News: It’s Austere Here: Revisited
Story by Sgt. John Angelo
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Some things never change for the Red Bulls.
During the 2009-2010 deployment of the 34th Division Headquarters, then-Red Bull commander, Maj. Gen. Rick Nash issued a challenge to all brigades operating throughout southern Iraq: who amongst you has the most austere living conditions? The “winner” would receive new gym equipment, courtesy of U.S. Division-South headquarters.
Three bases quickly rose to the top: Joint Security Station Al Wahab offering tents, cots and no running water; Thar Allah Naval Base with the “rats of legend”; and Patrol Base Mahawil featuring the unflushable toilet.
Each base was featured in the division daily newsletter, and soldiers and their families voted online. In the end, the 2nd Battalion, 13th Cavalry Regiment soldiers stationed at Joint Security Station Al Wahab received the much deserved gym equipment. The soldiers at the base endured such things as sleeping on cots in tents that where hot as ovens; wild dogs, camels, a donkey and an infestation of crickets in the showers.
It looks like the Red Bulls of the Iowa National Guard’s 2nd Brigade, 34th Inf. Div. would have been in the running for an “It’s Austere Here” award of their own during their current deployment to Afghanistan, if it wasn’t for a burly, soft-spoken infantryman from Oelwein, Iowa, with Company B, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment serving as the Forward Operating Base manager.
U.S. Army Sgt. Christian Kapler is a busy man. Anywhere people walk on Forward Operating Base Torkham Gate on the Afghanistan and Pakistan border, they will see something Kapler built, repaired or improved.
Like his grandfather, Kapler said he enjoys working with his hands.
“My dad would say its genetics,” said Kapler. “My grandfather had a little shop and built everything he had -- his house and all. I don’t know what he actually did for a job other than build things.”
“I was always tinkering and building things when I was a kid, going to the lumber yard and getting scrap wood and building stuff. I did handyman stuff when I was older and started going to school at a community college for architecture and contracting, but I kept getting deployed, so I never finished college. I think the unit knows building stuff is the type of thing I excel at.”
Torkham Gate has been home to Company B, part of the Iowa National Guard’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, since October, and the base is expanding. Kapler, who supervises 44 Afghan workers of various trades and abilities, is tasked with improving the base.
Kapler said he appreciates the work his crew does, despite what at times is a challenging process of getting supplies and proper tools. He said when his team wants to get something done, they do it quickly.
His company commander, U.S. Army Capt. Kevin Hrodey, from Pleasant Hill, Iowa, said he is impressed with Kapler’s accomplishments.
“It is amazing to look at pictures of the FOB from when we first took over operations and then walk around now and see how much it has actually changed,” said Hrodey. “It is almost like we are not even in the same place anymore. At the rate Sgt. Kapler is improving this FOB, by the time we go to leave, we’ll be leaving a small city instead of a small, remote FOB.”
According to Hrodey, people can see the products of Kapler’s efforts everywhere they look. His projects have improved all aspects of life on the FOB from base defense to quality of life to his worker’s maintenance facility.
One repair that took some innovation was Kapler’s upgrade to the FOB firing range. Before he and his crew got their hands on it, the range was a berm, surrounded by sand-basket barriers, with some old, neglected targets and a few stakes in the ground that marked the distance.
“We use the cardboard from water pallets as target backing,” Kapler said.
The older targets were fixed and Kapler’s crew installed conduit so targets could be easily replaced once they start deteriorating. He used unserviceable dining facility tables as firing benches, weapons racks, new metal distance markers, a reinforced berm and a camouflage net awning to provide shade.
A 15-year-veteran of the Iowa National Guard, Kapler deployed to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq with Company B, and now here to Afghanistan.
He worked construction in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before becoming a union carpenter. Between deployments, Kapler married an Oelwein, Iowa, woman and is the proud father of three children. He said he plans to start a tool-rental business when he returns to Iowa, and his wife is taking accounting classes so she can help run the administrative side of the business.
Until he returns, he’ll continue his work in Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Matson, Task Force Red Bulls Public Affairs, contributed to this story.