BEAR Base grapples tough building projects in Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mary Davis
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Wind and rapid changes of climate can be detrimental to air assets throughout the U.S. Air Forces Central area of responsibility, and housing those and other assets is vital to the mission. That's why AFCENT relies on a group of highly-specialized expeditionary Airmen from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., to handle the arduous task of building these shelters within the AOR.

The Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources Base teams with the 49th Materiel Maintenance Group deploy as enablers on a four-month basis to provide lodging, industrial and airfield capabilities at various locations. These small groups are comprised of several Air Force specialties, including aerospace ground equipment, structures, heating/air conditioning and electrical -- all working together as specialized civil engineer construction teams.

"The BEAR teams are multi-skilled groups specializing in constructing, reconstituting and repairing BEAR assets used to support deployed war fighters," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Joseph Sundy, AFCENT A7 Operations Support officer. "They're hard-working, proactive teams providing a unique skill set for BEAR asset work. They do such a good job that they typically get asked to stay longer and complete additional work, whether it's building additional shelters, laying AM-2 matting or completing other [civil engineer] jobs, because they are such a valuable, efficient group of professionals."

BEAR Base teams are split up into two types of teams, said U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. James Cupp, BEAR Base team chief.

"J1 teams provide technical expertise to deployed units for BEAR beddown construction as well as major reconstitution efforts," he said. "J2 teams are made up of large-team specialists that can build, demolish or repair large-area maintenance shelters, 4K and 8K dome shelters and aircraft hangars."

BEAR Base teams provide construction of various projects throughout Southwest Asia and Afghanistan on a "hub and spoke concept," using AFCENT Headquarters as an operating base, Cupp said. Occasionally, they would return to their hub to replenish supplies, obtain gear and additional items, but many times they would immediately move on to the next project and location.

Serving as the lead of a nine-person J2 group, Cupp performed preliminary groundwork and preparation at the prospective location before the main body arrived. He coordinated with the project requesters to survey the site, arrange lodging, vehicle support and equipment.

"Once we arrived at the location, we hit the ground running," said Cupp, who hails from Lapeer, Mich. "We wanted to make sure we made the most of our time on the ground to accomplish as much as we could."

The team traveled to various installations in Afghanistan, including Shindand Air Base, Camp Bastion, Mazar-e Sharif and other bases within Southwest Asia, building large facilities serving as aircraft shelters, motor pools and food storage facilities, he said.

"At Shindand, they didn't have serviceable aircraft shelters, which seriously impacted their mission. We tore down the old shelters and replaced them with [light air mobile] shelters," said Cupp, who has served in the Air Force for 25 years. "We later built an additional shelter and extended them. When we were finished, all the aircraft were housed with additional space to perform maintenance as well."

Although the team is primarily comprised of CE disciplines, traditional CE units don't build these types of facilities, Cupp said.

"Typical CE workers don't have the specialized training to build these shelters. If not done correctly, people could get hurt putting these structures up," he said.

When U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Scott Gray graduated from his Aerospace Ground Equipment technical training two years ago, he had no idea what being assigned to a BEAR Base shop would entail.

"Being assigned to BEAR Base was an eye opener," said the Airman from Myrtle Creek, Ore. "I didn't really know what I was getting into, but once I was trained and saw everyone working as one team, it was better than I expected."

Gray said he had a positive experience during his first deployment with the team, but upon his return, he will go back to a traditional AGE shop.

"I've learned a lot from members of the team. I learned a lot about leadership, structure and how to perform tasks," he said. "This experience made me a more well-rounded Airman. I got to step outside of my comfort zone instead of doing a traditional AGE job. Being deployed made me realize what I need to do to be a better Airman back home - how to be a better follower and leader."

In all, Cupp's J2 team completed 27 projects totaling $2.85 million, which provided 103,000 square feet of storage space for various aircraft and vehicle maintenance. They also repaired and demolished six additional large shelters worth $1.36 million.

The most gratifying part of the deployment was knowing they made an impact in the AOR, he said.

"We left these places better than when we arrived," Cupp said. "It's rewarding knowing that we contributed to their mission by accomplishing ours."

Sundy also found the experience rewarding as well.

"It's rewarding to be the AFCENT BEAR J1/J2 program manager because they always do a great job and leave each base they visit happy and pleased with their work," Sundy said. "The hardest part of managing their workload is that no one wants them to leave."