Sgt. 1st Class Steve Brewer of Lincoln was involved in a major mission this February. Three days, a convoy of six trucks and five armored humvees, and a 30 mile round-trip to mud hut villages on the desolate ground outside Afghanistan's capitol city of Kabul. A long, rough drive on bad roads where roadside bombs are a concern. But for Brewer and his fellow Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers from the 1-134th Cavalry, the mission and their cargo were worth the effort.
"It was about right around 50,000 to 60,000 pounds of food and clothing," Brewer says. "It was set up for four villages out there. Two of the villages had never seen American forces since we've been here for 11 years. Never seen help."
Several hundred soldiers from the 1-134th Cavalry have been involved with projects like this since arriving in Afghanistan last November. The projects come in two different forms. Capt. Jeremy Szynskie helps manage both. "One is CERP, the commander's emergency response program," says Szynskie, who lives in Omaha. "And within that, we have the construction program where we can build schools, wells, renovate schools, build security walls or roads to help the civilian population. And then the other side of it is the humanitarian assistance. Food, clothing, and household items such as tarps, even coal stoves, soccer balls, some of those types of things."
It's a multi-million dollar, U.S. government funded endeavor. Right now Nebraska soldiers are managing about 30 of the emergency construction projects, as well as several humanitarian efforts. This means working with local Afghan officials in and around the city of Kabul, and overseeing the work of local contractors, especially on the large construction projects. At the same time they're reviewing needs and proposals for future projects.
"Preparing the scope of work. Preparing the contract documents, meeting with the village elders, and some of the ministry officials to get everything in order," says Szynskie, who in the civilian world manages levy repair projects for the Army Corps of Engineers. "So it's a combination of checking on current projects that are under construction and scoping projects that are coming up as well."
This is not the main mission for the Nebraska soldiers in Afghanistan. Their primary job is mentoring Afghan police and other security forces. But Szynskie says it's important for the Army to be involved in this other aspect of rebuilding the war-torn country. "People that are more educated, people that have food available or have access to clean water are much more likely to turn towards the legitimate government of Afghanistan for assistance and less likely to turn towards the enemy for assistance, and our situation is much more friendly towards us and the security situation is improved," he says."
This type of work is different for the battle-tested soldiers of the 1-134th Cavalry. They're trained for combat, something many experienced daily during previous deployments, especially in Iraq. Brewer, a former sniper on his third deployment, says his men have adapted to this different kind of mission.
"Every time I've gone to war before, it was to go, you know, I went after the enemy head first," Brewer says. "You know, I went into the battle as a fighter and now I'm coming into this thing to help these people and shake their hands and see what I can do for this country without having to pull the trigger and it's working for me. It's working for us. All these Nebraska boys are coming here and they're working their hearts out and we're seeing change."
And when instead of pulling a trigger, Brewer's helping truck 50,000 pounds of food and clothing to remote villages, the work is rewarding. "It was a great feeling to see a family that has 10 kids that are under the age of five that are coming up there to carry their bag, their 10-pound bag of rice out and you know, they were just as happy as they could be," he says."
"I haven't been hit, shot at or even flipped-off since I've been here," Brewer adds. "These people honestly respect me and my men for the work we've put into it."
NEBRASKANS BEFORE THE BATTLE: SOLDIERS AND FAMILIES PREPARE FOR WAR
Learn how Nebraska soldiers currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan trained for their missions. Visit the web site for the NET News "Before the Battle" documentary project.