The Route to Democracy

					Fifteen hours is a tremendous barrier. It is the obstacle preventing one
village from attaining the assistance of another and surviving a drought.
It is the reason a trip to the hospital, or receiving an education,
aren’t realistic options. Fifteen hours is what stands in the way
of commerce between two provinces. It prevents communication between
neighbors only 80 kilometers apart. Fifteen hours is the reason for
isolation. Before Task Force Pacemaker began work, the drive between
Kandahar and Tarin-Kowt took fifteen hours. Upon completion of the road
it will take only three. The end of geographical isolation will be a new
beginning for hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan.
An international effort, the road connecting Tarin-kowt and Kandahar, or
theTK road, is a project involving the support of the United Nations,
Indian contractors, and United States Army troop labor. Construction of
the road has spanned fourteen months, 117 kilometers, two adjustments to
election dates, and two different Army Engineer rotations. Road
construction began during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) 5 with the
528th Engineer Battalion, out of Louisiana. They competed 46.5 kilometers
of road between July of 2004 and February of 2005. When TF Pacemaker took
over construction during OEF 6, they were told that the estimated
completion date for the TK road was early spring of 2006. Since assuming
the mission in April of 2005, Task Force Pacemaker has demonstrated a
need for speed and focus on the objective.
Road construction in theater involves route planning, surveying, jobsite
security, sustaining the flow of material and water, and continual
maintenance of heavy engineer equipment. It is best described as an
endurance sport; not for the faint of heart or the easily distracted.
Traditionally progress is made a few hundred meters at a time, using the
same methods and techniques every day. Efficient use of equipment crew
rotations, establishing and working from Forward Operating Bases (FOBs),
using material along the route, and relying on soldiers to adopt roles
outside of their military occupational specialties are some of the
techniques which TF Pacemaker has used to streamline the process. The
soldiers don’t view this road as just another project, and perhaps
that’s why they’ve been able to sustain such a furious pace.
TF Commander, LTC Paul Paolozzi explains that the attitude of his troops
stems from partially from their understanding of the mission’s
importance. “It’s inspiring to be a part of the long-term
success of this nation… I can’t think of a more permanent
and significant impact than making a road to connect people.” No
matter the source of their motivation, by mid-September, TF Pacemaker
will have completed a remarkable 70 kilometers of road work directly
through some of the toughest terrain Afghanistan has to offer.
To finalize the exact path, surveyors and a security team are sent ahead
of construction to determine which parts of the terrain best accommodate
the road. The climate and terrain of Afghanistan (thick dust, deep
waddis, and harsh weather) have presented many challenges. Often, designs
which looked good on paper, involve moving mountains on the ground. It is
critical to establish the projected route prior to entering any towns.
Soldiers must be able to articulate their intentions to the surrounding
locals, in particular the village elder, before barging through. There
are often different factions within a town and the path of the road has
been adjusted by mere feet to accommodate the wishes of local farmers.
1LT Brian Meister, the earth moving platoon leader of C/864th lists
civilians on the jobsite as the single biggest security challenge in the
south. “They are everywhere and impossible to keep entirely off.
The enemy is not easily identified, so anyone driving a pickup through
the jobsite could pose a potential risk.” 1LT Patrick Sullivan, the
earth moving platoon leader in A/864th has experienced the same type of
concerns on the northern effort.
While we were standing on the hill, looking down at the proposed route,
an audience began to form. The children came out first, and then the men
of the village... as the crowd grew larger… I began to get just a
little nervous. I told the captain who has been in the country for about
a year; he quickly turned around and began shaking hands with the crowd,
so I followed… It was an event that I will never forget. There are
some bad people in the area, but for the most part, the population is
tired of the last twenty years of war and corruption. They were just
happy to see the guys who were building them a road.
Road work is divided into three basic teams of heavy equipment operators.
The first team clears and grubs the area with dozers, taking off the top
layers of soil and pushing through hills or small plants. The dozers are
followed by a grader, which levels off the area. The next team raises the
sub-base with material harvested from the borrow pit, an area determined
to have the best material for use on the road. Dump trucks and scrapers
are used to put between 8 and 12 inches of material on top of the cleared
path. Graders then go over the path again to even out the road and start
putting on the crown, a slope off the center of the road for drainage.
