When most people think of a work road trip, Afghanistan isn’t what normally comes to mind. However, the job had to be done and these guys were ready to take it on.
Screen Machine Industries (SMI), Inc., a U.S. manufacturer of portable crushing and screening equipment, has completed a contract to supply a complete system to the U.S. Air Force at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. As with many military contracts, this journey took months to complete and saw SMI equipment and personnel travel some 11,000 kilometers (7,000 miles) from home, and deep into hostile territory. The equipment is being used at multiple locations in Afghanistan within U.S./NATO military installations.
Kandahar Air Field lies about 16 kilometers (10 miles) outside of the provincial capital of Kandahar City. An $850 million expansion of the air field was started in 2009 in order to accommodate U.S. President Barack Obama’s announced 2010 troop surge that would nearly double the size of the base. That surge in NATO operations in southern Afghanistan pushed the number of aircraft operations at the base from 1,700 to 5,000 flights per week. These numbers meant that Kandahar had become the busiest one-runway airport in the world. The expansion also made it the largest NATO base anywhere in the world and upon delivery of the equipment, nearly 30,000 personnel from 40 different nations, including Canada, lived and worked within this sprawling compound. The new crushing and screening equipment was used to further this expansion.
Receiving the purchase order was obviously the first and most important step in the process. However, getting four very large pieces of construction machinery from the factory in Columbus, Ohio all the way to a war zone in Afghanistan had the potential to be a logistical nightmare in and of itself.
SMI’s JXT Jaw Crusher, 4043T Impact Crusher, and Spyder 516T screening plant were all shipped via truck from the factory to the port in Savannah, Georgia. A CH40 radial stacking conveyor with it’s own diesel power module was loaded into a 40-foot container and headed to the port in Norfolk, Virginia. All equipment was then loaded aboard ships for the long trek across the ocean through waters often patrolled by Somali pirates to Port Qasim in Karachi, Pakistan. Here it was eventually reloaded onto trucks for the last leg of the journey to the final destination of Kandahar Air Field. This included travel through the mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the treacherous stretch from the border into the heart of the Taliban in Kandahar province. Due to very stringent measures put in place to regulate any materials or equipment coming into the country, completing the contract was at times quite tedious and time consuming. This process involved multiple steps including clearance by the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Afghan Ministry of Finance. In total, this was a five-month process from the time of arrival at the port in Karachi until the equipment reached the final destination in Kandahar.
SMI contractors were required to perform setup and training on the equipment as part of the contract. This involved passing a federal criminal background check and securing a visa through the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC. Upon entering Kandahar Air Field, personnel were required to surrender their passports in order to obtain a contractors’ badge. An armed police escort was assigned to the contractors at all times for their safety.
Living in Kandahar
“Accommodations were a bit primitive by civilian standards yet quite adequate considering the circumstances,” says Brian Williams, SMI Engineer. “Sleeping quarters consisted of a large eight person military tent which we shared with six Airmen. Old shipping containers were converted into restroom and shower facilities. The compound was not without some common creature comforts of home though, including warm running water, air conditioning, satellite television, and wireless internet access.”
On site, the equipment is used for making new quarries, generating base course, coarse aggregate for concrete, and drainage rock. However, its initial use was to recycle concrete to be reused in building helipads, runways, and roads. Both the JXT Jaw Crusher and 4043T Impact Crusher were utilized inline as a primary and secondary crusher with the 4043T discharging directly into the hopper of the Spyder 516T screening plant. The Spyder 516T was set up with 3-inch wire mesh top deck screens and ¾-inch wire mesh bottom deck screens. This allowed the Airmen to generate two separate usable products while also sorting out the trash. The fine material was mixed back into new concrete mixes while the mid-sized product could be used for road base.
The two most obvious issues to be confronted in the field were the excessive heat and dust. The heat itself created a couple of problems. For the workers it was difficult to remain hydrated. Often it was only possible to work 20 to 30 minute intervals and intake of fluids had to be nearly constant. Several Airmen had to be treated with intravenous fluids for dehydration during the week that the SMI personnel were in country. The other problem created by the heat was keeping the machines running cool. The machines usually operated for periods of 4 to 5 hours at a time with one hour shutdowns in between. Engine temperatures and coolant levels were regularly monitored.
The dust was another major issue. When you couple the dust of the desert with the additional dust being generated by the crushing of the concrete these levels were tremendously high. This created a concern for such items as bearings, filters, belts, fans and radiators. The periodic maintenance intervals had to be shortened, especially on cleaning and changing of the engine filters. Sandstorms would occasionally push across the base seemingly bringing dusk in the middle of the afternoon. This only helped to compound the dust concerns. Occasional rocket attacks were even more commonplace than the sandstorms. Though usually poorly aimed and fairly harmless, they nevertheless served to keep everyone grounded and alert. After all, it was a war zone.
SMI President Steve Cohen notes that Screen Machine Industries, Inc. has a long and proud history of supplying heavy-duty American Made equipment to governmental agencies including the U.S. Military. “This was an excellent opportunity to continue that relationship while experiencing another new market, and it is yet another example of our ability to ship this quality equipment anywhere in the world,” he concludes.
Timothy Miller is the Government & International Sales Manager for Screen Machine Industries. He was part of the team that went to Kandahar for this project.