By Megan Just
452nd Air Mobility Wing
MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif., April 19, 2011 - As 22 combat engineers from the 452nd Civil Engineer Squadron prepared to deploy throughout southern and eastern Afghanistan recently, one airman stepped up to ensure they were ready for the job at hand.
Embedded with Army units at six locations, the deployed engineers have an opportunity to directly affect troops' living conditions and improve the quality of life for Afghans in nearby villages, the captain said.
"I've been very impressed and proud of these airmen and their determination," said Simons, who returned from a deployment to Afghanistan in the fall. "I can see it in their eyes. They want to go over there and make a difference.
"Because of what we do and our skill sets, we can affect people's lives in ways that go on and on for generations," he added.
As the father of three young girls, Simons said, he felt most connected with the youngest generation of Afghans, the children he would see playing in the streets as his convoy drove through villages. He said it was heartbreaking to know the children's only source of water was from ditches, rivers and shallow wells that were contaminated with high counts of cholera bacteria from fecal matter and urine, and frequently tainted with improperly disposed engine oil.
When Simons and his team would drill wells for the forward operating bases, they sometimes were able to divert a portion of the clean water to local villages. Some of the airmen who are now deployed will have the opportunity to build wells like these directly inside the Afghan villages, he said.
"Thirty years from now, it will be my children's responsibility to work with these children on a global scale," the captain said. "We have the opportunity to make the children's lives better. This will help them grow up healthy and educated, making it easier for the next generation of Americans."
During his deployment, Simons and his team built seven new forward operating bases and combat outposts and helped to bring up to standard the infrastructure of countless outposts by installing wells, plumbing, electricity, roads and bridges.
Many forward operating bases, he said, were built using expedient methods, usually converting old Russian bases, he said. "They weren't done with thoughts of waste, sanitary sewer issues and water," he explained.
The 452nd Civil Engineer Squadron combat engineers who are now deployed are responsible for similar projects in some of the same remote, and often hostile, regions of Afghanistan.
"It's always a high ops tempo," Simons said. "You always have to be thinking four or five steps ahead, especially when it comes to what the enemy is doing and how are you going to stay safe. Then, you're still expected to go out and do your job, which, along with holding a weapon and walking around a city, includes doing such things as plumbing, electrical, [heating, ventilation and air conditioning], and surveying."
Simons estimated that he spent 75 percent of his deployment outside the wire, and his team frequently encountered small-arms fire, improvised explosive devices, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Sometimes, he said, when there wasn't enough daylight to return to a forward operating base after a day's work, the team would set up watches and sleep under the stars.
"We're taking ordinary airmen ... and putting them in extraordinary situations, expecting them to fight and still do their job," he said about the engineers who are now deployed. "They're going to excel at this."
Simons helped the engineers before their deployment by showing them photos and videos of his deployment and talking with them about what to expect.
"Almost all of them had never deployed before, and many of them were apprehensive," he said. "Once they knew more about what to expect, they were excited to be able to help the fight."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Kimberly Hickey of the 934th Airlift Wing contributed to this story)