Commentary: Sojourn to Afghanistan

U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville
Published Feb. 7, 2017
Quyet La, project manager, Ordnance and Explosives Directorate.

Quyet La, project manager, Ordnance and Explosives Directorate.


Afghanistan has served as temporary homes for many throughout history:  Persians, Alexander the Great, Kushans, Russians and Americans (to name a few) … I have been added to the list of people to experience a sojourn in Afghanistan (April ’16 to April ’17).  While in theater (as we call it here), I serve as the Project Manager and Contracting Officer Representative for the congressionally mandated Task Force Protect Our Warfighters and Electrical Resources (TF POWER) program.  As the electrical safety surveillance arm for the military, TF POWER’s mission is to ensure that all Department of Defense occupied facilities in Afghanistan are electrically safe for 12,000+ U.S. soldiers and 20,000+ civilian personnel.

The deployment atmosphere offers a unique challenge when compared to that of the states; with its strict electrical policies.  Until recently, Afghanistan (for U.S. Forces) was considered an expeditionary establishment where facilities were constructed with limited long-term considerations of electrical regulations.  Afghanistan has now solidified itself as an enduring location and demands that abiding by established National Electrical Code and British Standard must be at the forefront of operations. 

Despite being a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civilian, interaction with military officers is frequent.  This interaction included briefings to top level military officers such as Colonels and Generals.  Being in the military environment offers the vantage point to appreciate the challenges accompanying these respective officers; it isn't an easy job being in leadership, especially in Afghanistan.

As a denizen of Afghanistan, there are certain experiences that “induct” you to Afghanistan …  Surviving a missile attack, shopping at the bazaar and flying on a military helicopter (to name a few).

Sometimes, it is easy to forget that Afghanistan is, indeed, a war zone.  Just before impact, the blaring sound of “Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!” warns of the indirect fire zipping through the air before that climatic “bang.”  The sirens scream with urgency; alerting us to don our interceptor body armor and make haste to the bunkers – a concrete cell with green and brown sandbags surrounding it.  Helicopters control the air to perform searches.  Instinctively, that frenzied feeling captures the mind and countenance; both unease and excitement takes over.  Welcome to "Rocket City."

The market, or bazaar, is filled with merchants selling goods out in the open as Soldiers pass by.  One can hear the shopkeepers enticing the possible buyers, “My friend, please come in.  For you, 40 percent discount.”  The local Afghans (the denizens) sell a variety of things such as handmade Persian rugs, cashmere scarfs, scintillating gemstones, lapis lazuli (blue spiritual stones native to Afghanistan), patches for the servicemen’s outfits.  The shop keepers also offer services that included making suits, tailoring, engraving and many others.  Beyond the authentic Afghan products, there are lots of knockoff items that are made in China, sold in Afghanistan, purchased by Americans, Georgians, Mongolians, Germans and other coalition forces.

At the helicopter flight counter, a sign reminds everyone of the requirement for air mobilization from base to base; helmet, long-sleeve shirts, eye protection, and 40 pounds worth of bulletproof Kevlar gear.  As one approaches the helicopter, the force of the wind pushes you back slightly before the heat hits you while forging into the body.  Midflight, the altitude’s slightly chilled air grazes your body, offering a tranquilizing feeling.  One's eyes may lower directly downward at the countryside through the back entrance and the gunner's opening; a converse to the familiar commercial airplanes behind a window of a pressurized cabin.  There are few things more august than being on a Black Hawk between the snow covered mountains and the celestial glistening the valley and river below.

Afghanistan military deployment … An experience like no other.