Part III: The Test
By MC1 Class Patrick Gordon, NMCB 25 Public Affairs
Soldiers of the Afghan National Engineer Brigade (NEB) Specialty Kandak, responsible for bridge building and water well operations, construct a Mabey-Johnson bridge during the NEB field training exercise, Kabul Military Training Center, Afghanistan. Photos by MC1 Patrick Gordon
On a desolate stretch of road in northeastern Afghanistan, Chief Steelworker (SCW) Kevin Cassidy and Builder 1st Class (SCW) Craig Lawrence contemplate a problem: How do you get a village full of civilians across a flooded ravine? A few hundred yards away, Chief Utilitiesman (SCW) Samuel Beauchamp is assessing where a brigade of engineers and refugees are going to stay once the area is evacuated.
Luckily, these are problems of their own design, created for the benefit of the Afghan National Engineer Brigade (NEB).
The scenarios are part of the NEB’s field training exercise, the culmination of months of hands- on instruction with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 25. At the Kabul Military Training Center in Afghanistan, the NEB soldiers are proving their skills to their instructors and the Afghan National Army.
“We’ve been working with these guys for about seven months,” said Lawrence, part of the NMCB 25 Train, Advise and Assist (TAA) team responsible for bridge construction training. “They were at about phase two of training after working with [our predecessors] NMCB 28, but while they were familiar with bridge construction, they were unfamiliar with the other aspects of operations. So we trained them in planning, command and control, and leadership.”
A soldier of the NEB Specialty Kandak guides a Skytrak 11K pushing a Mabey-Johnson over a ravine during the Afghan National Engineer Brigade (NEB) field training exercise at Kabul Military Training Center, Afghanistan. The exercise was the culmination of seven months of training with the NEB, during which NMCB 25 trained Afghan engineers in vertical and horizontal construction, as well as bridging, water well and brigade operations.
Lawrence and the rest of Seabees involved in the TAA mission worked diligently ensuring that the NEB’s Construction Kandak, responsible for vertical and horizontal construction, and Specialty Kandak, responsible for bridging and water well operations, were qualified to respond should a disaster strike.
“So in addition to training them on functional skills, we trained the platoon commanders and had them plan and control a project at [their home base] Camp Ghazi before going anywhere else,” said Lawrence. “Once that was complete and we were confident in their abilities, we could get started on the tactical operations center exercise to put all of the training into practice. And it’s really great to see them in action; they’re doing all of the recon, planning and execution. We are strictly in an observational role right now.”
The exercise places the NEB in the center of a scenario they will likely face as the Afghan National Army’s (ANA’s) sole engineering and disaster response brigade: 250 civilians must be evacuated from a flooded village across a river with no functioning bridge. The need for the NEB is a serious one with earthquakes in Badakhshan Province and massive flooding in Baghlan Province in the past year alone that have affected local populations.
SWC (SCW) Kevin Cassidy (left) and UTC (SCW) Samuel Beauchamp, NMCB 25’s November Company, review tent construction with members of the Afghan National Engineer Brigade (NEB) Construction Kandak during the NEB field training exercise at Kabul Military Training Center, Afghanistan. The exercise was the culmination of seven months of training with the NEB, during which NMCB 25 trained the Afghan engineers in vertical and horizontal construction, as well as bridging, water well and brigade operations.
Getting to this point has been a unique challenge for all involved. The NEB is a new entity within the ANA that is still being staffed, trained and equipped. And many in the NEB came from different fields in the army and were brand new to engineering. Additionally, most of the Seabees had to adjust to being instructors after so many deployments where they were the ones completing construction projects. But after the initial growing pains of learning new positions, both the Seabees and the NEB excelled in their roles.
“The training has been going great,” said Cassidy, one of the instructors of the Specialty Kandak. “You can really see how [the NEB has] developed as a unit over the past few months, and where they really shine in their skillsets. They’re as good as we are at a lot of this stuff, and that really speaks to their skills as students and those of the instructors. I mean, these guys really want to be able to do this, and they’re proving that to us in this exercise.”
Over the course of several days, the NEB performed every aspect of a tactical operation. From recon, to planning, to execution, they utilized every skill taught by the Seabees to demonstrate their acumen as a viable engineering force within the ANA. According to NMCB 25 evaluators, the NEB soldiers adapted to every challenge presented, often thinking on their feet to accomplish goals within the allotted time frame.
“I think this was one of the best ways the Kandaks could have demonstrated their ability,” said Beauchamp, a Construction Kandak instructor and evaluator. “Bridging the ravine and leveling the surrounding area to create a base of operations were two of their main tasks, and they’ve done a great job. In the course of just a few days these NEB soldiers have been able to accomplish almost everything they’ve needed to.”
BU1 (SCW) Craig Lawrence, NMCB 25’s November Company, observes bridge building operations by the Afghan National Engineer Brigade (NEB) during the NEB field training exercise at Kabul Military Training Center, Afghanistan. The exercise was the culmination of seven months of training with the NEB, during which NMCB 25 trained the Afghan engineers in vertical and horizontal construction, as well as bridging, water well and brigade operations.
The exercise came to a close with the final push of a Mabey-Johnson bridge over a ravine, punctuated by the cheers of all the NEB soldiers involved. Observing the bridge emplacement were Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (IJC) commander, and Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, ANA chief of staff, eager to see the efforts of the Afghan engineers and the U.S. forces who trained them. After the exercise, Karimi expressed his pride in the NEB to the Specialty Kandak, and explained that the mission of the brigade would be a difficult but important one in the future of Afghanistan.
With the exercise complete, the instructors and evaluators of NMCB 25 close this chapter of their Afghan deployment, knowing that the expertise they’ve imparted will last long after their redeployment stateside.
“These guys have some of the best training anyone can offer,” said Lawrence. “We’ve pushed them to not only be proficient but proactive in their mission. Instead of being a strictly reactionary force, we’ve trained them in inspection and readiness so they can push out and pre-design solutions to existing infrastructure in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. And I think we’ve done a good job, bit by bit, training them.”
Sgt. Achmad Hussein, Afghan National Engineer Brigade (NEB) bridge master, shares a laugh with SWC (SCW) Kevin Cassidy, NMCB 25’s November Company chief, during the NEB field training exercise, Kabul Military Training Center, Afghanistan.
The student soldiers agree. After the bridge push, the NEB soldiers thanked Cassidy and Lawrence for all their support in building the Afghan engineers’ skills.
“This has been very good training for us,” said NEB Sgt. Achmad Hussein, NEB bridge master. “These seven months have taught us much for the future. Thanks to this training, and with the support of the [Afghan Ministry of Defense], we will be able to do our job anywhere very quickly.”