BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — Whether you call it Bagram Air Base or Bagram airfield, the U.S. military facility in northeast Afghanistan is no longer just a glorified city of tents.
Slowly, but steadily, a slew of construction projects is providing troops with better housing and improved work areas as well as a handful of new shops for eating and entertainment.
“We’ve been in expeditionary mode, and now it’s sustainment,” said Air Force Col. Rita Meyer, commander of the 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group, echoing the comments of her Army counterparts.
For airmen, soldiers and Marines on base, that means better living conditions, though no one is promising an overnight fix.
“In two to four years, we expect that everyone will be living in permanent housing,” said Army Lt. Col. Jim Anderson, commander of Facility Engineering Team-17 and the de facto director of public works on base.
In fact, the foundation for the first brick-and-mortar structure designated for Army housing has been laid.
Its first occupants will likely be members of the 12th Aviation Brigade from Giebelstadt, Germany.
Capt. Paul Salinas said the two-story facilities would contain 38 bedrooms, with the possibility of a single soldier or two soldiers sharing a room.
They’ll also have indoor plumbing — a rarity on a base that has virtually no sewer or water lines.
Lt. Col. Kurt Floyd, Anderson’s deputy, said that fact alone has made developing a blueprint for the base quite a challenge.
Trucks carry water to containers around the base and haul away sewage from portable latrines.
There’s also the matter of clearing any building sites for mines before any construction can begin.
Most troops live in B-huts — though no one on base knows what the “B” stands for — 18-by-36-foot structures made of plywood designed to hold eight troops.
Air conditioning units are installed. Some troops sleep on cots and some have beds.
Toilets and showers are in centralized locations that can be up to a long city block away.
Floyd said the B-huts are an improvement on tents, but not as nice as the SEAhuts — which stands for Southeast Asia Huts — in places such as Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.
The Army’s newer housing options, metal modular housing and the brick-and-mortar buildings, will gradually replace all of them.
Local nationals will build the brick-and-mortar buildings using materials they’re familiar with, Floyd said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Tim Green, the top enlisted soldier in Bagram’s base operations group, said he’s seen a great deal of changes in his year in country.
“We went from tents to B-huts, tents to permanent structures for DFACs (dining facilities) and the pavement,” he said.
The pavement that Green referred to is a narrow strip of sidewalk that runs parallel to the main road on base: Disney Drive.
The road, which runs from the main gate in the south to the north perimeter, won’t always be the only paved road on base, Floyd said.
He pointed to a road under construction that will follow the base perimeter.
Another major accomplishment is the perimeter itself, Floyd said.
There’s now a chain fence with sensors along the entire perimeter, instead of just concertina wire that encircled it a year ago.
At present, all living quarters and the majority of base facilities are either located off Disney Drive or on small, dirt roads stretching from it.
On the Air Force side, Meyer said major improvements are being made on the existing runway, despite a constant, heavy influx of passengers and material.
New hangars are planned, but that wouldn’t come until maintenance facilities and other offices are built.
Airmen also are living in crowded B-huts, she said.
“We are not living in the best accommodations in the region and we’re going to get that changed,” Meyer said.
Anderson said construction might seem slow to some, but progress is being made rapidly across the base.
“I’d like to see some pictures in five years.”
More construction projects in works
Construction at the main U.S. base in Afghanistan has vastly improved troops’ quality of life.
Here are some of the projects built in the last year, under way or planned:
- The first brick-and-mortar Army housing is under construction. It has 38 bedrooms and indoor plumbing.
- Other such structures, and modular, metal, housing, are planned.
- A chain fence now encircles the perimeter, replacing concertina wire.
- Three dining facilities, two base/post exchanges, an Army hospital, offices and headquarter buildings have appeared in the last year.
- Burger King, an Italian pizzeria, two coffee shops and a Thai restaurant are serving troops now.
- Popeyes, Dairy Queen and Orange Julius are scheduled to open in the next few months.
- Besides the two exchanges, there are also a few shops selling local goods.
- Facilities for continuing education, working out and staying in touch with those back home have also been built across the base in the last year.
- Construction on the Pat Tillman Center, which will house the USO and a cafe for those coming in or departing, is underway.
- An additional runway is planned so more fighter jets can use the air base.
- Airmen volunteers built a post office, recreation room and library on the Air Force side of the base.
- Modern shower/latrine facilities are coming soon.
— Kent Harris