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Sailors Take on Nontraditional Roles in Afghanistan

By Navy Lt. Neil Myers
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Aug. 29, 2008 – In a perfect world, military personnel on deployment always would be assigned to jobs within their specialties. But it’s not a perfect world, and some sailors assigned to provincial reconstruction teams are serving in general service positions, meaning prior military training is not required.

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Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Shawn Simmons, a ship’s serviceman from Sherman, Texas, stationed onboard the USS Kauffman in Norfolk, Va., installs a new cable on a satellite dish at Camp Wright, Afghanistan, Aug. 26, 2008. Courtesy photo
  

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With the robust nature of the PRT mission in Afghanistan’s Konar province, some sailors find themselves contributing to the mission in ways they never imagined.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Shawn Simmons, a ship’s serviceman from Sherman, Texas, stationed onboard the USS Kauffman in Norfolk, Va., is one such sailor. He was the ship's barber and storekeeper before he deployed to Afghanistan. Now, he is the PRT's computer network technician.

"I maintain the networks for PRT Konar and all units stationed at Camp Wright," said Simmons, who helps to manage the classified and unclassified intranet. He provides computer security and maintains the Internet access for the PRT. He also maintains Armed Forces Network, telephone and satellite systems.

"My PRT teammates call me the combat barber," said Simmons, who is also a licensed Humvee driver. He qualified as an expert marksman on the MK19 and 240B machine guns during pre-deployment training at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Johnson, an engineman from South Bend, Ind., is another such sailor. He is stationed at Little Creek, Va., onboard Landing Craft Assault Craft 85 and is a member of the hovercraft light crew.

Assigned to the PRT as a driver, Johnson spends his off-duty time fighting improvised explosive devices, the nemesis of drivers in the combat theater, as a counter-IED systems technician. He also maintains communications equipment.

"I learned [area communications] systems by reading the service manuals and [on the job training] from the field service representative,” Johnson said. “After about a month, I was ready to work on my own.”

Navy Chief Petty Officer Jeremy Andrews is Simmons’ and Johnson’s division chief. He runs the communications shop for the PRT. Andrews -- a reservist from Portland, Ore. -- works as a commercial airplane pilot when he’s not mobilized, flying out of a civilian airport in Texas.

"Back home, I'm a pilot for American Eagle,” Andrews said. “Here, I supervise sailors in a one-stop [information technology] shop.”

It is hardly a desk job, said Simmons, who together with Johnson augments PRT Konar's security force by driving Humvees and handling weapons.

"I'm always helping out wherever I can,” Simmons said. “I enjoyed being the ship's barber. Here, I was given the chance to work in IT, so I did it."

His fellow sailor agreed.

"I feel this job is important, and I'm glad I can help," Johnson said. "It motivates me knowing that what I do helps people to stay alive and contributes to the mission."

The capabilities these sailors provide allow Camp Wright to function as a regional IT support center, providing service to units from the surrounding areas. Andrews recalled a recent occasion in which this support proved crucial.

"A unit arrived at [5 a.m.] with a bad GPS system that rendered them mission incapable,” said Andrews. “After hours of troubleshooting, we identified the problem and reconfigured their GPS. They were excited and very thankful. Helping people - that’s what I love about this job."

And the PRT appreciates their contributions, the PRT commander said.

"I'm proud of the soldiers and sailors at PRT Konar,” Navy Cmdr. Daniel Dwyer said. “Many of them are working far outside where they normally work back at their home unit. They exhibit flexibility and commitment to helping the team and supporting the mission any way they can. I commend them for rising to the challenge."

(Navy Lt. Neil Myers serves with the Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team.)

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Related Sites:
Combined Joint Task Force 101
NATO International Security Assistance Force

Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Chief Petty Officer Jeremy Andrews, a reservist from Portland, Ore., gathers with a group of Afghan teenagers. In addition to his task of installing communication equipment, Andrews took time to foster relations with local villagers. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Johnson, an engineman from South Bend, Ind., prepares communications equipment in a Humvee prior to a mission in Asad Abad, Afghanistan, Aug. 27, 2008. Courtesy photo  
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