The significance of a road: dispatch from Afghanistan
WINSTED — As the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan passed last month, there was little fanfare around the world. An achievement of victory in the war-torn nation seems as elusive as ever, with brutal Taliban attacks still occurring frequently and civilians suffering from poverty and lack of health care. The tragedy of the conflict was underscored Saturday, Oct. 28, when a suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy, killing 17 people, including 12 Americans.But despite the ongoing struggle and many setbacks occurring throughout the nation, one service member from Winsted is sending news of progress. Maj. Aaron Angell of the United States Marines said in a recent email that members of his unit are improving the transportation infrastructure by building and maintaining modern roads that are replacing old trails that have developed naturally throughout the region.A member of the Marines for the past 14 years, Angell was promoted to major in July 2007 and will soon be up for review for promotion to lieutenant colonel. He’s stationed at Camp Leatherneck, the hub of military operations in the Helmland Province of Afghanistan, where the objective is to make the nation more stable and secure.In his most recent correspondence with The Winsted Journal, Angell said his troops are making a positive difference by replacing antiquated dirt roads with modern, paved throughways.“Before heading out here I knew that there were not too many roads,” he wrote. “More particularly, there are not too many improved roads. Books and articles have talked about how there is essentially one paved road in Afghanistan and that is the ring road that connects Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat. There are more in the cities just mentioned, but remarkably that is not far from the truth. Most of the ‘roads’ in Afghanistan can be illustrated with with a little kids playing soccer analogy. If you tell a team of 5- or 6-year-olds to run from one soccer goal to the other, they will get there, but all of them choose a different path to get there. Similarly, if you are driving from from Now Zad or Musa Qaleh on the west side side of the Helmand River to the capital of the Helmand Province, Lashkar Gah, the ‘road’ is a series of intertwining tire marked trails. There is no road as we would think of one.“Several months ago, a road was paved along Route 611 that connected Lashkar Gah along the famous ring road, Highway 1, to a town called Sangin, where not too long ago my cousin, Kyle, was conducting some significant combat operations and then providing security for the local population. Once paved, this road enabled increased opportunity for the local economy, as well as providing greater velocity to distribute logistics to military forces and movement of coalition and Afghanistan forces northward. Furthermore, this road provides a stepping stone to approach the Kajaki Dam, which controls the water flow for irrigation and provides hydroelectricity for the Helmand and Kandahar Provinces. With the road improvement, the local population has also been so appreciative of the greater access north and south that they are now helping to identify improvised explosive devices and insurgents because they want their own freedom of movement. They like the road.“Using this same philosophy of the ‘611 effect,’ we now have Marine combat engineers that are laying down an improved gravel road that is compacted and crowned appropriately to endure through even the annual rainy season that usually starts in December and lasts through the winter. The road improvement began in August and will continue still for some time. Already the portions that are complete are being used by the locals. In fact the District Governor of Gereshk recently visited our Marine engineers because he sees great potential in this road for future growth and access to areas to the north.”Angell noted that, in addition to being a dangerous mission, building a road in Afghanistan is often wrought with bureaucratic red tape.“Certainly there is great challenge in building any road,” he wrote. “In the states, a project like this would draw in construction engineers, construction companies, gravel and aggregate delivery companies and related quarries, as well as a whole bunch of orange cones and barriers. Here, it is a bit more complicated. Here, our combat engineers are pulling gravel from various sites and busting rock to a useable size. They are bringing their own water trucks, graders and compactors, all armored.“This is not a typical road construction job. They are receiving sniper fire. They are finding improvised explosive devices set by insurgents to disrupt military operations. To mitigate these threats, there are Marines and soldiers from other coalition forces armed with multiple weapon systems utilizing organic and even theater level assets to provide overwatch and react to enemy insurgent activity. They are also conducting deliberate operations to identify and clear improvised explosive devices for the force protection of our Marine engineers and the locals who are using the road. This is not a typical road construction job.“The endstate of this significantly sourced project is a durable road that has near-term and long-term impacts for dual use by coalition and Afghanistan forces and local economy and governance. That is the impact of a single road. My part in this project is to coordinate and synchronize all of those capabilities to establish efficiency in the road improvement while mitigating the threats of an enemy that does not want us there.”Angell noted that his aforementioned cousin Kyle’s efforts literally helped lay the groundwork for the new road.“To Kyle, the hard work and successes of your unit continue to pay off,” he wrote. “You would also be interested to know that there is now a bridge and fording site across the Helmand from Sangin to access west over to Shir Ghazay, Now Zad, Musa Qaleh. My hat is off to you for your blood and sweat.”Additional dispatches from Angell are expected in the coming weeks.