News: The mayor of COP Zormat
Story by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson
PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The mayor of a city is the chief executive officer, responsible for the general welfare of the city. Being a mayor of a town can be challenging with all the duties and responsibilities you inherit when elected.
The same concept still applies to American combat outposts throughout Afghanistan; though, the mayor’s duties are more complex, and require precise planning. The town or camp’s chief executive has to make daily decisions that affect infrastructure, living conditions, and operations.
U.S. Army Sgt. David Lewis, assigned to Dog Company, 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Gold Geronimo, didn’t get voted into the mayor’s office. He was picked by his company’s command.
“I walked onto COP Zormat and they said, ‘Congratulations, you’re the COP mayor.” said Lewis, a Moss Point, Miss., native.
Given Lewis’ background, he was a perfect fit for the job, which requires more of a hands-on management style than would be expected from a typical ‘mayor’.
“My duties consist of handling all the contracts with the local nationals, working with the Regional Contracting Center to get new contracts made, handling all the laborers that come onto the COP, billeting, and working with FLUOR contractors getting stuff built,” Lewis said.
“I also keep up with the maintenance on post, keeping such as the buildings, heaters, generators, and if something breaks, I put the work order in to fix it,” Lewis said.
He credits past business experience with preparing him for this unique challenge. “I’ve somewhat dealt with this type of work before. I owned a drywall company before I joined the Army, so I’m used to dealing with a lot of subcontractors and contracts.”
Lewis has a diverse background. He worked at an advertisement agency for a year, built ships for the Navy another year, and then started a drywall business with his childhood friend after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana.
With a healthy demanded business taking off in a shaky economy, Lewis went to his business partner’s house one night to eat dinner. There he saw something on television that changed the direction of his life.
“Gen. Petraeus was speaking at a press conference and the question was asked, ‘Why are improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Iraq increasing?’”
“Gen. Petraeus said that women and children were being used in vehicle born IEDs to get them past checkpoints,” Lewis said solemnly. “I sold my shares to my business partner and the next morning was in the recruiter’s office.”
After joining the Army in 2007, and deploying with the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Spartan in 2009, Lewis was already experienced with combat operations in Afghanistan as an airborne infantryman. Now as a mayor, he shifted his battle focus to improving the quality of life for paratroopers on the combat outpost.
One of the first duties he performed as mayor was having fellow paratroopers write down what they wanted the most on the combat outpost to improve morale. Internet was the most requested desire.
“We recently had wireless Internet installed, so seeing the guys come back from a long mission and be able to Skype with their families makes my job rewarding.”
Other requests were for better gym equipment and a place the paratroopers could hang out.
“Some of the immediate improvements we have started were upgrading the [Morale, Welfare & Recreation Center]. We are fixing broken equipment and holding MWR events daily. We have several more projects in mind; we are just waiting for the materials or approval.”
Avdic Adnan, the Combat Outpost Zormat MWR supervisor from Tuzla, Bosnia, transferred four months ago from Forward Operating Base Salerno.
He said things have improved during Lewis’ tenure.
“We’ve built a lot of new stuff. We’ve started a lot of new projects and we have full support from Sgt. Lewis. I think if you ask all the soldiers, they are very pleased with what we do.”
Every day presents itself with a new set of obstacles.
“It’s challenging because every day is different,” Lewis said. “Equipment breaks down. Interpreters want to take leave, and you still have to continue mission.”
Lewis is not only responsible for the morale, safety and welfare of younger paratroopers, but multiple civilians as well.
“I have about 14 local contractors and 12 interpreters that I’m responsible for. I assign them to their platoons, make sure they have their equipment. I do their time sheets, leave and deal with their Red Cross messages. I try to keep everything rolling smooth.”
As much as he’s admired for his Mayoral duties, he’s missed back in his old platoon.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Saldivar, the Dog Company, 2nd Platoon Sgt. from San Antonio, Texas, said he hated to see one his best non-commissioned officers leave the platoon, but realized it was better for all.
“I’ve worked with Sgt. Lewis for about six months and in the short time I’ve worked with him, he’s definitely one of the most persistent NCO’s I’ve had working for me,” Saldivar said. “Any task you give to him, he completes it flawlessly. That particular NCO will stay up all night if it’s a task that you give him. He will not sleep until it’s done... Everyone already knows him and he’s a good solid pick.”
Saldivar’s sentiments mirror what seems to be the general mood about Lewis. “What was a loss for me was a gain for the COP.”