means a lot of buildings that were not in use are now being turned back online," said Brand. "In some cases, the buildings were used by others and the electrical [wiring] was incorrectly adjusted or added to. Our teams are in the process of inspecting and repairing those buildings to safe working conditions."
Before Huntsville Center took on the mission, electrical safety concerns in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility were thrust into the spotlight after a number of service members were electrocuted in Iraq.
"It then became a congressional mandate that the ground forces in those countries have electrical safety programs to prevent that," said Granados, who added that Huntsville Center consequently took on the mission in Afghanistan.
The mission is not without its share of challenges. Granados said certain areas are off limits at the moment because they have been deemed to be too hostile, and Brand said movement over the rugged, mountainous terrain must be via aircraft. These complications can cause delays, but Brand said he is grateful everyone involved is flexible.
"We are fortunate to have end users that are understandable and work with us," Brand said. "Movement does not only include people. Getting material between locations can be extremely time consuming and difficult. We have a great group of workers and property guys here that do the best with the situation, but it is still a challenge."
Brand said the mission is not slowing down any time soon, and he doesn't envision it will end until all U.S. troops return.
"By far, the most rewarding part is seeing direct impact with the work that I am doing and the Soldiers," Brand said. "That has always been my favorite part of federal service -- knowing that the work you do has a positive impact on the men and women who risk their lives so that we can live in a free America is so far above anything else. I cannot affect what happens when they are out doing their job beyond the wire, but I can make sure that when they work on base or are in their room they will not be hurt by unsafe electrical work."