NEWS | Sept. 11, 2017

Memories and Milestones, Building Foundations in Afghanistan

By Catherine Lowrey

The days generally go by unnoticed on deployments. Counted but rarely named. The dates matter only on the administrative side. The days simply a flow of work to be done and time hacks to meet. 

But in Bagram, today, the date is not only known, it is deeply felt. 

For the Soldiers and Civilians of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Transatlantic Afghanistan District stationed at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, the swift pace of the day continues but memories shadow the steps.

Col. Kimberly Colloton, USACE TAA district commander attended a 9/11 ceremony today along with her command team. 

“I think of last year during 9/11, I was working at the pentagon,’ Colloton said. “I didn’t know I’d be here today, in Afghanistan, observing a moment of silence. 

It hit me hard that we’re still at this and so many around me have been called to serve over the last 16 years because of the events of 9/11, not only Soldiers and service members, but there are so many dedicated civilians working in the Corps of Engineers.” 

The District, as they are called locally, have a mission vital to the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. 

“We deliver vital engineering solutions, in collaboration with partners including local Afghan companies as well as other construction companies from around the globe, to provide quality infrastructure and enable the Afghans to grow a more capable and professional fighting force,” said Colloton. 

The Day of Remembrance for 9/11 gives each individual on this mission a chance to look back at what they have done, what they have endured, and why they continue to do it. 

For Command Sgt. Maj. Chad Blansett, USACE TAA senior enlisted advisor, the loss of Soldiers from his Afghanistan tour in 2007 makes this day especially deep in meaning. 

“On September 11, 2001, I was in Germany walking through our motor pool in the 94th Engineering Battalion. My wife called me and said hey you’re going to war,” said Blansett.

“Then on a deployment here in Afghanistan in 2010, I lost five Soldiers during route clearing operations. There are five Gold Star Families I remember on a daily basis,” Blansett continued.

“Seeing how it is now verses how it was seven years ago and knowing that the Afghans are on the right track to peace is reassuring. They are taking the fight to the enemy in hopes of making this world a better place keeps those souls that were lost in 2010 from being in vain,” Blansett said. 

The foundations of The District were laid in October 2001. Their history born from the aftermath of September 11. 

The USACE TAA history states, “In October 2001, the United States and its Coalition partners sent military forces into Afghanistan with the goal of displacing the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, ousting the Taliban government, and establishing a new Afghan central government.

In a country wracked by decades of war, the fledgling government needed the Afghan National Security Force to secure internal peace and stability. But if Afghanistan was to build a new army, it would need adequate facilities to support its new fighting force.

By the fall of 2002, it became clear that the renovation and construction support facilities would be the pacing factor in the expansion of the Afghan National Army.

Bryan Eck, USACE TAA J2 Intelligence Chief, was a senior in high school on 9/11. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he is now deployed to Bagram and continues to serve in a civilian capacity. 

“I have continued serving my country because I have a strong sense of wanting to protect my family and the values of the country that I live in and love.” 

“I believe the work we are doing here is helping us ensure the safety and security of not only our families today but for future generations so that something that tragic and that catastrophic doesn’t happen again,” said Eck. 

“As USACE enters its 16th year, the impact of the mission is evident in every province in Afghanistan. USACE has assisted Regional Commands in the standup of the Afghan Nation Army and Afghan National Police force, has rebuilt infrastructure, and has nurtured people and institutions in a country that was in ruins when the first members of the Afghanistan Area Office arrived in 2002,” the history continues.

The growth of the district reflected the progressively larger role that the U.S. and Coalition forces have played in bringing peace and stability to this battered country.

While the number of U.S. troops has drastically drawn down, and their mission has transitioned to that of Train, Advise and Assist – the Corps is still working hard to improve infrastructure, support military operations, and improve the Afghan quality of life. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Transatlantic Afghanistan District continues to play a vital role in international efforts to establish a secure and stable Afghanistan. Since 2002, USACE has managed a $10.8 billion construction program, and to date has completed 1275 projects valued at more than $8.8 billion in construction.”

It cannot be said better, nor felt deeper, than by those who built the milestones and hold on dearly to the memories of why The District continues the pace of its mission on a day that passes no one unnoticed. 

Carey Grubbs, a U.S. Army veteran who now works for USACE TAA as the deputy chief of J3, served three tours of duty in Iraq before coming to Afghanistan as a civilian employee. 

“I was a sophomore in college and I remember watching the second plane fly into the world trade center on T.V.,” Grubbs said, “after serving as an Army officer, I wanted to come back and continue supporting the war fighters in Afghanistan, keep the USACE TAA mission going, continue keeping people safe.” 

The thousands of dedicated military and civilians who have deployed to Afghanistan have enhanced USACE’s reputation for professionalism and expertise. 

No one knows what the future of The District will look like, how long it will last, or what missions it may undertake. But the goal of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers remains the same – to enable the vision of a secure, self-reliant, and successful Afghanistan.