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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Afghanistan

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Soldiers with Hammers and Nails

December 9, 2010 - 2:14 PM | by: Mike Tobin

The old adage was that a military force can perform 2 functions: Kill people and Break things.  However, in preparation to deploy to Afghanistan, soldiers from the 3rd Brigade 1st Infantry division out of Fort Knox, in Kentucky are training to build things.

In addition to their infantry training, soldiers who volunteer are heading to the nearby Elizabethtown Community Technical College to get their certifications in Carpentry, Electrical work and Plumbing.  The first function of this is what the military calls “force protection”; taking care of your own guys.

Sadly, the US has lost forward deployed soldiers due to poor construction, particularly at the remote Forward Operating Bases where government contractors don’t travel and inspect the work. “Soldiers in the field have actually been killed because of electricity. We now have somebody who is certified to look at it and say, that is not right,” says LTC Dave Brown of the 201st Brigade Support Battalion.  Someone skilled at plumbing can make things more sanitary at the base a good carpenter can simply make life a little more safe and comfortable for the soldiers.

The soldiers will not limit their newly acquired trade skills to their own compounds. They will actively go out in the Afghan Villages and help the locals improve their construction and build to American standards of quality and safety. Specialist Charles King of the 1st Infantry Division says, “It’s a unique opportunity to be able to go over there and help the Afghani nationals to be able to improve their living conditions, maybe make it a little bit safer, a little more comfortable for them. You know, and in turn it gains some respect for us as well.”

Sgt Ivan Schafer, a Cavalry Scout who has already seen combat in Iraq, knows the importance of gaining respect and winning support from the locals.  “Winning hearts and minds is paramount. I mean the Russians proved you can’t win it by brute force. Winning hearts and minds and having people desire you to be there at least in some regard is always important,” He says.  With the neighborhood on their side, they get less resistance and find the locals are more willing to tell them if trouble is headed their way.

There is a 3rd hidden benefit: When these soldiers get certified in one of these trades, the certification is a job skill that stays with them after they leave the Army. “One of the things I preach to my soldiers is: Use the army to better yourself and your lives. This is one of those opportunities. They’ll have this knowledge and this certification for life,” Says LTC Brown.

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