FOB Shank provides RSOI training

Soldiers of 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, fire their weapons at paper targets to ensure the accuracy of their sight systems at Forward Operating Base Shank, Logar Province, Oct. 19. (click for more)

FOB Wright servicemembers complete Army Ten-Miler

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Steven Holding of Janesville, Iowa, (left) and U.S. Army Warrant Officer Marty Osmundson, of Des Moines, Iowa, both members of the Iowa National Guard’s 734th ADT, (click for more)

Army sergeant finds his passion in baking

U.S. Army Sgt. Bill McDonald decorates a cake Joint Operations Center’s in the dining facility on Bagram Airfield Oct. 18. McDonald is a 28-year-old Quincy, Ill., native and a baker (click for more)

Female engagement team makes strides in Kunar

U.S. Army Sgt. Latoya Winham, a human resources sergeant with the 64th MP Company, 205th Military Police Battalion and member of the FOB Wright FET from Anniston, Ala., listens as (click for more)

Team Leader Course helps ANA fight illiteracy

Afghan National Army soldiers Mohammed Qasim and Seenatullah, both natives of Takhar Province, study during the literacy block of the Team Leader Course on Forward Operating Base Thunder, Paktya Province, (click for more)

934th FST: Anatomy of the life-saving process

Members of the 934th Forward Surgical Team unload a patient from the back of a field litter ambulance at Forward Operating Base Sharana recently. (click for more)

Cavalry troopers keep pressure on

U.S. Army Spc. Andrew Stallings, 1st Sq., 172nd Cav. Reg., 86th Inf. BCT, from Greenville, N.C., searches for bomb-making materials during an air assault search operation conducted with members of (click for more)


KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Brandon Toliver, an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers assigned to the Kunar PRT and a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., inspects the electrical box in the Donai School here Aug. 11. Donai and many of the future schools in the province are slated to use alternative sources of energy, such as solar power. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb, Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs)KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Four years ago children sat sprawled on the ground under a tree in the village of Lahor Dag, intently listening to their headmaster in a make shift school. Shortly after, The United Nations Children Fund brought them a tent for a classroom.

Today, the finishing touches are being made on a two-story brick and mortar school that will offer classrooms, furniture, offices and something many of the students do not have at home – electricity.


Lahor Dag is one of 13 schools currently under contract with the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team, each one using solar panels to provide the students with electricity.

“The schools are important to help expose the kids to different kinds of things,” said Brandon Toliver, an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, assigned to the Kunar PRT. “For some of these children, the concept of having power where you can just flip the switch is such a fairytale to them it will take something like this, where they can actually see it and say, ‘Wow, so this is what we learned about in science class.’”

Implementing solar panelled electricity is a cost efficient option in this area. The panels are less expensive to purchase here than in the U.S. and the energy is renewable. Another feasible alternative is to use a generator to provide power for the schools, but with generators, fuel costs and maintenance issues become a problem.

“Electricity is very important in every place [and] without electricity there is no work possible because it is an essential part of life,” said Taj Safi, the head engineer for one of the groups of schools being built, which are categorized as bundles. “In factories, the machines could not run without [having] light, but if we use generators it costs too much and many people could not afford it.”

“Solar panels ended up being an easier solution for everybody,” added Toliver, who is from Pittsburgh, Pa., and graduated from the Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering.

Though easier in some ways, installing electricity in a province where many villagers still live by candlelight presents its own unique set of challenges. There are very few electricians here and the contractors who do not already have electrical engineers on staff are required to bring one in.

“The way the contract works is (the construction company) has to use a majority of local labor,” explained Toliver. “So if I own a company and I hire a whole bunch of local laborers who do not have electricity in their homes and have not done any type of real safe wiring before, that’s the biggest challenge. But the reward is to have them be involved; just getting them that knowledge is helping them.”

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Brandon Toliver, an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers assigned to the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team and a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., looks at a water pump that will provide running water at the Donai School here Aug. 11. Donai and many of the future schools in the province are slated to use alternative sources of energy, such as solar power as well as have running water. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb, Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs)The electrical laborers get training from both the PRT engineers as well as the site supervisors. The most common issue is the laborers are not used to running their wires through the wall and instead, connect everything directly to the power source. They do not use panel boxes or breakers.

“They’re not really thinking about the overall scheme of things,” said Toliver. “It’s very dangerous.”

Wiring of this kind can often cause fires or get people electrocuted. Another struggle, Toliver explained, is getting the workers to understand that specific wires can only handle a maximum amount of voltage.

The engineers conduct quality assurance and control checks on the schools at a minimum of every three weeks to ensure the projects are built to an acceptable standard so the Afghan people will have a safe and efficient structure. They also supplement their quality checks by reviewing photographs submitted by the contractor.

Further challenges are teaching equipment maintenance and the importance of regular upkeep. This was a valuable lesson learned the hard way at the Badad Kalay School where the system ultimately failed because the school maintenance did not know how to sustain the solar panels.

“In addition to proper installation, it is just as vital to properly educate future occupants of the schools about the necessary maintenance of solar panels,” Toliver said. “Fortunately, the knowledge from the Badad Kalay project is being applied to the school bundles to ensure these types of issues are less likely to occur.”

Though the engineers are doing their part to help, they emphasize to the villages that the long term affects of these projects, like the future of Afghanistan, lies in the hands of the Afghan people. The hope is that in the end, the solar paneling techniques the laborers learn will not just illuminate children’s classrooms, but eventually shed light on a whole village.

“After fitting [solar systems] in these schools, the electrical workers will be able to fit these systems in the local sector and utilize the sunlight for electricity and earn more money this way,” said Safi.

In the Lahor Dag School, classes have already started in the building with eager students sitting on the floor, even though the roof has not been finished.

“The children are excited, and as the construction gets closer to being finished it becomes more difficult to keep them away,” said Toliver. “They’re very hungry for knowledge.”

Soon the project will be complete, and 12 more schools are soon to follow. Yet as the engineers continue to rotate in and out, this group will always know they have left a light on for the children of Kunar.

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Members of the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team inspect the Lahor Dag School here Aug. 12. The school is the next in the province scheduled to open and will be equipped with solar panels for electricity. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb, Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 September 2010 17:42


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