Engineer or Teacher?

  • Published
  • By Capt. Brandon Rocker
  • PRT Kapisa
It has been five months since I arrived at Forward Operating Base Morales-Frazier. With this being my second deployment as an engineer and contracting officer representative it seemed to me that this would be a simple assignment, but I have since come to realize that being an engineer is not my sole responsibility as a member of this provincial reconstruction team.

The engineer office currently manages a $55.4 million construction program comprised of a 178 kilometer road, eight schools and two government facilities. On top of that we are developing eight new projects that focus on our goal to bolster the capacity and credibility of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and foster socioeconomic improvement. We also perform warranty inspections on all finalized construction projects on a quarterly basis up to a year after completion. Now you are probably saying to yourself, "sounds like an engineer, looks like an engineer, must be an engineer," and you would be correct. One of my jobs here is just that, to engineer and manage construction projects; however my primary job is to teach.

The United States has spent nine years in Afghanistan building everything from roads to hospitals. In Kapisa we have built enough roads to connect every district center with the provincial capital. We could spend another nine years building more roads, schools, hospitals, courthouses, bridges and government facilities and will have not have accomplished our overall mission without also mentoring. I recall the quote, "You can give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day or you can teach a man to fish and he'll eat forever." From the perspective of the engineer office, this is our goal. We want to teach the government of Kapisa how to properly manage, plan and construct projects.

How has the engineering office worked towards this goal? The short answer to this question is we mentor. We have offered classes to our construction contractors on how to properly submit a bid for a project. We show them the types of things we are looking for, including everything from how to put together a company informational packet that outlines their capabilities to providing us a detailed quality control plan. In other words, we teach them how to properly manage their projects.

Every time we go out to do a site visit we take the time to show our contractors where they have deficiencies and provide constructive feedback specifically addressing how they can fix the issues. If we do not take the time to teach them how to fix their deficiencies, then we continuously see the same problems over and over again. By mentoring them on better construction methods and explaining the reasoning behind our engineering standards, the local community ends up with a quality product and the contractor ultimately learns better building practices that can be implemented throughout future construction initiatives.

We also teach them how to submit proper drawings and weekly reports. Weekly reports alone have been one of our biggest challenges. It has taken many iterations and multiple meetings to teach our contractors how to create a detailed report and why it is important. Since the beginning of our deployment, we've discovered that contractors often like to discuss problems they experienced during projects that were coordinated with previous PRTs. However, without documentation, we're unable to know for certain if the claims are true, if they were previously resolved or whether or not the last PRT agreed to assist the contractor at all. By having detailed weekly reports we have a record that both parties can use to document the history of each project. It's extremely beneficial for everyone involved.

As engineers, we also work closely with the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Education, Health, Justice and Public Works. Once a project is constructed there is a lot of work that goes into maintaining it. If not properly maintained the facility will eventually degrade and become unsafe and/or unusable. This is why we teach the ministries how to perform proper quality assurance and quality control for projects in their province. We also incorporate them in every step of the process from creating the project documentation to implementing and constructing the project. By doing this they fully understand what they are getting and how the facility will be constructed. It also allows them to start creating their own project packages for future construction plans.

As you can see, while I am an engineer for PRT Kapisa I serve more as a mentor to Kapisa government officials. Managing a construction project is tough, but teaching others to manage, execute and plan their own construction initiatives is a greater challenge, but rewarding. We have made great strides in the last five months and are very excited for additional opportunities in the future that will allow us to continue to teach and share our knowledge as well as learn from the people of Afghanistan and GIRoA.