Soldiers put their skills to constructive use

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Written by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment Monday, 07 June 2010 23:44

 

LAGHMAN PROVINCE - U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shaun M. Thomas of Stafford, Conn., mortar section leader with Company B, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Iron Gray, carries a support beam across the construction site of a new living quarters hut at Combat Outpost Najil in eastern Afghanistan's Laghman province. His civilian job is assistant construction manager for a firm that builds hotels. The Connecticut National Guard unit has put the civilian skills of its Soldiers to work helping build up the base during their spare time, thereby allowing U.S. Army engineering assets to be used elsewhere. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Alex W. Seretny always has a second sidearm hanging off his pistol holster – an 8-inch, adjustable crescent wrench.

 LAGHMAN PROVINCE - From left, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shaun M. Thomas of Stafford, Conn., and U.S. Army Sgt Daniel J. Parreira of Newington, Conn., with Company B, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Iron Gray, use a line to ensure the flooring of a new living quarters hut will be level May 28. Both men work in similar fields in the civilian world -- Thomas is an assistant construction manager for a firm that builds hotels while Parreira remodels and fixes homes. The Connecticut National Guard unit has put the civilian skills of its Soldiers to work helping build up the base during their spare time, thereby allowing U.S. Army engineering assets to be used elsewhere. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)LAGHMAN PROVINCE - From left, U.S. Army Spc. Forrest J. Scott of Putnam, Conn., and U.S. Army Sgt Daniel J. Parreira of Newington, Conn., with Company B, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Iron Gray, align a beam for the foundation of a new hut at Combat Outpost Najil in eastern Afghanistan's Laghman province. The men previously worked together in a civilian construction company and have teamed back up during this deployment to work on construction projects during their free time. The Connecticut National Guard unit has put the civilian skills of its Soldiers to work helping build up the base, thereby allowing U.S. Army engineering assets to be used elsewhere. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)LAGHMAN PROVINCE - From left, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shaun M. Thomas of Stafford, Conn., and U.S. Army Sgt Daniel J. Parreira of Newington, Conn., with Company B, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Iron Gray, use a line to ensure the flooring of a new living quarters hut will be level May 28. Both men work in similar fields in the civilian word -- Thomas is an assistant construction manager for a firm that builds hotels while Parreira remodels and fixes homes. The Connecticut National Guard unit has put the civilian skills of its Soldiers to work helping build up the base during their spare time, thereby allowing U.S. Army engineering assets to be used elsewhere. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)“I use it absolutely every single day,” the squad leader from Hampton, Conn., said. “It’s a combat tool … It’s saved the day more than once.”

Seretny and other Soldiers with Company B, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Iron Gray, have used their civilian talents almost as regularly as their combat training since arriving at Combat Outpost Najil in eastern Afghanistan’s Laghman province.

During one recent mission, Seretny not only repaired a stalled vehicle in the field, but also used his knowledge of pulley systems to free a stuck heavy expanded mobility tactical truck – thus allowing a supply convoy to continue without having to send for a recovery vehicle.

“The biggest asset the National Guard brings to theater is the civilian skill set of the Soldiers,” U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Greg J. Lebeau of Wolcott, Conn., said, noting the presence of plumbers, carpenters, electricians and heavy equipment operators in his unit. “Not only are we a full infantry company, but (we are) basically a construction crew at the same time.”

This has translated to the Connecticut unit building reinforced fighting positions, latrines and even additional living quarters on the tall hillside they occupy with Afghan National Army forces.

Normally, U.S. Army engineers would provide such improvements. But their help is not always readily available, stretched as it is among bases throughout the region. By regularly taking on the work themselves, the Soldiers free the engineers to be used elsewhere, Lebeau said.

“We also put our own little extra pride in it, as well as expediting all the projects,” he said. “The quicker we get it done, the more time we can spend training the ANA … Our battalion is great about pushing us the materials we need to do the projects.”

The men in his unit don’t lack expertise.

U.S. Army Sgt Daniel J. Parreira of Newington, Conn., previously hired U.S. Army Spc. Forrest J. Scott of Putnam, Conn., to work with him at his civilian construction company. Since they have teamed back up during this deployment, everyone now refers to them as “The Dirt Brothers.”

Parreira has done construction for a dozen years, including house remodelling and high-end cabinet work. Afghanistan has provided challenges for his skills.


“You have to get really creative,” he said. “It’s tough going from million-dollar homes to building huts from plywood.”

The work doesn’t take place of combat patrols and regular duties, but Seretny, Parreira and Scott all agree the enjoyment they get makes it worth their spare time. Each of them brought their personal tools for the deployment and has provided them for the unit’s use.

“It’s fun. It makes the day go by quicker,” Scott said after spending the day helping build the floor of a new hut to house visitors to the base. “You almost forget you’re in Afghanistan.”

Lebeau noted he sometimes has to stop Seretny from spending too much time on various projects and remind him to get meals as well as a proper amount of sleep.

 

“We’re good at it. We’re quick … and we like doing it.” Seretny said of himself and the Dirt Brothers. “This is our (recreation).”

Seretny, who works for his town’s highway department as a foreman and jack-of-all-trades, is a self-taught mechanic who drove a bulldozer around his family farm even before he was old enough for a driver’s license.

An armored bulldozer is his vehicle of choice at Najil, where it has been used to expand the base landing zone, level ground for a shower facility and rework the road leading to the base’s highest watchtower.

Some projects have been more unusual. When high winds knocked down the latrine at the watchtower, Parreira spent three days rebuilding it.

He also customized the latrine by adding recliner armrests, a cupholder and a swing arm mount for a M-240B machine gun.

“I got carried away with it,” Parreira said, smiling.

Others in the unit pitch in for the larger projects. Together they have built a loading dock for trucks, worked a series of drainage projects to prevent water from flooding some of the buildings and remodelled a storage shed into a living area.

“If they don’t have a piece of equipment to do the job, the first thing they do is build the piece of equipment and then do the job,” Lebeau said, noting his men complete their construction tasks faster than any deadline set. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

As more materials roll in, the unit is planning more developments for the base, including the construction of a motor pool and maintenance bay.

“I’ll be on that ‘dozer until the day I leave,’” Seretny said.

And while it serves as creative relaxation for many, the outcome can be just as enjoyable as the work itself.

“After you build it, you get the same satisfaction,” Parreira said. “You can look at it and say I did that.”

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 June 2010 11:02