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American Forces Press Service

Construction Crews in Southern Afghanistan Prepare for Troop Increase

American Forces Press Service

KABUL, May 6, 2009 – Expansion efforts are well under way in southern Afghanistan, where most of the 21,000 troops deploying to the country this summer will be concentrated.

Leaders at every level are working around the clock to ensure basic infrastructure is in place to continue receiving troops in Kandahar before sending them out to the forward operating bases, which are in various stages of development throughout the region, U.S. Forces Afghanistan officials said.

“Every FOB we construct will be expeditionary,” Army Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa said during a May 1 visit to the area. “Incoming troops will get the basics to maintain safety and do their missions. This expansion was meant to be austere.”

Savusa, command sergeant major for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said that translates to basic life-support needs such as using tents for sleeping and work space and setting up dining facilities, showers and toilets.

As FOB development continues, troops could remain in Kandahar for several weeks before deploying out to their final destinations throughout the summer months, he said.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Schultz, Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan’s command sergeant major, said it’s all about expectation management. He knows first-hand the importance of this, he noted. His own unit, the 143rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, was re-missioned from Kuwait to Afghanistan, and his command prepared the soldiers for what they could expect when arriving in Kandahar.

“The reality of the life troops are going to have for the amount of time they are [in Kandahar] is that it will be overcrowded,” Schultz said.

Depending on their expectations, troops either can be “pleasantly surprised that it’s not as bad as they expected or it’ll be exactly what they thought it would be like,” Schultz said. He added that facilities such as gyms, small post exchanges and Internet cafes are being built as well to give troops a place to unwind and be positively engaged.

“The amount of U.S. troops coming in and the amount of space we’re trying to put them in is our biggest issue,” Schultz said. “It’s all dependent on the FOBs. We’re relying on a lot of contractors and a lot of other civilians to help build some of these FOBs. We can’t [send the troops to the forward bases] if there is no life support.”

And it’s not just contractors who are doing the heavy lifting. The Navy Seabees and the Army’s 4th Engineer Brigade, which was just relocated from Iraq, are putting up buildings and life-support systems throughout southern Afghanistan.

Marines are putting up tents and setting up cots they’ve just received in preparation for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which will arrive soon. They also are laying matting in the desert to create a helicopter landing pad.

Plans are in the works to develop Air Force-approved landing strips for C-130s and other fixed-wing aircraft at several locations. This is vital for logistical support to the remote areas, officials said.

Resourcing the needs is the biggest issue, as supply systems are inundated with requests for everything from nails to electrical wire. Air-conditioning units for the sleep and work tents are on order and will be a welcome sight when they arrive, as temperatures in the south already are hovering in the high 90s most afternoons. Awaiting the arrival of those resources has caused some frustration, but at the same time has kept leaders engaged.

“There’s that point of frustration where we all learn and learn quick,” Savusa said. “We learn about each other, we learn about our mission, and we learn how to get along with each other, because if we don’t, we all fail with what we’re here to do to support our troops.”

(From a U.S. Forces Afghanistan news release.)

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