Sunday, February 10, 2008

Contracting Office Fights Poverty by Keeping Afghans Employed

Photo: Workers hired from the Jalalabad area lay concrete on Forward Operating Base Fenty, Afghanistan, Feb. 4, 2008. The contracting office overseeing military contracts in Kunar, Nangarhar, Nuristan and Laghman provinces tries to make sure that most projects go to Afghan companies. Photo by 2nd Lt. Monika Comeaux, USA

Using high-powered weaponry on the battlefield isn't the only way to fight the war on terror. Men and women at the contracting office here fight by awarding more than 90 percent of their contracts to area Afghan contractors.

This strengthens Afghan businesses and creates much-needed job opportunities in areas where unemployment rates are around 30 percent, a Jalalabad businessman who calls himself "Engineer Mohammad" said.

"The purpose of our office is twofold: to buy all the stuff that the Army cannot provide for itself to support the soldiers, and to develop the local economy," said Army Maj. Bill Campbell, Regional Contracting Center chief of contracting.

The Forward Operating Base Fenty contracting office, which oversees more than 500 active contracts at 27 different locations, has awarded almost $20 million for contracts providing services, construction and commodities mostly for military bases in the Task Force Bayonet area of operations in the past six months.

The office's "Afghan First" program, Campbell said, is basically the commanding general's guidance to ensure that Afghan businessmen get every opportunity to compete for and win contracts.

"The contracting office sends out solicitations via e-mail," Mohammad said. "I submit a cost estimate, and after a while I find out if I won the bid. I already have some projects on (FOB Fenty)."

That aspect alone represents great strides, the Afghan engineer said.

"Even five years ago, e-mail was a dream for us," he said in explaining how quickly business and technology are changing in Afghanistan. "In the past two years, we started using e-mail and cell phones. It makes life and business much easier."

Mohammad and Campbell commented on how the improving economy has led to the establishment of banks in Afghanistan. Many contractors, like Mohammad, now are able to receive money from the contracting office through electronic funds transfers.

Mohammad himself employs more than 100 Afghan laborers from the Jalalabad area. With some contracts lasting more than a year, he provides steady jobs for many.

"I learned a lot of things about contracting, administration, bookkeeping and filing," said Wahid, who has benefited from employment on FOB Fenty. "I make reasonable money to take care of my family. I am able to send my kids to go to school."

Within Afghanistan, the FOB Fenty contracting office has been able to put the greatest percentage of money into the economy through awarding contracts to Afghan contractors, Campbell said.

Mohammad, who plans to continue competing for upcoming contracts on and off the base, said he hopes that one day Afghanistan will be of the same economic standing as developed nations.

"I would like for Afghanistan to be like Japan," he said. "Japan after World War II had nothing. Now they have everything. If you ask anybody around the world, they all know about Japan. I hope that one day, Afghanistan will have a blooming economy like Japan has today."

(Army 2nd Lt. Monika Comeaux serves with 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.)

No comments: