Thursday, April 19, 2012

ECBC Expertise Keeps RFAST Program Up and Running in Afghanistan

While winter barely hit Maryland this year, Colin Graham wakes up to ten inches of snow when he starts his workday. Graham carefully walks through the unsalted snow trenches he and his colleagues made to get to his work destination each morning. The morning trek through the snow is just one minute part of the time Graham is serving under the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command’s Field Assistance in Science and Technology (RFAST) program at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.

Graham is an engineer in ECBC's Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division (ADM) and has been in Afghanistan since mid-November, when he replaced fellow-ADM employee Kevin Washok from his tour in Afghanistan.

“The Base does not have salt, sand or anything over here so we have to be careful. I think nearly everyone has fallen before. One guy was already sent home with a broken ankle from falling on the ice,” said Graham, who is one of nine (including management) current RFAST members.

Graham is the second ADM employee to take advantage of the RFAST program that places engineers and engineering technicians alongside Warfighters to solve problems with equipment used in theater. Warfighters can come to the Prototype Integration Facility (PIF) where Graham and other RFAST members are based, ask for assistance with equipment and the engineers and technicians in RFAST will work with them directly to find a solution. Some of Graham’s colleagues include individuals from Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, and RDECOM. He also works closely with the Joint Program Office for Mine Resistant Ambush Protection, The Program Manager for Forward Looking Infrared, The Program Manager for Tactical Vehicles, as well as Program Manager assured Mobility Systems.

The Bagram Airbase PIF has been fully operational since mid-December 2011. It is currently under a new PIF Director, Mark Oetken, from Picatinny Arsenal, NJ. Washok and representatives from other Army organizations spent August 2011 to December 2011 setting up the PIF space to be the operational help center that it is now. Graham said about 90 percent of the customers who come into the PIF looking for equipment solutions are soldiers, and usually solutions can be found in a matter of two to three
days, although more complex solutions can take longer.

“Working with the end user is the best part about being here in Bagram,” Graham said. He notes, however, that having the raw materials to find these solutions can at times be challenging. Finding the best material to
fix a problem is tough when resources like brass are not readily available in Afghanistan.

This requires the workers to be resourceful and find alternate materials to complete the project.

“We have a lot of critical materials, but we do not always have materials that are the best fit,” Graham said. “Material availability is different out here. Sometimes we have to use steel instead of aluminum and while
it works, the steel might make it a little bit heavier than usual. In the end, the soldiers are still happy with the product, and that is what is important.”

ECBC is also helping the PIF with establishing a structural framework for the longevity of the RFAST program. Previous to Graham’s tour, Washok’s group created a Safety Program for the PIF using the ECBC Safety Program as an example.

“Our safety program is still in effect at RFAST Bagram and is the only one of its kind over here,” Graham said. “The next step is to adapt a Quality Program for the PIF. While more standards are in place than in mid- December 2011, low personnel and a quick turnaround are holding the program from becoming full-fledged at this time.”

In addition to bringing more ECBC structural practices over to Afghanistan, the RFAST program will continue to have ECBC Engineering representation into the future. In March, another ECBC ADM engineering technician, Danny Ward will replace the individual who went home with an ankle injury, followed by a new ECBC rotational RFAST member in May to replace Graham.

“Being here has given me a lot of opportunity to not only work with the Warfighter, but also learn how it feels to work in a new type of environment that challenges me,” Graham said.

At 12 hours a day, and seven days a week, Graham’s work schedule keeps him busy, limiting his opportunities to travel away from the PIF. Despite the long work days, Graham enjoys the opportunity to directly interact and learn more about Warfighter needs, and befriend new colleagues.

“It was an adjustment at first, but now I am in the swing of things and have a routine,” Graham said. “So far, being in Afghanistan has been great. I love that I am doing something here that I cannot do in the States.”

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