Support our mission

It hasn’t been a typical deployment, at least not by Air Force standards.

Capt. Paul Frantz, of the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, is currently at Forward Operating Base Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where he’s chief engineer of the Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team, or PRT. He left Yokota in January and is to return from his first deployment in late March.

His duties frequently take him outside the wire, and he doesn’t get a day off, putting in 80 to 90 hours a week, he said.

“But the work is very rewarding,” Frantz, 29, of Galax, Va., said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. “We see our efforts turn to results fairly quickly, and the forward momentum here is tangible.

“That said, nothing is ‘typical’ here. Before I deployed, I was given a lot of advice about establishing a ‘battle rhythm’ and the like. But that is not possible in a PRT.”

Frantz is responsible for planning, developing, contracting and implementing all of the team’s construction projects. He also coordinates engineering support of humanitarian construction tasks with several organizations, including the United States Agency for International Development, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, U.N. Health Net and UNICEF.

Projects include a new commercial airport and rail line, more than 280 miles of irrigation canals, 35 miles of asphalt road, a citywide solid waste management program, schools, clinics, watersheds and a major hydroelectric dam.

“I have been given the opportunity to work on some amazing projects,” Frantz said.

Outside factors can force the team to quickly change objectives, he said, adding that the unit’s daily activities sometimes “look like organized chaos.” It’s had to deal with everything from natural disasters and requests for immediate support of local political issues to short-notice visits by senior leaders and terrorist-related activity.

Frantz said the team often shakes up its mission schedule and changes routes as part of risk management.

“Things are fairly calm here, though we have had a couple of incidents. Thankfully, no one has gotten hurt,” he added.

While the team’s larger projects have widespread effect, Frantz said it’s the smaller endeavors that matter most to him. Occasionally, they’ll get a request to check out a broken generator or damaged well.

During a humanitarian mission last June in one of the province’s least accessible areas, the team stopped at a village with one well pump that had been broken for nearly eight months, he recalled. The district’s people had to hike about 500 yards down a steep hill to fetch water from a dirty stream.

He and a vehicle mechanic dismantled the pump, made a few adjustments, replaced three screws and four washers — which they plucked off the grill of their truck — and had it supplying water in less than 45 minutes.

“The villagers were so happy, you would think we had won the World Series, the World Cup and the Super Bowl all at once. It was a great feeling,” Frantz said.

In the last year, he’s seen weather that’s “a mix of pleasant, unpleasant and near unbearable,” he wrote.

In April, he rolled out with some 10th Mountain Division combat engineers in a Humvee that had no air conditioning. He said the experience was like sitting in “a giant convection oven.”

The group placed bottles of frozen water on their necks and inside body armor to try to keep cool, switching them out every two hours after the ice melted.

“Thankfully, the Humvees were fixed before the serious heat of mid-summer,” when temperatures hit 130 degrees a few times, he said.

Frantz says the hardest part about being away for almost a year now is trying to stay in touch with his wife, Rheagan, and their two children, Lucas and Aurora.

“We have frequent unplanned communication blackouts,” he added. “[But] over the last several months, our communications folks have made a lot of improvements, and Internet/e-mail access has become more reliable.

“All and all, we have it a lot better than what folks at other forward operating bases have to deal with.”


Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up