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Work Begins on Jalalabad Reconstruction Team Site

By Sgt. Greg Heath, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

JALALBAD, Afghanistan, Nov. 3, 2003 – With a little bit of luck and a landmine detour, the Combined Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force team based in Jalalabad found a good home recently for the future Provincial Reconstruction Team site in the eastern Afghan province of Nagarhar.

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Army Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Santos, an engineer at the burgeoning Jalalabad Provincial Reconstruction Team site, shows an Afghan interpreter the tools the team needs to buy from a local business. Photo by Sgt. Greg Heath, USA

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Work for the first proposed Jalalabad PRT site began in early October and had been scheduled to begin receiving civil assistance personnel in December. But the team hit a major roadblock when landmines were found on the premises.

Because of the landmines the task force team members had to find a new site -- and quickly. That's when they discovered a rundown, decades-old hotel inside an Afghan Ministry of Defense compound in Jalalabad.

The hotel had been neglected for years and was a former vacation spot for Russian soldiers. But his find couldn't have presented a better opportunity, according to Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Santos, PRT engineer for CJCMOTF Jalalabad.

Original plans had called for building the reconstruction team facility from scratch. But the new site had an infrastructure in place and would be much more cost effective, according to Santos, whose team had a $1.8 million budget for the project.

The CJCMOTF team saw unlimited potential in the site, but realized it would take a lot of work to make it livable. "We went into what was basically a ruin," said Sgt. 1st Class Lance Hinds, Jalalabad PRT noncommissioned officer in charge.

Years worth of garbage littered the rooms of the hotel. The Army team quickly recruited local Afghans workers, who helped with the transformation.

The workers cleaned out massive amounts of garbage in the first week and a half and began repainting the rooms, said Hinds. "Guys are working at about three times the speed of a construction company in the States," he said about the hardworking local Afghans crew.

"We couldn't do it without the locals," Hinds said, adding that along with hiring locals, the team also tries to get most construction supplies from local businesses. "The best part of our job is doing everything with the locals," he said.

When the Jalalabad PRT is finished, it will be able to accommodate more than 100 team members. "It might very well be the nicest facility in the country when it's done," Hinds said, expressing the team's pride in the site.

Santos agreed, adding that he can't wait to see the finished product. "I'm putting in an extension so I can see this all the way through," he said. "I want to watch this go all the way up."

(Sgt. Greg Heath is assigned to the 4th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution image. Two soldiers from the Jalalabad Combined Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force check out the newly painted dining area of the future Jalalabad Provincial Reconstruction Team. Photo by Sgt. Greg Heath, USA  
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