Story by Lance Cpl. Bryan Nygaard
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – The 25 combat engineers of 8 Troop, 39 Armored Engineer Squadron, are familiar with building sentry posts, checkpoints and other structures designed for war. However, they recently took a break from those types of projects to build something that will assist Afghan transportation and business.
The 39 AES, 24 Engineer Regiment, 3 Commando Brigade, finished construction of a bridge across the Nahr-e-Bughra Canal near the border of Nahr-e-Saraj and Nad ‘Ali, June 12.
The bridge, which is the largest to be built in Helmand province to date, is a logistics support bridge that is 4.2 meters wide, 45 meters long and can withstand traffic weighing more than 80 tons. The engineers of 29 AES completed the project in only six days, working close to 18 hours each day while wearing full body armor in temperatures reaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I am constantly impressed and humbled by the level of work and commitment those guys show in temperatures which get close to 60 degrees [Celsius] at times,” said Lt. Col. Leigh Tingey, commanding officer of 24 Engineer Regiment. “They’re there in body armor and helmets crackin’ on with the job. Very impressive stuff.”
Before the bridge was built, there was no major crossing of the NEB canal. Locals were forced to use a narrow tunnel that could only allow small vehicles such as motorcycles to pass through. The width of the bridge allows farmers who live on the southern side of the bridge to take their cattle, tractors and other vehicles to their farmland located on the northern side of the bridge with ease.
In addition to improving local commerce, the bridge also serves as a deterrent for insurgent forces trying to get into the community south of the bridge.
“We wanted to control the ingress and egress of the evolving protected community,” said Tingey, a native of North Devon, U.K. “The best way to do that is to keep a very close eye on who was moving into the protected community and who was leaving. By putting a checkpoint here and a bridge here, and by denying the tunnel that is down the canal, it absolutely denies them freedom to maneuver from the [farmland] to the protected community across the canal.”
The construction of the bridge was made possible by OMID HAFT, an operation co-coordinated by the 6th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army and Task Force Helmand’s 3 Commando Brigade. The purpose of the operation was to remove insurgents from the Kopak, Malgir and Loy Mandeh areas of the Nahr-e-Saranj District.
“The success of OMID HAFT has been essential in the part it has played in this bridge build,” said 2nd Lt. Tom Foote, 8 Troop commander, 39 AES. “The fact that this area is now secure means that we’re able to work freely, engage with the local nationals and really sell this bridge as a good point for them.”
During the construction of the bridge, Afghan soldiers provided security around the site, which allowed the engineers to focus solely on completing the bridge.
“The Afghan National Army has done a brilliant job,” said Sgt. Paul McGee, the reconnaissance sergeant for 8 Troop, 29 AES. “We’ve had complete freedom of movement around the bridge site and haven’t had to worry about security at all.”
Not only did the ANA provide security for the building of the bridge, they also built four vehicle checkpoints along Route Neptune, the road adjacent to the NEB Canal, and cleared the route of improvised explosive devices. Engineers with the 39 AES have been working alongside Afghan soldiers to teach them basic engineering skills.
The engineers hope to have the ANA soldiers prepared to build bridges of their own in the future.