UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, AFRICA– Dump trucks kick up bright orange soil as they rumble past termite mounds and low-lying shrubs. Dust plumes rise from an excavator as it fills up a long line of trucks. Some of the dirt will fill up barriers, other dirt will be used to fortify targets on a training range, and still, more of it is being relocated to provide drainage for rain.
After a long day, the Soldiers responsible for these tasks are covered in the same orange dust that marks their trucks, a testament to their hard work. They try their best not to track it into their tent, letting the wind carry the orange off their boots and wet wipes to knock the dirt off their skin.
The Soldiers are part of the 294th Engineer Support Company, Missouri National Guard, currently providing support to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa.
“If they need a new road cleared out, then we’re there. If they need some [barriers] to be built, then we got it,” said Spc. Jared Alverson, 294th ESC horizontal construction specialist. “Our responsibility here is just to be ready and get jobs done fast while being as available as possible for the larger mission.”
The 294th ESC provides construction and maintenance capabilities to outstations and remote locations across the continent, giving friendly forces a launching point wherever it may be needed.
Aircraft swiftly and discreetly drop 294th ESC Soldiers off at their target location with their tools and supplies, and then the teams get to work. Their horizontal construction team moves dirt and rocks to flatten areas in preparation for structure specialists. They can also build up barriers and control points to begin securing a location.
“We can do various earth-moving operations, such as extending outposts and building new structures,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Caleb Cantrell, 294th ESC horizontal team noncommissioned officer in charge of projects.
The Soldiers possess a wide range of skills, encompassing everything from electrical technicians to plumbers to heavy equipment operators. Many maintain active careers in carpentry or as skilled tradesmen in their civilian capability, bringing outside experience and skills to the mission. Depending on the needs of the location, they could be driving forklifts, filling sandbags, or building guard towers.
The ability to construct and maintain infrastructure at forward operating locations is critical to the success of CJTF-HOA operations in the Horn of Africa, where security may be required to support the goals of African partners and friendly forces.
“This is the hardest working crew I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving with over here,” said Cantrell. “Some days are 18-hour days, but they’re still willing to go the extra mile.”