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Civil engineers keep Bagram's airfield in shape

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- Before the runway gets potholes large enough to swallow an airplane, the members of the 455th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Element ensure the pilots have a smooth ride when they land.

The CE element, a Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force made up of nearly 20 people from four different CE units from Langley Air Force Base, Va.; Robins AFB, Ga.; Shaw AFB, S.C.; and Bolling AFB, D.C., arrived three months ago and began work toward making the air field livable for the planes which use it on a daily basis.

"We helped the Red Horse unit replace more than 500 slabs and (repair) more than 2,000 (damaged slabs)," said 1st Lt. Jason Williams, officer in charge of the element. "We did a lot."

The element, though primarily an airfield maintenance unit, also assisted the servicemembers deployed here with a variety of everyday maintenance tasks. Projects such as the tower renovation, the shower facility and pouring stone throughout living area were undertaken by the element.

One recent project has the potential to change the mission capability of Bagram's air field, Williams said.

"We installed an emergency lighting system on the runway, allowing the air field to be able to go from covert -- aircraft landing with no visible lights -- to overt -- landing with a lighted runway," he said.

While the lighting system has potential for full-time use, the lieutenant said it is primarily for use when necessary.

For the lieutenant, currently on his first deployment, the time spent at Bagram has afforded him opportunities he would not have otherwise had back in the states or even in some other deployed locations.

"We've had to do a lot, in terms of actually building up the base, that you wouldn't have to do in other forward locations," Williams said. "It's a mark of pride when we go back home, a definite thumbs up."

Williams also said being at a base like Bagram makes him feel like his job actually matters toward the mission as a whole.

"We're helping to fight a war," he said.

Some members of Williams' unit, like Senior Airman Nathan Overgaauw, a pavement and equipment engineer, used the deployment to Bagram to learn more aspects of their job than they could back home.

"I learned about things from carpentry to electrical systems out here," Overgaauw said. "I've also learned to do my job better in terms of running the various types of equipment. I've never poured so much concrete in my life."

Overgaauw said he's enjoyed his time at Bagram because of the experiences he can take with him.

"It's wild seeing how people live out here," he said. "It's good to get to experience different cultures. Everyone is used to a certain way of life. Not many get to see the ways different cultures do things."

One of the highlights of this deployment, Overgaauw said, was getting to work closely with the Red Horse heavy construction team.

"Not many CE members get the opportunity to work too closely with Red Horse without actually being in the Red Horse unit," he said.

Among the CE element's many big projects is the A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft shelter and pad, built in approximately one month, where the A-10 maintainers can pull in a jet to work on it and stay out of the weather.

"We took care of business," Williams said.

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