Army Engineers Help to Rebuild Afghanistan

By Jessica L. Tozer
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2011 - When the task to help rebuild and reconstruct Afghanistan was established, Army Col. Thomas H. Magness IV, the commander of Afghanistan Engineer District-North, initially had concerns about how much could be accomplished.

"We'd shake our heads and be concerned about the ability for that contractor to finish," Magness, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officer, said yesterday during a DoDLive Bloggers' Roundtable.

That concern, he said, was short lived. Since then, the Afghanistan reconstruction endeavor has progressed on a solid foundation of accomplishment and professionalism.

"Now we are awarding most of our contracts to Afghan contractors. They are competent, professional, safe on the job site and fully capable of completing the projects," Magness said.

Reconstructing Afghanistan involves partnership and close working relationships with the Afghan people, Magness said, noting the pace of rebuilding is faster and more efficient than ever before.

"We have transitioned from being in construction, to finishing projects at the rate of one completed project per day," Magness said. "I've never seen this kind of construction pace. But I've also never seen a community -- in this case, the engineering and construction community -- that has grown as much as it has. It has risen to the task."

So what exactly is the U.S. doing to help rebuild Afghanistan? They're doing just that, Magness said, literally reconstructing the foundations of the country's infrastructure from the ground up.

"We are putting in electric transmission lines, we are doing roads, and we're doing repairs on some key strategic bridges," Magness said. "We're also doing infrastructure projects, all of which is geared towards being able to hand this mission off to the Afghans."

The Afghan engineers and construction workers under his purview are "the best of the best and these guys are capable, they're competent," Magness said. "For the most part, we recruit them to stay and work on projects near their homes."

The Army Corps of Engineers also is committed to ensuring that Afghan engineers and construction worker receive the proper training to excel -- for today and into the future, Magness said.

"We're not leaving this to happen on its' own," he said. "We are investing in the [Afghan] universities pretty significantly so that we can continue to produce those quality engineers."

The holistic approach to rebuilding Afghanistan doesn't stop with just brick-and-mortar facilities. The Army Corps of Engineers, Magness said, also is seeking more efficient methods to produce energy in Afghanistan.

Solar energy is one option, Magness said. Using the abundance of sunlight in Afghanistan as a source of energy, he said, could provide a better way to increase electric power.

For example, he said, a demonstration project in Kabul is designed to provide energy for several buildings -- an office building, guard towers, lights and ammunition bunkers -- using a solar and wind turbine. The Corps of Engineers also is working with the mayor of Kabul to employ solar energy to power street lights.

"There is no reliable electric grid here in this city of five million people, and so we looked at putting in solar street lights as a way to provide safety, security, improve commerce in an otherwise dark city at night -- part of the mayor's campaign to light up the city at night," Magness said.

The Corps also has established its own solar-powered lighting demonstration project, he said.

"These lights are working great," Magness said. "We're also looking at other infrastructure [improvements] that include putting solar lights on some of our larger installations and bigger projects. Those [projects] are all geared towards creating a more sustainable Afghan infrastructure."

Magness has nothing but high praise for his Afghan team.

"They believe in what they're doing, and I really believe in them," he said. "If you want a face to this mission, it is the Afghan engineer, it's the Afghan construction worker -- male and female -- who have turned a corner and truly will be a major part of the future of this country."

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