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9th ESB completes road construction in Helmand

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Marine combat engineers are known for being the first called when something needs to be repaired, improvised, built or even destroyed. These capabilities often earn them accolades from their fellow Marines.

Combat engineers assigned to 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), lived up to this reputation recently by completing two major route construction and improvement projects in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Elements of the Okinawa-based 9th Engineer Support Battalion completed the road surfacing phases of Routes Red and 611 early this month. Each route provides north and south passage on their respective sides of the Helmand River. Additional measures are now being put into place over the course of the next month to ensure their permanence, while also marking total project completion.

“We’ll continue minor improvements along both routes, including culvert emplacements,” said Capt. Christopher Kaprielian, operations officer for the battalion.

The installation of culverts, Kaprielian explained, will allow for proper drainage of rain water, preventing the roadways from simply washing away.

Work on the routes began last year with 9th ESB’s predecessors, 7th ESB based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., who completed nearly half of the work before going home in late November.

“A lot of cross-coordination was involved,” said Kaprielian. “The combined effort was truly unique.”

In terms of Route Red alone, he noted expert integration across the Marine air-ground task force to secure the volatile region through which Route Red intersects. Support from Regimental Combat Teams 6 and 8 was especially critical in allowing the engineers to continue construction efforts, he added.

The enhanced roads are essential to NATO International Security Assistance Force operations and, perhaps most importantly, the livelihood of Afghan locals in the region due to the proximity of the routes to several major population centers. Safe roadways will present a viable means of transportation and facilitate economic expansion well into the future.

Route Red connects Gereshk and Shir Ghazay, while Route 611 serves as the main thoroughfare between the Sangin and Kajaki districts.

Like Route Red, the region around 611 was also a hotbed for insurgent activity. Operation Eastern Storm, a major offensive spearheaded by the Marines of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, launched last October to secure the Upper Sangin Valley from the Taliban-led insurgency. The secured and improved route will now allow ground convoys to deliver equipment and parts required to install a third turbine at the Kajaki Dam, located northeast of the village of Kajaki.

The dam was built in 1953, and according to the United States Agency for International Development, the additional turbine is part of an ongoing project to bring more reliable power and irrigation to the region. Once operational, this enhancement will improve energy distribution through Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Article by Sgt. Justin Shemanski, 2ND Marine Logistics Group (FWD)