Finally comes the finishing team. A water truck is used to wet the soil
so that the rollers can compact the material in a series of lifts. Once
complete, the soil dries and hardens into a road. In order to reach their
deadlines each day, all of these teams must work together at a steady
rate. As A/864th commander, CPT Chad Suitonu puts it, “It’s
not a question of if we will meet our goals; it’s a matter of
It is a continuous challenge to keep up the flow of water and material
for compaction. TF Pacemaker has relied on what they could harvest along
the way, setting up borrow pits as they move down the route and asking
local towns to share their wells. The standard for road construction is
twelve inches of the best available fill material on the existing grade
of the road. Attaining 95% compaction of that material is what makes a
road a road. Finding the right material is so critical to achieving
compaction that earthmovers have hauled over five kilometers in order to
continue use of particularly good fill. Earthmoving platoon leaders are
primarily responsible for scouting out these potential dig sites. 1LT
Sullivan compares finding the best material to digging for gold. It is
either buried somewhere, or covered with something, and you can never be
sure what you’ll find until you dig. The soldiers do their best to
identify areas with shale along the hillside. After they’ve
identified a potential site, they send a dig team to check it out.
“The stuff we’ve found so far that has worked best is a red
shale, it’s also been black…it’s a good material,
“said 1LT Sullivan, of the material being used in the north,”
It compacts very well, breaks up nicely; there’s not big chucks
after you roll it. It gives you a real nice, compacted, firm sub-
1LT Brian Meister, the earthmoving platoon leader in C/864th faces the
same challenge from the south. “Finding good material involves
identifying what soils provide optimal properties for constructing a road
that is both durable and smooth, “he says. Once the crews find a
material they think they can use, they send it out to be tested, which
takes about three days. Testing is done by Lewis Berger Group, an Indian
contracting company that has become one of TF Pacemaker’s greatest
allies. “Working with LBG has been great,” says CPT Stan
Wiechnik, the commander of C/926th,”They have built roads in third
world countries with similar geography and technical restrictions. They
have been a great asset to me to determine the best method of
construction and the best materials to use.” LBG weighs the mass of
material and compares it to material compacted to 100%. Once they gain
approval, the earth movers can scrape off the topsoil in that location
and open up a new pit; ideally close to the construction site. Finding
resources along the route just ahead of where the road crews are
currently working takes both luck and timing. TF Pacemaker’s
ability to consistently plan ahead and find that balance contributes to
their steady speed towards completion.
The leadership at Pacemaker is all about efficiency. With a few key
pieces of equipment driving the construction effort, maintenance is
critical; conducting regular checks and services on the vehicles are an
essential part of the work cycle. The Animals have supplemented their
earthmoving platoon with soldiers from headquarters and the vertical
platoons in order to have enough manpower to support two crew rotations.
The first team shows up at 0015 Zulu to begin preventative maintenance
checks and services (PMCS) of the equipment. They receive a safety brief
at 0040z and roll out the gate by 0100z to begin work on the road. They
operate for five and a half hours, from 0130z to 0700z. From 0700z-0715z
the operators of both teams conduct a fifteen minute shift change;
discussing any problems with the equipment and what remains to be
completed that day. When the first team returns, they eat lunch and do
another half hour of maintenance. Team two’s work day starts at
0500z, when they pull maintenance on any downed equipment. They receive
their safety brief at 0630z, eat lunch, and head to the jobsite to
conduct a shift change with team one. Team two works until 1430z. This
rotation schedule allows the Animals to get thirteen hours of work on the
road each day, and pull the necessary maintenance, without driving the
equipment operators into the ground. As CPT Suitonu tells me, “A
soldier can’t sit on a dozer twelve hours a day; seven hours is
okay though.”
