Airmen at Bagram Move From Tents to Huts
By Staff Sgt. Russell Wicke, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM, Oct. 23, 2003 Airmen here are moving from their temper tents into wooden structures called B-huts.
An Afghan worker uses a hand saw to cut a plank inside a "B-hut" under construction at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. The huts will replace temper tents for base airmen's living quarters. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Wicke
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"These semi-permanent timber structures are replacing our tents, which have exceeded their life expectancy in this harsh environment," said Capt. Trey Sledge, 455th Expeditionary Support Squadron Civil Engineer Flight commander, deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
Sledge said the huts improve living standards, and building them is cheaper than replacing the tents.
"These huts are designed to last three to four years," said Sledge. "After that, military operations are expected to move to the other side of the runway, where more permanent structures will be put up."
The introduction of B-huts to the Air Force Village here offers significant improvement in multiple areas. According to Command Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth McQuiston, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, also deployed from Spangdahlem, the eight-section temper tents being replaced held 16 to 24 airmen. The new B-huts hold eight occupants, enabling more personal living space, he said.
But because space is limited in Air Force Village, Sledge said some airmen are being double bunked temporarily to empty some tents to make room for hut construction.
Not only will living space be larger, but conditions will also be more comfortable thanks to hard, insulated walls, McQuiston said.
"They will be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter," he said, adding that the timber walls will offer more than climate control.
"The biggest advantage of these huts vs. tents is the wind factor," said Sledge. "When the wind starts blowing hard, the tent fly and walls are whipped around, creating a lot of noise and vibration." High winds salted with dust are featured nearly every day at Bagram. "But we'll also be able to put up shelves and hang pictures to personalize the space," he added.
"This will be a huge morale boost once we get everyone in huts," said Lt. Col. John Doherty, 455th Expeditionary Services Squadron commander, deployed from the Pentagon. "Each person is expected to have their own enclosed section by the end of December."
Building the huts also offers jobs to the local community.
"The base is contracting the job out to (local workers) to provide more employment for third-country nationals," said McQuiston.
"The American way of business is not to conquer countries," said Doherty, "but to come in and achieve our national objectives, which in this case is getting rid of terrorists, and then leave the country in better condition than we found it. Contracting out these jobs is not only a way to improve the economy, but it also sows the seeds of democracy."
Airmen are witnessing a different type of construction. Although electricity is available to the workers on base, the Afghan carpenters erect all the timber structures with hand tools only.
"That's their method of construction," said Sledge. "It's the way they're used to doing it."
But allowing local nationals access to the base can be a dangerous situation if it is not handled with tight security. Most al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists blend right in with the local population.
Staff Sgt. Kristin Bunn, who is deployed from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., as the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group noncommissioned officer in charge of force protection security, said the Afghan carpenters must go through five security checkpoints before they can even get through the gate. Even items such as small mirrors are forbidden, to prevent signalling from inside the base.
Once on base, security doesn't lighten up. Airmen escort the contracted carpenters as long as they're working on the installation.
"It is a requirement to have at least one guard for every ten workers." Bunn said keeping accountability of all the workers is a heavy responsibility. "A lot of people look at us like we're working at the bottom of the barrel, but if we fail at our job, someone could get hurt or killed," she said.
"I think the TCN escorts are our unsung heroes in the B-hut construction effort," said Doherty. "It's an underrated position, but very critical. Escorts allow the construction to go on without threat to other service members so the mission can be accomplished."
Before construction even started, however, the Air Force was working with the Army on a new design for these B-huts, said Master Sgt. Robert Miller, 455th ESS engineering superintendent deployed from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. "We wanted upgraded huts from what the Army was using," said Miller.
The new design features larger living quarters with higher walls and screened windows, said McQuiston.
"Now, our new design for B-huts has been adopted by the Army and the rest of the coalition," said Miller. "It's been a long process so far, but it will be worth the wait."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Russell Wicke is assigned to 455th Expeditionary Operations Group public affairs.)