Story and photo by Spc. Aaron Ellerman
1st Sustainment Command (Theater) Public Affairs
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan— It’s 10 a.m here at the 489th Engineer Battalion’s wood shop. A morning ray of sunlight shines through the sawdust covered windowsill illuminating a giant metal toothed wood eater in the center of the room. By this time of day clouds of sawdust have began to cling in the air floating amongst the clamor of saws, drills, sanders, routers and other tools being used by the seven Soldiers busily working here.
“The woodshop has been a tremendous asset to us they’ve worked hard on projects for several different units,” said Lt. Col. Leslie Templin commander of the 489th Engineer Battalion.
Walking through the base here, chances are, one will see the carpentry work of the 489th Engineer Battalion woodshop which is one of few, if not the only, Army woodshop in Afghanistan. With orders coming in regularly from units via telephone and walk-inns, the shop stays constantly busy. Soldiers here have crafted products of all shapes and sizes, ranging from ordinary to ornate, for units throughout the country. Everything they make is designed and built from scratch specifically to fit the needs of the customer.
“I enjoy working here the steady pace and workload keep us busy and makes the time go by,” said Spc. Robert Troop, a carpentry and masonry specialist with the 760th Engineer Company out of Marion, Va.
“I love when I walk around the base and see my work and take pride in knowing I made that,” said Spc. Laquan Johnson a carpentry and masonry specialist with the 760th.
The conditions of the drawdown and local environment have an immense impact on military operations and the wood shop is no exception. By reusing wood from past projects, recycling wood from the local sort yards, and making sure through precise planning and precision only what is needed is used, the shop is able to create useful and beautiful pieces of carpentry from virtually nothing.
“One of the biggest challenges we face here at the shop is getting the wood and materials we need,” said Warrant Officer 1 Randy Jones, officer in charge of the 489th woodshop operations. Since the ordering process has slowed down due to the withdrawal we have had to improvise but that’s part of being in the Army adapting and overcoming,” said Jones.
Jones, an Asheville, N.C. native, stated that the shop greatly values the neighboring units, who they sometimes depend on, to donate any wood or materials they may have. He also says he visits the local sort yards to salvage any wood coming in from deconstruction and other venues.
Despite lacking some resources at times, the shops atmosphere is robust and inviting emphasizing safety and work ethic.
“The atmosphere is great here someone is always there to lend a hand if you need help,” said Spc. Eric Pack a carpentry and masonry specialist with the 760th Engineer Company.
“I knew a lot coming here from past experiences but working in this shop I have learned ways to do things more efficiently and safely,” said Pfc. Christopher Carter a carpentry and masonry specialist with the 1223rd Engineer Company
Every soldier in the shop has had some sort of carpentry experience before this deployment and they each have a specialty duty they perform complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Johnson, a New York City native and union carpenter with the New York City district council of carpenters, specializes in installation work.
Spc. Christopher Fussell, a horizontal construction engineer with the 124th Engineer Company, works in his father’s woodshop in their hometown of Macon, Ga. Fussell is responsible for doing the majority of the design and detail work.
Working in the shop the soldiers have learned a great deal about life and carpentry.
“I have learned a lot about how to work as a team meeting new people and working as a tightly knit family,” said Fussell. I learn something new every day here, if not every other day.”
“Working in the shop has taught me how to be a better communicator and work at managing my time and effort more efficiently,” said Carter.
“Patience and perseverance were lessons I’ve learned through this deployment you need to have a lot of both especially when you’re working with intricate details and designs,” said Troop.
The soldiers are midway through their nine-month deployment and although they enjoy working here they say they are ready to get back to their families and put what they’ve learned here to use in their civilian jobs.
Johnson plans on eventually becoming a master carpenter and said he looks forward to learning everything he can about the trade.
Carter said he is glad he is a part of this and looks forward to going back to school and wants to build his own house.
“It’s great being out here doing my job everyday but I do look forward to heading home and taking my little girl to Disney world,” said Pack.