Building bridges can be risky if you are in the National Guard, serving in Afghanistan.
Grant Daniels recently returned from long deployment in the war-torn country where his platoon rebuilt and repaired bridges to keep a crucial highway open.
Daniels, 26, of Lee’s Summit, is a 1st Lieutenant in the 1438th Engineer Company of the Missouri National Guard, based in Macon. The unit was deployed to Afghanistan in June 2013, returned in May.
Daniels is platoon leader and commanded a 48-soldier unit that was assigned to maintaining bridges on Highway 1, a heavily trafficked route that connects major cities.
Their work was in a mostly flat, desert area where daytime temperatures were about 120 degrees, he said.
Constant pounding by heavy civilian and military vehicles broke down the bridges built of steel girders and plates. Once a saboteur using explosives blew a hole in a ramp.
His platoon would leave Kandahar Airfield, roll to the construction site, do their work, preferably in one day before dark. While not a combat unit, there was always a threat, he said.
“We were ready for anything, we all knew it was up to us to protect ourselves and our equipment,” Daniels said. He said it was a personal relief to get home without his platoon being attacked, even though every soldier wonders how they’d do in that circumstance.
“My decisions could get someone hurt or killed,” Daniels said. “I was concerned about getting all of our guys home.”
If the platoon had to spend the night, they’d sleep on the ground without tents, it an a higher risk of attack.
Several times other units, assigned to keep roads clear, would alert them of enemy radio chatter as insurgents made plans to attack the platoon, if given an opportunity.
During one assignment, Daniels said, his unit was driving to a bridge and ran into a roadblock run by the Afghan national army, because they’d located a IED, an improvised explosive device hidden in a tree.
The roadblock was in the wrong place to warn the U.S. soldiers, Daniels said. They had unknowingly passed it. Fortunately, the IED was designed to be detonated manually no one had been there to fire the bomb.
Another problem was boredom.
Living conditions weren’t bad on base. They had ice cream, video games, and wireless Internet, which made it possible to be in touch with family and friends daily.
But finding enough jobs to keep busy, toward the end of the deployment was a chore.
“They’re a good group and they stayed out of trouble,” Daniels said.
Daniels was in ROTC at Truman State University, where he studied Justice Systems and met his wife Evan Daniels. They’ve been married three years and both employed at Cerner.
He said she’d sometime send him handwritten letters.
“I was kind of bad, I didn’t send her one back,” Daniels said. He did call every Sunday and sent emails and instant messages.
Evan Daniels said “I’ve always been proud of what Grant has done with the military and even more so after hearing about the successful deployment and missions they experienced.
“I think it takes a special type of person to be a leader in the Army, and I’m honored that I’m married to such person.”
She said communication during the deployment was difficult at times, but much better than what it could have been in past wars.
“We usually had a FaceTime date every Sunday morning (Sunday evening his time), and through the week we would chat with each other via Facebook. It’s hard to judge if the deployment was “easy” for our family, since they never are, but having the support from
our families and friends at least helped to make the best of the situation.”
Daniels said he was glad his unit deployed.
“I didn’t want to be part of this generation and not go,” he said.
Daniels said one of the more difficult parts of the job was getting Afghans to leave a site where his unit needed to work and crowd control.
When a bus was delayed by construction, the riders would disembark.
“They’d just get off the bus and start walking, even if their village could be miles and miles down the road.”
He said he was amazed at conditions the Afghans endured. Their dwellings were in villages we’d never consider as fit places, on sides of hills with no vegetation and no water around.
He said the trash was strewn in the countryside, compared to the U.S. and the people often dirty. He said he thinks that both culture and the war played a role in that.
“It was a good experience all in all,” Daniels said. “It made me appreciate the little things, like knowing I have meals in my house for two or three days.”