ARLINGTON, Va. — “No matter how prepared you are, it’s always eye-opening.”

That’s how Air Force Capt. Rockie Wilson, who returned from Afghanistan in January, described his five months in a country where women are virtually invisible, bricks are still dried in the sun as in biblical times, and the enemy rarely fights unless the sun shines.

Wilson, an engineer by trade, was at Forward Operating Base Laghman, a small outpost in Zabul Province in southeast Afghanistan, about 100 miles northeast of Khandahar.

He arrived in early August 2006, where he served as engineer team leader on the Qalat Provincial Reconstruction Team, or PRT.

Wilson told reporters at an Air Force roundtable Thursday that “progress is being made” but “it’s going to be a slow process” to rebuild a war-torn country still threatened by the Taliban.

The Qalat PRT includes about 40 airmen and 50 soldiers who focus on improving security, reconstruction, and economic development in their province.

There are 24 PRTs in Afghanistan; 12 are under control of the U.S. military, and the other 12 are controlled by coalition allies.

Wilson’s job as leader of the engineering effort was to focus on improving the province’s infrastructure, helping local Afghans with projects such as roads, bridges, schools and wells.

When he got to his new home, Wilson quickly learned that he had arrived during the prime season for Taliban to attack.

“The level of attacks was all variable, based on the weather,” he said.

His first serious encounter with the enemy was during one of his first missions into the mountains, to a small village where police barracks were under construction.

Wilson was in the right seat of his up-armored Humvee, commanding the vehicle, with an Army gunner manning the 240-caliber gun and an Air Force driver. Two civil affairs team passengers were in the back seat.

Afghan National Army troops also were along for the dangerous drive, as well as other Army security escorts from the PRT.

When the Taliban ambushed the convoy, “my life flashed before my eyes,” Wilson said.

But thanks to six weeks of summer combat training in 2006 at Fort Bragg, N.C., he knew how to respond.

The Taliban “paid dearly that day,” he said, particularly after troops, who were firing back with small arms, called in airstrikes from A-10 attack aircraft.

The A-10 strike “effectively ended the engagement,” he said.

One Afghan soldier died and two were wounded, although the U.S. PRT members took no casualties.

The fight, Wilson said, “really opened my eyes.”

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