By Master Sgt. Mark W. Rodgers, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
The cadets are third-year students at the National Military Academy Afghanistan here. The academy, with more than 700 cadets, is modelled after the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The internship, which ended Aug. 30, was the brainchild of Army Maj. Richard Gash, a civil engineering professor at West Point. He worked at the Afghan academy this summer developing future academic courses. U.S. Military Academy cadets participate in a similar internship program with Army Corps of Engineer districts in the United States.
“We have cadets from West Point every summer,” said Nova L. Robbins, program manager with the Afghan National Army. “We are going to turn it over to (the Afghan cadets) someday; why not mentor them?”
Afghan cadets are required to select from one military and one civilian discipline to study. “We had four choices: civil engineering, computer science, English and law,” said Cadet Shafiq Mohammad. “We need many engineers, and this (to me) is the top class at the academy; this is why I chose engineering.”
During their two-week internship, the cadets worked and interacted with numerous units. Cadets who participated in this inaugural internship program spent half of their annual month-long school break with the Corps of Engineers Afghan Engineer District. They were selected from 18 of their Afghan peers to learn about various aspects of engineering. Selection was based on academic performance and leadership potential.
The cadets selected represented the multi-ethnic diversity of Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.
The eight-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week schedule held the cadets to an aggressive program that challenged them to interact in every area. The cadets were paired into teams, with each team spending a week each working in the field and in an office environment. All assignments and hands-on training were designed around existing and future Afghan Engineer District construction projects for the Afghan National Army.
“The cadets had many questions, and you answered them”, Afghan Col. Hamdullah Yousfzai, dean of education for the National Military Academy Afghanistan, said through a translator.
During their week in the field, cadets visited multiple construction project sites with Afghan Engineer District engineers and construction representatives. The cadets reviewed and compared plans for existing structures to stimulate thought and dialogue, officials said.
The office portion split the week between programs and project management, and engineering. Hands-on practical exercises required the cadets to prepare their own conceptual plan for an Afghan National Army dining facility expansion and upgrade. This was followed by participation in a review of their conceptual design, and walking them through a typical architectural design review.
In addition, the cadets reviewed contractor technical proposals and project scopes of work, assisted in preparing the scope of work for a new contractor, reviewed project design and building of the Afghan National Army dining facility, and were introduced to the operations and maintenance side of facility engineering.
“I think the cadets now understand how properly maintained facilities support their operational mission,” said Jeffery B. Wheeler, operations and maintenance program manager for the Afghan National Army.
Getting the cadets to think about architecture from the customer’s perspective was one of the challenges.
“I tried to break it down to things they would understand, giving them military terms they can relate to,” said Chester Nakamura, architecture team leader. “You have an awesome responsibility designing things for people; ” now they have something to relate to.”
(Army Master Sgt. Mark W. Rodgers is assigned to the Afghanistan Engineer District of the Army Corps of Engineers.)