Normally, I am the safety officer for the Charleston District, but I am currently deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Here at Bagram, I do not work for the Corps. I deployed as a part of the Civilian Expediatiary Workforce where my job is working for the Combined Joint Task Force as the construction base safety officer. In my office, besides me, we have people dedicated to ground safety, explosives safety and radiation safety. Our safety team is heavily involved with many operations on base ranging from setting policy for head phone use to inspecting the Bazaars (local trading posts) for contraband cigarettes and illegal power strips.
Construction safety in Afghanistan is somewhat different than in the United States. The language barriers, construction techniques, equipment and availability of skilled workers can present some unique challenges. On a normal day, friendly and smiling Afghan locals come in from the villages in the morning and go through a thorough screening process. They then go with the local construction companies to the job sites to do whatever work is necessary for a payment of $5.00 a day. A lot of these construction companies come from Turkey and Pakistan as well, so not only do you have the local dialect, but some from other countries as well. I’m sure it’s just as tough for the workers to deal with as it is for us.
I also deployed in 2010 working for the Corps in Kabul and travelled all over the northern section of Afghanistan to the different forward operating bases (FOB) as well as throughout Kabul. I will say that, in the two years since I have been here, I have seen a marked improvement in construction safety and safety in general. This shows me that the Corps of Engineers is truly making a difference and makes me feel proud to be a part of it.
Here at Bagram, life is much different than working at the FOBs or in Kabul. There are more than 30,000 Soldiers and civilians here. Several gyms, dining facilities, Post Exchange’s, etc., are available for use. There is even a Burger King and a Pizza Hut if you get that craving. It’s like a small city that never sleeps.
This base is surrounded by beautiful mountains that seem to always have snow covered peaks no matter how hot it seems where we are. Unfortunately, because of the dust caused by the wind and so much traffic on the road, they become hard to see at times. There is one perimeter road that circles the whole base, with several access points that are heavily guarded.
There are some villages close by where you can see the locals tending their sheep herds and working the fields. Most of the locals seem to use donkey’s (at least to me that’s what they look like) more often than not for work animals, but I have seen my first camel by one of their huts.
We work 12 hours per day, seven days a week. At first I didn’t know if I could handle such long hours but you get used to it fairly quickly. The time goes by fast and soon I’ll be back in the District, a few pounds lighter, and hopefully having made a difference here in support of this mission.