Engineer helps squadron prepare for Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Megan Just
  • 452nd Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
As 22 combat engineers from the the 452nd Civil Engineer Squadron prepared to deploy throughout southern and eastern Afghanistan recently, one Airman stepped up to ensure they were ready for the job at hand.

Knowing his experience on a similar deployment would be an asset to the deployers, Capt. David Simons Jr., the chief of operations with the 452nd CES, volunteered to serve on active-duty orders to ensure the logistics of the squadron's deployment preparation ran smoothly.

Embedded with Army units at six locations, the deployed engineers have an opportunity to directly impact the living conditions of troops and improve the quality of life for Afghans in villages nearby.

"I've been very impressed and proud of these Airmen and their determination," said Captain Simons, who returned from a deployment to Afghanistan in the fall of 2010. "I can see it in their eyes. They want to go over there and make a difference.

"Because of what we do and our skill sets, we can affect people's lives in ways that go on and on for generations," he added.

As the father of three young girls, Captain Simons felt most connected with the youngest generation of Afghans, the children he would see playing in the streets as his convoy drove through villages. He said it was heartbreaking to know the children's only source of water was from ditches, rivers and shallow wells that were contaminated with high counts of cholera bacteria from fecal matter and urine, and frequently tainted with improperly disposed engine oil.

However, being engineers, when Captain Simons and his team would drill 1,800-meter wells for the forward operating bases, they were sometimes able to divert a portion of the clean water to local villages. Some of the Airmen who are currently deployed will have the opportunity to build wells like these directly inside the Afghan villages.

"Thirty years from now, it will be my children's responsibility to work with these children on a global scale," he said. "We have the opportunity to make the (Afghan) children's lives better. This will help them grow up healthy and educated, making it easier for the next generation of Americans."

During his deployment, Captain Simons and his team built seven new forward operating bases and combat outposts and helped bring up to standard the infrastructure of countless outposts by installing wells, plumbing, electricity, roads and bridges.

"What I've found with a lot of forward operating bases that have been established, is they were done utilizing expedient methods, usually converting old Russian bases," he said. "They weren't done with thoughts of waste, sanitary sewer issues and water."

The 452nd CES combat engineers who are currently deployed are responsible for similar projects in some of the same remote, and often hostile, regions of Afghanistan.

"It's always a high ops tempo," Captain Simons said. "You always have to be thinking four or five steps ahead, especially when it comes to what the enemy is doing and how are you going to stay safe. Then, you're still expected to go out and do your job, which along with holding a weapon and walking around a city, includes doing such things as plumbing, electrical, (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), and surveying."

Captain Simons estimates he spent 75 percent of his deployment outside the wire, and his team frequently encountered small-arms fire, improvised explosive devices, and mortars and rocket propelled grenades. Sometimes, when there wasn't enough daylight to return to a forward operating base after a day's work, Captain Simons' team would set up watches and sleep under the stars.

"We're taking ordinary Airmen ... and putting them in extraordinary situations, expecting them to fight and still do their job," he said about the engineers who are currently deployed. "They're going to excel at this."

Captain Simons helped the engineers before deployment by showing them photos and videos of his deployment and talking with them about what to expect.

"Almost all of them had never deployed before and many of them were apprehensive," he said. "Once they knew more about what to expect, they were excited to be able to help the fight."

(Staff Sgt. Kimberly Hickey, of 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this story)