Expansion efforts are well under way as the majority of the 21,000 troops deploying to Afghanistan this summer will be concentrated in the southern region.
Leaders at every level are working around the clock to ensure basic infrastructure is in place to continue receiving troops in Kandahar before pushing them out to the forward operating bases, which are in various stages of development throughout the region.
“Every Forward Operating Base we construct will be expeditionary. Incoming troops will get the basics to maintain safety and do their missions,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa, during a battlefield circulation visit to the area May 1. “This expansion was meant to be austere.”
Savusa, the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan command sergeant major, said that translates to basic life support needs such as tents for sleeping and work space to setting up dining facilities, showers and toilets.
As FOB development continues, troops could remain in Kandahar for several weeks before deploying out to their final destinations throughout the summer months.
Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Schultz, the Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan Command Sergeant Major, said it’s all about expectation management.
He knows first-hand the importance of this as his own unit, the 143rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command was re-missioned from Kuwait to Afghanistan, and his command prepared the Soldiers for what they could expect when arriving in Kandahar.
“The reality of the life troops are going to have for the amount of time they are here [in Kandahar] is that it will be overcrowded,” Schultz said.
Depending on their expectations, troops can either be “pleasantly surprised that it’s not as bad as they expected or it’ll be exactly what they thought it would be like.” He added that MWR facilities such as gyms, small PXs and Internet cafes are being built as well to give troops a place to unwind and be positively engaged.
“The amount of U.S. troops coming in and the amount of space we’re trying to put them in is our biggest issue. It’s all dependent on the FOBs. We’re relying on a lot of contractors and a lot of other civilians to help build some of these FOBs. We can’t push them out if there is no life support.”
And it’s not just contractors who are doing the heavy lifting. The Navy Seabees, and the 4th Engineer Brigade which was just relocated from Iraq, are constructing buildings and life support systems all throughout the south.
The Marines are putting up the tents and setting up cots they’ve just received in preparation for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade that will soon arrive. They are also laying matting in the desert creating a landing pad for their fleet of helicopters.
Plans are in the works to develop USAF-approved landing strips for C-130s and other fixed wing aircraft at several locations. This is of vital importance for logistical support to the remote areas.
Resourcing the needs is the biggest issue at present all across the region, while supply systems are inundated with requests for everything from nails to electrical wire. Air-conditioning units for the sleep and work tents are also on order and will be a welcome site as temperatures in the south are already hovering in the high 90s most afternoons. Awaiting the arrival of those resources has caused some frustration while at the same time kept leaders engaged.
“There’s that point of frustration where we all learn and learn quick. We learn about each other, we learn about our mission, and we learn how to get along with each other because if we don’t we all fail with what we’re here to do to support our troops,” Savusa said.