by U.S. Army Pfc. Chris McKenna 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Public Affairs
Khost Province, Afghanistan – On a forward operating base that expects to increase its population in the coming months, space is a valuable commodity.
And in a country that is composed primarily of deserts and arid mountains, good lumber is hard to come by.
Personnel from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team have found a way to alleviate both problems – by harvesting 17 acres of olive trees and donating the wood to the Afghan government, June 29th.
FOB Salerno’s once-scenic olive grove is a thing of the past, making way for a second dining facility to accommodate the influx of personnel connected with force expansion in Task Force Rakkasan’s battle space.
“As part of the expansion of the FOB, we needed to clear out several acres of trees,” said U.S. Army Capt. Anthony Soika, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, base operations commander, from Minneapolis. “Obviously that wood had to go somewhere, so it made sense to give it to the locals since there is such a dramatic shortage of wood in Afghanistan.”
Local contractors handled the cutting in late June and began shipping June 29th.
The trees will be transported to Khost city and handed over to personnel from the Afghan Department of Interior, who are expected to in return sell them at a price much lower than normal market value.
The money raised from the sales will be added to the local government budget so they can better care for the people of Afghanistan, said Mohammad Safar, a representative for the Chief of Khost Agriculture.
“This will become extra income for both the government and people of Afghanistan,” Safar said.
Soika said while the donation is a step toward aiding the local economy, it’s only the start of the program and as more space is needed on the FOB, more felled trees will be donated to the Afghan government.
“This becomes a win-win for everyone involved,” Soika said. “We win hearts and minds, the people save money and have wood for heating and cooking, and the Afghan government is able to care for its own.”
Base engineers had planned for more expansion, so more trees were originally on the chopping block. However, with no projects currently slated that require tree removal, base personnel don’t yet know if or when they will next need to clear and donate trees, said Soika.
“Part of the expansion zone had a few acres of large mature trees, but given the area is not presently intended for a specific use [we] thought it best to leave those trees alone for now,” Soika said. “If we withdraw from this area without needing to cut them down, then we’ll have saved 50-100 trees that are at least 25 years old so they can grow and be available in the future.”