BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - In the first four months of their deployment, the Soldiers of the Joint Task Force Triple Nickel headquarters, 555th Engineer Brigade, have overseen engineering projects for countless other units throughout Afghanistan. Massive base expansions, road construction, building repairs, and much more. This month, on top of their regular duties and in their little spare time, these engineer soldiers finally got to complete a project for their very own unit: "Able Gym." Drawing its name from the brigade motto, "Willing and Able," the brand new gym is already fully furnished and, since its May 5 completion, has received a warm welcome from Soldiers.
"It's one of the best morale boosts a unit can get," said Spc. Andrew Cuadrado, from Boston, Mass., an HHC Soldier assigned to the engineer brigade command group, and already a regular at the new gym.
Cuadrado is among the more than 120 Soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), 555th Engineer Brigade, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., who deployed this January to Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan. With other gyms on base a far distance away and occasionally overcrowded, Soldiers like him are happy to have a gym they can call their own.
"When a Soldier walks in there and knows it's their very own gym, that makes a big difference," Cuadrado said. The unassuming tan exterior of the fitness tent, hardly noticeable in its humble space behind the larger brigade joint operations center, stands in stark contrast to what's inside. Complete with that "new gym" smell, the air-conditioned Able Gym features a full complement of treadmills, stationary bikes, free weights, resistance machines, as well as extras such as a stereo and a TV.
"It is with a sense of pride and accomplishment with which this task was completed," said Master Sgt. Kerry Wiles, veteran combat engineer and non-commissioned officer-in-charge for JTF Triple Nickel current operations. A native of Paterson, N.J., Wiles oversaw the two-month effort, which included five weeks of acquiring equipment and three weeks more of actual construction, all during limited free time, on top of a full slate of workday responsibilities. It was a team effort, made possible by several dedicated Soldiers, NCOs, officers, and warrant officers from the company, as well as a "kick-ass Air Force electrical team working through five hours of continuous rain," Wiles noted. Rain or shine, many simply appreciated the chance to get out of the office and help out. "It was great getting out of the [operations center] and getting my hands dirty," said Sgt. Clinton Martin, a combat engineer from Missoula, Mont., currently serving as an RTO (radio telephone operator) for the brigade. As RTO, Martin's typical day includes thirteen hours on tactical computers and telephones monitoring engineer operations throughout Afghanistan. Even though this project was in addition to the demands of his regular duties, Martin was glad to help out as Wiles' handyman on the construction site. The work ranged from constructing the wooden foundation, assembling the tent's metal framing, and wiring for lights and electronics, among other tasks. It was worth the time, Martin felt, "to be able to contribute something to the team that's worthwhile." It was time well spent, if soldiers' reactions are any indication. "How did it turn out? More than expected," said Cuadrado. "It looks more like a professional gym, like something back in the States. When you walk in there, you don't feel like you're deployed." The 555th Eng. Bde., Joint Task Force Triple Nickel, is currently deployed as the headquarters for the Theater Engineer Brigade, a joint team of about 5,000 engineer soldiers, sailors and airmen operating across Afghanistan in support of NATO's International Security Assistance Force.