Soldiers prepare concrete pads at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, that will hold shelters where maintenance will be done.

Soldiers prepare concrete pads at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, that will hold shelters where maintenance will be done. (Courtesy of U.S. Army / S&S)

RAF HYTHE, England — All of the soldiers assigned to the Combat Equipment Battalion-Hythe are in Afghanistan.

Both of them.

Lt. Col. Martin Binder and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Cassandra Young arrived in early January. Their job is to prepare sites for putting armor on the Southern European Task Force’s vehicles.

SETAF, from Vicenza, Italy, will soon begin a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.

In a telephone interview from Afghanistan, Binder told Stars and Stripes that concrete pads are being poured at Bagram Air Base with the help of the 367th Engineering Battalion, already in place. The pads will hold the shelters where maintenance will be done.

“We will be putting on armor by 1 April,” he said. “That’s when the majority of SETAF vehicles will arrive.”

He said the effort would go on at Bagram, Kandahar and Salerno.

“We’ve got to go where the warfighter is,” said Binder, who added that 2,000 vehicles of all types would eventually receive armor in the shops.

Binder has a staff now of about 12 people on the ground. That will grow to 30. An Army Reserve unit from Minnesota will do the actual armoring, he said, while his staff handles the administrative chores.

The Combat Equipment Battalion-Hythe includes only Binder and Young as green-suiters. It also includes 200 British employees with various skills needed to maintain the Army’s fleet of boats, the battalion’s main job.

But, Binder said, his battalion is the only one in the Army Materiel Command that deploys.

“We deploy about 160 people a year,” he said. “In order for the Army Materiel Command to contribute to the fight, we’ve got to be able to deploy forward.”

When Col. Xavier Lobeto, commander of the U.S. Army Field Support Brigade-Europe in Seckenheim, Germany, gave Binder the warning order in December, Binder had little trouble filling out his roster, he said.

“I had 20 volunteers within 24 hours,” he said. “These guys will deploy at the drop of a hat.”

The British employees will stay for 120 days or so before rotating home and being replaced.

Alex Blincow is one of the volunteers. He volunteered, he said, “to be a part of it.”

The importance of the mission was demonstrated recently, he said, when an armored Humvee hit a land mine. A broken arm was the most serious injury.

“If that had been a soft-skin vehicle, there would have been fatalities,” he said.

Mike Wilson, another volunteer employee from Hythe, said he raised his hand for the mission as a way of paying back the Army that has employed him for 24 years.

“I came here with an open mind. I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “We had to start from scratch.”

Binder said the mission isn’t limited to the armoring. He is preparing the site at Bagram for continued general maintenance of vehicles.

“Since the Army is going to have stay-behind equipment in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the amount of abuse these vehicles will take is monumental,” he said.

The shelters he is building now will provide cover for the maintenance of those vehicles long after the armoring mission is complete, he said.

Although the mission seems a long way from maintaining the Army’s tugs and landing craft, which is the battalion’s main task, Binder said there’s a direct link.

“Maintenance is maintenance,” he said. “Customers are customers. They deserve the best.”

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