By Capt. Micala HicksMarch 27, 2008
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan (Army News Service, March 27, 2008) -- In January 2008, Task Force PacemakerAca,!a,,cs engineers conducted construction workshops throughout eastern Afghanistan to promote positive relationships with Afghans, while providing them with skills critical to rebuilding their nation and economy.
January marked the beginning of four separate construction workshops that the units of TF Pacemaker conducted in Afghanistan for local Afghan men. The task force is comprised of three Combat Heavy Engineer (construction) line companies, the headquarters and support company from 864th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), out of Fort Lewis, Wash., and the 76th Engineer Vertical Detachment Company out of Fort Knox, Ky.
The workshop was held at four remote forward operating bases, including FOBs Fenty, Kushamond, Orgun-E and Sharana. Some 200 unskilled laborers were trained in basic wood, concrete, and masonry construction techniques.
Each local Afghan student received approximately $1,200 worth of construction tools funded by the CommanderAca,!a,,cs Emergency Relief Program. The tools included saws, hammers and other items instrumental to construction work.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, approximately 40 percent of the 25 million Afghan citizens are unemployed. This percentage has steadily increased over the last several years as Afghan refugees, who fled to Pakistan and Iran, have started to return.
Aca,!A"With high unemployment, a lack of arable land and an economy based mostly on subsistence farming, returnees have few chances,Aca,!A? stated a recent Investor Relations Information Network report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Generally, two Soldiers were paired with each team to provide hands-on guidance and oversight. Five interpreters worked with each group of 50 students, allowing them to break down into teams as small as 10 students.
The instructors used a standard list of training objectives and general information, but in each workshop the instructors applied their own unique methods for demonstrating construction techniques.
For example, mimicking a demonstration he had seen in his advanced individual training course, Sgt. Kyle Drube showed students the necessity of using reinforcing bar to strengthen concrete pads. Several days before his class, he poured a circular mold of concrete with an approximate diameter of 10 inches and two inches thick. In front of the students he took the hardened concrete and broke it over his knee. Drube then showed the students how a similar sized piece of concrete, strengthened with reinforcing bar, did not break under the same force.
Over the 10-day courses, Soldiers provided training that allowed students to successfully build storage sheds complete with windows, door frames and rafter rooftops.
The junior Soldiers seemed to enjoy the challenge of researching and rehearsing for their classes, the unique leadership opportunity they had with their teams as instructors, and the chance to make a difference in Afghanistan.
Aca,!A"After almost fifteen months of being in this country, it feels good to give something back,Aca,!A? Drube said.
When the Afghan students graduated the workshop, they were provided with certificates and reference cards that acknowledged their successful completion of their training. The cards assist local contractors and Coalition forces in determining who to hire for major projects either on FOBs or in local communities.
These workshops have allowed men, who originally started out as unskilled laborers, to progress to the point that they are now contractors with other construction laborers working for them. Not even two weeks after the completion of the workshop at FOB Sharana, the top 20 students in the class were hired to assist in building two CJTF-82 construction projects on FOB Sharana.