Not too many engineers
commute to the office each morning with a 9-millimeter pistol
and an M-16 rifle in tow. But for the first seven months of
this year, Joseph Murphy's office was in Bagram, Afghanistan,
where the civil engineer was serving to accommodate his other
"job": that of First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army National
Guard's 527th Engineer Battalion-Combat Heavy.
Murphy, a 32-year-old project manager
in TBE Group Inc. office, returned to his Mesquite,
Texas, office last month after ending a deployment to Afghanistan
that began in January to rebuild its war damaged infrastructure.
"The [national guard] company that I am in is a combat
heavy unit, which, in simple terms, is a construction company,"
says Murphy. "We did everything from constructing roads,
to placing concrete and constructing wood frame structures.
We completed roughly 150 projects and work orders."
Murphy joined the Army National
Guard in 1989 while pursuing his civil engineering degree
at Louisiana Tech University. "I always wanted to be
in the army, but I also wanted to pursue a career as a civil
engineer, so the Guard was the logical choice," he says. "It
didn't hurt that in Louisiana, the Guard pays 100% tuition."
In his civilian life, Murphy is
a project manager who works on subsurface utility engineering
projects for TBE, which he joined in 2002. In the past, he
has completed projects for the Texas Dept. of Transportation,
Dallas Area Rapid Transit and local municipalities.
Murphy isn't alone among young
Texas-based civil engineers who were working in Bagram this
year. Daniel Filer, a project manager in the Dallas office
of HNTB Corp., arrived there last February. He had also entered
the Army National Guard while pursuing his civil engineering
degree at Louisiana Tech. "My parents were footing the
[tuition] bill, but that just did not sit well with me," says
Filer, 26, a Sergeant in the 527th Engineer Battalion--Combat
Heavy. "Even with some scholarship money, college is
expensive and I just didn't want my parents to have to pay
for it all."
Filer graduated with his B.S. degree
in civil engineering in 2000 and began work in the bridge
department of HNTBs Dallas office. He was in the middle
of completing a civil engineering Masters' degree from the
University of Texas, Arlington, when he was deployed to Afghanistan.
There, Filer worked as a contractor,
overseeing earthmoving and concrete operations. "With
my engineering and surveying experience, I also provided quality
control and surveying support for other construction endeavors,
usually concrete. At times, I was relied upon for design
or a common sense check of design work," he says. "And,
when we were not building things, we still had to be soldiers
and do miscellaneous things like guard duty."
The most difficult challenges facing
engineers working to rebuild the war-torn region is lack of
adequate materials, the countrys extreme climate and
working in a hostile environment. "Getting U.S. spec
material is a big problem. We bought most of our wood
locally. You never know what you will get," says Murphy. "As
you might expect, the soil is very sandy and contains lots
of rocks. It makes doing site work a real challenge.
Just when things are going your way the wind starts to pick
up and youre pushing dirt and creating a sandstorm."
"Operating equipment in 40-plus
m.p.h. winds around soils that are as fine as baby powder
is near impossible," Filer says. "Operators must endure the
dust, and air filters have to be maintained carefully.
Concrete can also be interesting to pour in high winds.
The wind can dry out the concrete towards the top too quickly,
causing cracking. But putting plastic over it is quite
a task in the wind as well."
When Murphy and Filer arrived in
Afghanistan, the weather was cold and rainy and the sun rose
at 8 a.m. and set around 4:30 p.m. Towards the end of their
deployment, their work schedules were more intense, stretching
from 5:30 a.m. to at least 8 p.m.
"We worked six days a week. We
usually had Sundays off, but we did physical training three
times a week before work," says Murphy. "My job was to
inspect all the project sites daily. I ensured that
projects were being constructed according to the plans and
that all the equipment tasked out the day before was where
it was supposed to be. On any given day we were working
on six to ten projects."
While most would fear working in
an environment strewn with potential enemies and physical
obstacles, Murphy and Filer say they enjoyed their assignment.
"I enjoy all the challenges each
day brings. Mine fields and UXO's [unexploded ordnance]
are a never ending threat," says Murphy. "We had to have a
mine team clear the area before we did any dirt work project.
Even then, we sometimes uncovered something. We were
doing some grading and uncovered a bomblet out of a cluster
Now that they're home, Filer and
Murphy are making a tough adjustment. "We were required to
carry our weapons with us at all times, so now it's interesting
going to work and wondering where my 9mm and M-16 are," says
Murphy. "I am sure the people at work would rather I didn't