Soldier Report: Rhinelander soldier arrives in Afghanistan
Editor’s note: The Star Journal will be publishing periodic articles from Sergeant Rick Peterson of Rhinelander during his deployment to Afghanistan.
The 829th Engineer Company has arrived in Afghanistan. It was a long trip that found the company parsed out into a number of smaller elements. Flying roughly 8,000 miles across the globe with a battalion-sized element is no small undertaking.
My flight took us to the eastern coast of the United States, then on to Germany and Romania before the final leg of the more than 30 hour journey got us into Afghanistan around the end of May. After a short wait and the obligatory briefing, we were taken to our barracks and given the opportunity to get some much needed rest.
In true military fashion, day two was filled with hours of briefings on everything from legal matters to what the current threats are in Afghanistan, inside and outside the boundaries of each base. We call these briefings “death by PowerPoint,” because many of them are repetitive, most are quite long and almost all of them are so boring that we feel we are being slowly suffocated to death with information.
The rest of our week has been spent gathering information on our group and individual tasks, preparing for missions, unpacking our personal belongings and company gear, and scavenging creature comforts for ourselves. Troops getting ready to return home are shedding amenities that they have collected during their tour and we are scooping up whatever bargains we can find, as well as scrounging furniture, wall lockers and the like.
I read once that if you give a soldier a three by seven foot space, they will make it their home. This is true. In a barracks setting, a variety of methods are employed by individual soldiers to personalize their space and eke out a little bit of privacy. Bunks are turned into small shelters, “shacks,” where we can shut ourselves away from the others for the night. Flags of all sorts depicting each soldier’s alliance to one college team or another, professional sports team, fraternity or military affiliation, are strung on walls and the ends of bunks. Just about every available horizontal space is adorned with a little something from home, or some piece of gear. In a space slightly larger than the size of a twin bed, each soldier has staked out their little piece of property for the remainder of the tour.
Our mission, as I have described in past articles, is deconstruction. Specifically, we are a part of the Construction Material Reclamation Expeditionary (CMRE) force. As a part of those duties, some elements of the CMRE are in fact engaging in vertical and horizontal construction projects rather than deconstruction. In an effort to assist the Afghani people in establishing and maintaining a viable government, foreign entities on the ground here in Afghanistan are turning over some of the bases and structures that they have built here during the armed conflict.
Additionally, infrastructure is being built up so that the populace has available to them many of the basic services and facilities that so much of the rest of the world has come to take for granted. Passable roads, running water, sewer systems, water treatment and other public services are in short supply in most areas other than larger cities, and even there the systems are not up to what we in the United States have come to expect in even the most underprivileged of locales.
While I am sure that this is not the official definition, deconstruction is part of an effort to return areas of Afghanistan to their original condition, or as close to it as possible, before we leave. It is also an effort to reclaim materials and equipment to be returned to the states to be repurposed. Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) can be found throughout the country and most are targeted to be shut down and removed. Those that will remain, such as Kandahar and Bagram Air Fields, will be turned over to the Afghani government for use by their own military and other related purposes.
This is an enormous undertaking that requires much coordination and planning, and a great deal of manpower. Closing down some of the larger FOBs is akin to eliminating the footprint of a city. Imagine setting about the task of taking apart the city of Rhinelander. Office buildings must be removed and other structures dismantled. Infrastructure, such as electrical and communications systems have to be taken down and the materials either destroyed or reclaimed. Housing units for thousands of military personnel must be eliminated. Along with that, the systems for sustaining those troops have to be taken down. Chow halls, meeting areas, bathing and restroom facilities and other such accommodations must also be removed. These are just a few examples of the many different features of a military encampment that must be undone in order for the forces to make a final exit.
The practice of dismantling, reclaiming and rebuilding or adding constructions is not new. The U.S. played a large part in rebuilding what was destroyed in Iraq after Desert Shield and Desert Storm. We helped to rebuild Germany after World War II as well, and have been involved in rebuilding and restoring many other nations after they experienced the ravages of war.
If there is one thing that deployments have taught me, it is to appreciate what we have as American citizens. Not just the creature comforts, the technological advancements and the freedoms of democracy, but the overall safety and security that we enjoy as a country.
Except for the attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged us into World War II, we have not experienced the horrors of war on our own soil for well over a century. We have fought our battles on foreign ground and have not been forced to absorb the accompanying physical destruction inside our own borders. For most of us, to even consider such an experience is unfathomable. The tragedy of the World Trade Center attacks, while horrific, was only a small taste of what it is like for a country to experience the wrath of invading forces and the collateral damages that inevitably occur.
I am thankful that we have a strong military and that we have enjoyed relative security for so many years and I hope that these small glimpses of what is going on in other parts of the world helps others to appreciate what we have at home.