BAGRAM AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN—As any soldier deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom will attest, living conditions can be pretty rough.
Along with the weather and sandstorms, living out of a tent or a deteriorating B-Hut—a wooden structure that can house up to eight soldiers—can be a challenge. This is where Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Schafer and his crew come in.
Schafer and his team are responsible for "B-Huts in a Box," a project to deliver all of the materials and supplies necessary to build new living quarters for soldiers assigned to remote forward operating bases (FOBs) throughout Afghanistan.
The intent is to improve the living conditions of soldiers on the front lines by replacing tents and deteriorating B-Huts with new accommodations, Schafer said. "It's like buying a new house. Every soldier is glad to move into something newer or better."
The "B-Hut in a Box" units, nicknamed "Schafer Shacks," consist of a "Conex"—a conveyance akin to a railroad freight car—filled with lumber, sheets of plywood, insulation, electrical hardware, and other material needed to construct a complete open-bay B-Hut. They also come with blueprints and building instructions.
Schafer said the idea originated in April after an excess of imported lumber was found in a holding yard in Kabul. Leaders then decided to evenly distribute the lumber to the various FOBs throughout Afghanistan, he said.
"Brigade Commander Col. [Michael] Peterman threw out the phrase, 'B-Hut in a Box' and then tasked me to bring the idea to fruition," Schafer said.
So far, Schafer said he and his crew have assembled approximately 50 "B-Hut in a Box" containers and sent them out. The crew also employs local Afghan workers to help assemble the materials.
Spc. Jason Morrison, a soldier with the 101st Sustainment Brigade, is assigned to demonstrate to the local nationals how to bundle the items to stuff the Conexes. Morrison speaks highly of the Afghan locals. "They help out a lot," he said. "Even though many of them can't speak English and we don't know their language, hand signals work pretty good. You show them one time, and they're pretty much good from there."
For many involved in the project, job satisfaction comes from knowing they are helping improve their fellow soldiers' quality of life so far from home.
"We're the ones putting this together to help other soldiers have better living conditions," said Spc. Gamalier Mendez of the 131th Transportation Co., a Pennsylvania National Guard unit assigned to the 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade.
Sgt. Justin Scott, a military heavy-equipment operator with the 919th Inland Cargo Transportation Co., an Army Reserve unit based out of Bay City, Mich., and also assigned to the 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, echoed Mendez's sentiments.
"It offers an opportunity to provide more stable housing out to those areas. It's not as easy to get these materials to those areas on trucks in bulk, and this can provide a little more comfort and possibly more security for the soldiers' personal items," he said.