Reporter's Notebook: Engineers have seen plenty of Afghanistan
MAIWAND DISTRICT, Afghanistan — The 162 soldiers of Company B, 62nd Engineers, from Fort Sill, Okla., have seen a whole lot of Afghanistan in the past year.
During the last 12 months, they’ve built two forward operating bases and five combat outposts in locations stretching from the rugged mountains in the east to the flat deserts in the south.
Staff Sgt. Jacinto Aguero figures they’ve erected anywhere from 100 to 200 miles of Hesco barriers, the wire mesh and burlap contraptions filled with sand and dirt to create the perimeter walls of nearly every U.S. base in the country.
"We’ve been all over," says Aguero, 26, of Dallas.
The company spent much of the past four months building a new U.S. base out in Maiwand District meant to interdict important Taliban transit routes between Kandahar province and neighboring Helmand.
For the past three weeks, Company B has been working on the construction of a new combat outpost close to a string of tiny villages collectively known as Band-i-Timor, which sit along the Arghandab River in Maiwand District.
The outpost went up in near record time. Within three days, the engineers had enclosed the perimeter with Hesco walls, then started work on building wooden floors for tents to house soldiers, several guard towers and other buildings.
When the soldiers aren’t building new bases, they spend a lot of time making improvements at existing camps. They’ve built bridges and repaired roads blown up by the Taliban.
"Anything in this country that’s dirt work, carpentry or masonry, we’ll do it," says Sgt. Nolan Henning, 20, of Prior Lake, Minn.
"We’ve built up this whole country, pretty much," adds Spc. Trent Miller, 22, also of Dallas.
On Monday afternoon, the 20 or so engineers were done working for the day, so they spent a couple of hours playing baseball out on the helicopter landing pad. They used a large wooden tent stake as a bat. Somebody had a small rubber baseball.
"You missed a good one out here on Christmas Day," said Sgt. Thomas Deaton, 28, of Martins Ferry, Ohio. "We had a football game out here."
First Sgt. Christopher Kowalewski, from the infantry unit that will occupy the base, stopped by to ask the engineers why they’d knocked off work for the rest of the day while there was still daylight.
"I thought you were going to finish up those tent floors," he said.
"We ran out of nails, First Sergeant," one of the engineers told him. Kowalewski nodded his head in acknowledgement.
The soldiers asked the first sergeant if he wanted to take a turn at bat. Kowalewski hit the first pitch, knocking it well past the Hescos on the edge of the landing pad. It was a home run.
Three beers, no fear
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar — Unlike many other U.S. bases in the Middle East, at this sprawling compound on the Persian Gulf, U.S. servicemembers and contractors can drink three alcoholic beverages a day.
One night at the "bar," a scuffle broke out in the smoking area between a U.S. soldier and a U.S. airman.
It was nothing more than a couple of shoves really, and other servicemen quickly intervened and broke them up.
The scuffle grabbed the attention of everyone sitting outside in the chilly night air. Three airmen were watching.
One shook his head, seemingly amused. "See what happens when you get three beers into you," he said.
"Three?" someone asked. "Hell, I thought it was only two."
"Nah, you can get three a day here," the airman said.
"Cool, reckon it must be my lucky day," the passerby said. "I’ve got another one coming."