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    133rd Eng. Bn. takes care of deconstruction, troops in Afghanistan

    133rd Eng. Bn. takes care of deconstruction, troops in Afghanistan

    Courtesy Photo | Milford, Del. native, Spc. Ryan Ratledge, a heavy equipment operator for the...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Cupp 

    82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade

    BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Soldiers working for and attached to the Portland, Maine-based 133rd Engineer Battalion, Maine Army National Guard, fill their days with deconstruction projects aimed at transforming and eventually transferring bases back to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

    According to Pembroke, Maine native, Lt. Col. Dean Preston, commander, 133rd Eng. Bn., his battalion’s mission is a unique one comprised of troops from both the Army National Guard and Reserves from eight different states and regions throughout the U.S.

    “Our mission is significant in that we are a key element in re-sizing and re-shaping in the necessary footprint so we can eventually return bases to the Afghan National Army,” said Preston, while explaining that his mission has been made possible by the successful transition of security to the Afghan Security Forces. “It’s a very interesting time in the history of Afghanistan and for our Army.”

    Preston said that, unlike other troops over the past 13 years in the combat zone who were sometimes working jobs that may not have been their specialty, his troops have been able to do jobs specific to their primary military occupational specialty and an engineer battalion.

    “We’ve been fortunate here in that we’ve been building and deconstructing using engineer equipment which is a win for our troops as they’re going to work and doing what they were trained to do,” he said.

    “Our battalion consists of two Reserve companies and four National Guard companies from Maine, New Jersey, Delaware, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Florida, so at first we thought it would be challenging having people from such diverse regions work together as sometimes we use different words for the same thing,” added Preston. “In reality, we have had no real friction or issues due to where we come from. I describe it as being like building an airplane in flight as we met many of the units for the first time at a mobilization site in the U.S. and then built a great team with all the great people in it from the far north east to the south.”

    As part of the active-duty Army’s 82nd Sustainment Brigade-U.S. Central Command Materiel Recovery Element, which is based out of Fort Bragg, N.C., the 133rd Eng. Bn. works to ensure buildings are prepped prior to deconstruction with all interior fixtures such as plumbing and electrical components removed. Once the preparation is done, the battalion can bring in heavy machinery to tear down the structures.

    Eventually, the battalion cleans up the site and clears off any debris, while also saving any reusable materials.

    “We do projects to build berms, we deconstruct on several different forward operating bases throughout our area of operations, tear down b-huts, re-locatable buildings, gyms and tents,” said Preston. “Anything man-made that you can walk into we’ve torn down.”

    “We save reusable structures such as tents and can save some materials from building sites that can be given to locals,” added Preston. “We’ve also had a few missions where we’ve been able to interact with the locals building relationships with them. But we always try to make sure that anything reusable can be returned to the military system or given to Afghans so that we’re not wasting anything when possible which saves money in the long run.”

    Over the course of their nine-month deployment, the battalion has contended with several challenges.

    One of the major challenges includes working long hours in the combat zone while being away from family, according to Preston.

    “Overcoming that challenge all comes down to creative leadership and we have worked hard to ensure that we’re actively engaged in everything from doing PT together to resiliency classes on finance, relationships, spirituality and finding ways that can get our troops away from a mundane routine or their work desk” Preston said.

    One of the ways that the 133rd leadership has come up with to combat stress and to give the troops a little time away from the job site is to hold a 133rd Olympics every Saturday.

    “For about four hours, we chose to do a few (activities) that build teamwork, camaraderie and resiliency with events such as horse shoes, cribbage tournaments and sporting events that involve a little friendly competition,” said Preston. “It gives the troops a chance to recharge their batteries and it’s great to see that something so simple can have such a positive effect on the troops, bringing a smile to their faces.”

    When inclement weather such as rain storms during the rainy season in Afghanistan keep engineers away from their job sites, 133rd troops have found various ways to stay busy from doing wood work indoors to assisting with maintenance teams.

    “No one goes and hides, they all go looking for things to do so we will engage our labor force in other manners if the weather isn’t being cooperative,” said Preston.

    With heavy equipment such as hydraulic excavators and loaders being used every day for long hours, machinery has to be constantly maintained.

    “We inherited a fleet of machinery that didn’t just come off the assembly line and we’re working it hard,” said Preston. “Fortunately, we have a great maintenance crew who are a bunch of heroes in my eyes as they are always out chasing down parts and servicing the equipment, keeping their nose to grind stone without a complaint and ensuring the mission continues.”

    As with any job on involving engineers and heavy equipment, safety is something the battalion focuses on each day, said Preston.

    “From the brigade to company levels, we have a great safety program which includes training, situational awareness, safety noncommissioned officers at every job site and Soldiers who provide security at various sites when necessary,” said Preston. “We continually do inspections, give classes and talk to Soldiers about safety and ensure our troops are doing the right thing.”

    With all the safety procedures they have emplaced, over the course of the deployment, the battalion has greatly decreased their number of accidents.

    “The metrics support that we are doing the right thing,” he added. “Our strength is our Soldiers looking after other Soldiers.”

    With his troops being part of the Army National Guard and Reserve components, Preston works with the 82nd SB-CMRE brigade and his companies to ensure his troops are in a good position when they go back to their civilian jobs and the battalion also assists the troops who may not have jobs in the civilian sector.

    “Going back without a job can be a challenge so we partner with the brigade and ensure that our troops have a completed resume if they are seeking employment,” said Preston. “For those that have jobs already, we ensure they get a letter from the brigade, the battalion and their companies which are sent to their employer so they can hear about all the great things their employee has accomplished while deployed.”

    “We have set in place a Soldier strengthening program and we expect every member of the battalion who is a staff sergeant or below to have no less than three licenses on things such as bulldozers, hydraulic excavators and other equipment,” added Preston. “So we really want to help them return home a lot stronger.”

    As he looks back on the few months left for this deployment, Preston said his troops have not lost the motivation to accomplish the mission and take pride in what they do.

    “You can see a pickup in energy as the weather has gotten warmer and as our guys have started to see the light at the end of tunnel and know where the finish line is, morale is as high as it’s ever been and we’re in a good place,” said Preston. “Everyone is pulling their own weight and you don’t see too many people who don’t have a smile on their face.”

    “I think the best thing about the mission is that these troops get to show up as an engineer battalion no matter what their specialty and they’re the only ones who can do the engineer job and no one else can do what they do,” said Preston. “They’ve taken the opportunity to serve their country and take pride in what they’ve accomplished. They can look back at what they’ve done here and know that they’ve made a significant contribution that will have a historical impact on the future of Afghanistan.”



    Date Taken: 04.14.2014
    Date Posted: 04.26.2014 10:08
    Story ID: 127717
    Location: BAGRAM AIR FIELD, AF 
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