I did a briefing shortly after arriving home from Afghanistan about my deployment on a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) as PRT Civil Engineers. You may have been reading my stories or maybe this is your first-time visit. Either way, here is a deeper look into what I was doing while deployed to Afghanistan.
If you missed Part 1: Defining a PRT. Start here.
I deployed to Kapisa, Afghanistan from Feb 2010 to Nov 2010:
This is a quick overview of what we did as PRT Civil Engineers.
In the office, we focused on all the paperwork required in managing a project from start to end. This included getting a new project approved for funding, writing statements of work, putting projects out for bids, awarding projects, tracking and implementing payments, meeting with contractors on base for project updates, closing out projects and the list goes on. We also had to attend various meetings with other PRT functions. We also had to go through careful planning of each mission off base.
Managed 35 Projects
When we arrived in Afghanistan we had 35 projects. The projects mainly consisted of roads, government structures, and schools. Our office consisted of 2 PRT Civil Engineers (military officers), 1 Engineering Assistant (military enlisted), and an Army CORP of Engineer member (civilian). This was quite the workload for such a small office. And it was one of the reasons we focused on closing out the 35 projects we inherited. Rather than starting new ones during our nine-month deployment.
We were responsible for 136 km of road while deployed. The longest road was located in the southern section of Kapisa (Tagab) and was 29 km long. We also had two bridge projects. One of our bridge projects (Ghazn-kan-Kel) has a cool story behind it. The stream separated one village. The road was located on the right side of the stream and during the rainy season the stream filled up and villagers were unable to safely move goods from one side of the stream to the other to sell in Kabul. This was a definite success story for the PRT.
Our goal was to hit every project for an on-site inspection approximately once a month. There were a number of factors that made our goal difficult. Depending on various factors ranging from safety, location and other missions the PRT needed to accomplish. Even if we did not get to each project each month we would meet with the contractors to discuss the status of the projects and get as much information as we could.
Besides the fact, we had to work around different missions and goals for the PRT there were still a number of projects that were in locations too dangerous for the PRT to visit. So we would rely on our local national engineers and pictures provided by contractors. We had two local national engineers who were able to do an in-depth analysis of most of our projects about once every five to ten days. Occasionally there inspection would happen as we were on our inspections. It worked great to have them there because they could communicate well with the contractors and us.
An interesting side note, a lot of construction terms did not have Dari or Pashtun words (the local language). For example, concrete sounded just like concrete. Whereas “how are you?” is “cetor hasti?” I had ten days of Dari language training at the beginning of my training. I learned the basics of how to say hello (a-salam alekom) and other basic phrases.
But I needed to rely on a translator to speak effectively with the contractors. Some of the contractors spoke English and that made communication easy. It worked best to have the same interpreter for the missions because some of the interpreters knew the construction terms and others did not making it difficult to communicate. On an early mission, the interpreter who ended up with me was new and was unable to communicate with the contractor. Long story short by the next stop on the mission I had a new interpreter.
Back to our local national engineers. There were a few projects in dangerous locations that they could not visit as well. The local national engineers were Tajik and were able to move freely in most of the northern half of the province. But they still had very limited movement in some of the southern and far eastern regions (See more about the region and culture in Part 2) of Kapisa.
The next part of the series focuses on the Missions of the PRT also known as off base inspections. Part 4: PRT Missions