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Air Force engineers work 'outside the wire' every day

by Capt. Jillian Torango
Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team

4/10/2008 - PANJSHIR, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- As part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team it is common to go "outside the wire" to do work. While some may only leave the base once a week, engineers are out there every day conducting site assessments, quality control missions and preparing the province to respond to natural disasters.

April 1, while out on an inspection of a handful of construction projects in a mountainous region of Afghanistan, Air Force engineers were honored to be invited to take part in a ceremony to lay the first stones of the foundation of a new building project.

The construction site was for the new Khenj District's Justice Center. This $220,000 building is expected to be complete in January 2009 and furthers one of the key tenets of the PRT mission -- governance.

Capts. Jason Aftanas and Kenneth McGinnis, PRT Panjshir engineers, represented coalition forces in the ceremony. Each captain took his turn and laid a stone beside that of the District's Chief Justice Mohammad Yousef Qata. Then, in traditional Afghan custom, they were offered candies to drop into the foundation.

The ceremony was an unexpected surprise for the captains, they said.

"We've never been asked to participate in an event such as this," said Captain McGinnis, who is deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, N.D. "Even though we have only been working in the valley for just over a month, they were excited to have us represent the PRT. It makes me feel really good to know the people of the district wanted us to be a part of this celebration."

A moment later, the event was over, and the captains were back into engineer mode checking on the next project on the day's schedule: the foundation for a schoolbook repository.

After an initial look at the foundation, the captains stop to talk with the project's contractor and engineers. They discuss everything from the thickness of the concrete slab to the logistics of getting the proposed modular buildings up the switchback dirt road with an eight percent grade.

"We want to ensure the contractors are building the best product they can in-line with the project's statement of work," Captain Aftanas said.

A statement of work is basically the blueprint for the contract and states what is supposed to be included in the project. If something is wrong or missing, then it needs to be addressed and corrected immediately.

After getting all of the information needed from this site, they jump in their 4-wheel-drive vehicle and off-road to their third stop of the day, the Pukh High School project.

The school will be a two-story, 16-room reinforced concrete structure that will soon accommodate up to 3,000 students.

The minute the team exits their vehicle, the project's contractor is there to greet them.

While the contract mandates the use of a standard design from the Afghan Ministry of Education, several modifications have been added to improve the quality of construction. The contractor is using electrical conduit and junction boxes, which are not common in most Afghan construction. Another unique feature of the school is the standing metal seam roof.

"We see a lot of concrete, mud and corrugated metal roofs on the schools in Panjshir but this roof system is a first for Panjshir," said Captain Aftanas, whose home station is Andersen Air Force Base, Guam .

The engineers use a system to ensure they maximize their time on site. One looks at the electrical work, circuit boxes and conduit, while the other checks the finished work for the floors, walls, and carpentry, looking for anything that doesn't seem right.

After their inspection of the main building, they move on to survey the tashnob (bathroom) under construction next door. They check everything from the walls and floors to the handicap ramp that leads to the front door.

"You might not think that having an appropriate handicap-accessible ramps here would be all that important," Captain Aftanas said, "but every little improvement makes a difference."

Once the engineers are satisfied they head to the next project, continuing their work "outside the wire" to promote conditions for self-sufficiency, enduring prosperity and a secure and stable environment for the people of Afghanistan.

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