TF Pacemaker began work on both ends of the road with A/864th and C/926th
in the North, C/864th in the south, and the support of HSC/864th in both
areas. It soon became apparent that to maximize time spent working on the
road, they would have to minimize travel time to the jobsite. The Task
Force would need to work from another start point; FOB Pacemaker. 1LT
Sara Cullen, executive officer of the Animals, explains that,” The
mission here is to provide a forward operating base between FOB Tiger and
FOB Ripley so that we can work from the middle towards completion of the
road… right now each location is commuting over an
hour…” Prior to occupation of Pacemaker, soldiers were
spending 90 minutes each way just getting to the jobsite, leaving
precious few hours of actual work on the road. Since the unit’s
jump to the FOB, their production rate has nearly doubled. The same
increase in efficiency is soon expected from the engineers at FOB Kodiak,
a new forward operating base to be occupied by C/864th.
The Alpha Company Animals built FOB Pacemaker from the moon dust up. A
big part of their mission included accounting for force protection in an
area new to US Military forces. The First Sergeant of A/864, 1SG Martin
Pullman, describes their first few days saying, “We didn’t
know if there was enemy in the area, so we had to assume that there was.
We had to balance between setting up force protection and pulling
security … using over watch positions allowed us to put the
maximum amount of effort on building the FOB itself.” In less than
two weeks, they were fully operational. Recently, FOB Pacemaker has
served another function; supporting combat arms operations in the area. A
small but steady flow of Special Forces and Infantrymen have benefited
from Pacemaker hospitality, enjoying a meal, shower, or place to rest
between missions. Though they don’t have much, Animal soldiers
don’t mind sharing and generally agree that it’s nice to have
our comrades in arms in the area.
In addition to security on the FOBs, soldiers must maintain security on
the jobsite. This is challenging for a road project because construction
requires troops to go directly against many of the fundamentals of
defense. They work in the same spot, headed in the same direction, using
the same equipment rotations day after day. There is nothing covert about
the Scraper, a 33,000 lb piece of equipment. Since they can be seen from
kilometers away, the Pacemakers adopt a fierce posture. Engineer soldiers
man the vehicle mounted crew served weapons at both ends of the
construction site. They halt vehicle traffic and search the personnel
before allowing passage around the construction site. A roving security
vehicle is used to patrol the surrounding areas, and observe the area
from different positions. An interpreter and a female soldier are always
included in the security detail, available to assist with communication
or searching local national females. These measures have resulted in 100%
success rate; not a single Pacemaker soldier has been attacked while
working on the road.
Continued development is essential to peace building in Afghanistan. The
road between Tarin-Kowt and Kandahar will provide developmental access to
rural areas which never existed before. As 1LT Sullivan puts it,
“This road is not just an engineering feat; it is a show of
political force.” The five month reduction in project duration by
Task Force Pacemaker becomes five months gained by the new government
towards progress. The fifteen hours of travel cut down to three are hours
gained by Afghan citizens towards opportunity. Every cut of the TK road
is another blow to the primary weapons of the Taliban, isolation and
hardship. When Pacemaker soldiers watch the ribbon cutting on September
15th, every soldier can exhale with relief, joy, and pride in a job well
About The Author
1LT Laura Walker was an Army Engineer officer currently serving in
Kandahar, Afghanistan. She graduated from the United States Military
Academy at West Point in May of 2003, with a bachelor’s degree in
Political Science. In February of 2004, 1LT Walker deployed to Iraq with
the 555th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. In March of 2005, she deployed to
Afghanistan with B/864th Combat Engineer Battalion (Heavy), where she
completed her fifteen months as a platoon leader.
September 2005 Updated Information:
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Laura Walker, Task Force Pacemaker, was killed in
action on 18 August 2005 in Delak, Aghanistan. She proudly wore the 4th
Infantry Division combat patch on her right shoulder, a distinction she
shared with both of her grandfathers from their service with the Division
in both World War II and Vietnam. Her awards and decorations include: the
Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal (1OLC), Army
Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on
Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal,
Army Service Ribbon, Combat Action Badge, and Air Assault Badge
Please visit: for a
Memorial site that honors Laura M. Walker.

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