U.S. Army Master Sgt. Derek Dotson of Combined Task Force Arrowhead, Combat Service Support Advisory Team, demonstrates proper building techniques to Afghan soldiers of 5th Kandak, 1st Brigade 205th ANA Corps repair the mosque on Camp Hero, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. As the work progressed, the Afghan soldiers learned how to do more of the carpentry tasks and Dotson was able to step back and just help supervise. (Photo by Capt. Jason Secrest)
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LINDSEY, Afghanistan (June 7, 2012) — Finding time for one’s hobbies in a war zone is often a challenge. For Master Sgt. Derek Dotson and the 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team Stability and Transition Team, when a hobby happens to align with Afghan National Army mentorship, it’s a win-win for all. The Combat Service Support advisory team, which is partnered with 5th Kandak, 1st Brigade 205th ANA Corps, knew they would face a tough challenge with their Afghan counterparts when they arrived at FOB Lindsey. It had been many years since the 5th Kandak, 1/205th had received sustained mentorship in all staff areas and the kandak was facing a severe maintenance backlog, a shortage of supplies, and an unrelenting operation tempo. One challenge presented to Dotson, the sergeant major mentor and CSS Team non-commissioned officer in charge, he didn’t expect to hear, help us rebuild a mosque.
The Kandak mosque, constructed in 2010 as part of the Canadian mentorship effort at Camp Hero, quickly deteriorated after its completion. Many shortcuts were taken on the project in order to meet the contracted dollar figure. Almost immediately, the Kandak leadership sought ways to correct the construction deficiencies but was short of funds and know-how.
Enter Dotson and the 5/1/205th CSS Advisory Team.
“I was really inspired by the story that the CSM (command sergeant major) told me about how soldiers in the unit cared about the mosque repair so much that they were donating money from their pay to a special fund,” recalls Dotson.
Permission to start the project was readily given by Major Pete Nelson, CSS Team Chief, and Dotson started to outline his plan for the mosque. “I felt this was a project we had to do and would provide big dividends for our relationship with the 5th Kandak,” states Nelson.
While drawing up plans, Dotson had one major obstacle, fundraising.
“We needed to raise about $350 to purchase all the materials necessary to complete the job properly,” said Dotson.
This obstacle was quickly overcome when the CSS Advisory Team, including the team’s Afghan interpreters, chipped in the remaining funds. With all necessary funds collected, the materials were purchased and the project was able to begin. Fifth Kandak would provide the manpower and Dotson would provide the supervision. Supervision, however, quickly morphed into actual work.
Dotson recalls, “When I started working on the mosque, I had to pretty much do everything.”
Doing everything entailed making all the measures on the wood and steel to be installed, cutting the pieces to the proper size and shape, and showing the workers where the screws and/or weld-spots should be placed. What the workers lacked in carpentry skills was more than made up for by their ingenuity. With steel in short supply, the kandak recycled old bunk beds that were sitting in a scrap yard and used the steel to reinforce the existing roof and soffit.
Old bunks were also used to construct a make-shift scaffold needed to reach the top of the mosque roof.
Dotson notes with pride that “as the work progressed, the soldiers learned how to do more of the carpentry tasks and I was able to step back and just help supervise.”
News of the mosque repair spread quickly around Camp Hero about the tall American sergeant wielding a hammer and drill. Dotson, who stands in at 6 feet 5 inches stood out to the senior ranking officers from both the 1/205th Brigade and the 205th Corps who stopped to watch the work. Brig. Gen. Habibi, the 1/205th brigade commander, thanked Dotson for working through many hot days and rewarded him with his personal coin. More important to Dotson, though, were the daily gifts of Afghan tea and pastries brought to him by the Soldiers at Camp Hero as a token of their appreciation for helping to restore their place of worship.
Through almost two weeks of continuous 95 degree days, all of the repairs were completed and the mosque was able to be fully used again. The mosque’s roof was stable again and was ready for a final coat of paint.
In assessing the impact of the project, Dotson states with a laugh, “If anyone would have told me I would deploy to Afghanistan to help repair a mosque, I would have said you’re crazy. Now that it’s done, I think it’ll be one of the most important things I’ll do here as mentor.”