News Stories

Sattin finds rewarding work during deployment to Afghanistan

Published July 8, 2011

Elana Sattin graduated from North Carolina State University just a few short years ago with a degree in civil engineering.  She found employment with the Wilmington District where she handled a variety of military and civil works projects, and learned all that she could about project management.  She took a giant leap last October when she volunteered for a six-month assignment as a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Afghanistan Engineer District-North in Kabul.  When she arrived she hit the ground running.

   “My first day…I got done with the in-processing and my boss said that we had a meeting to go to immediately in the commander’s office,” she said.  “I had no idea what I was going to be working on and he said, ‘So you’re ready for varsity?!’  I turned to him half-asleep and said, ‘Yes, Sir.’ That’s all I could think of to say!” 

   Sattin soon found herself as the project manager to construct the Afghanistan National Police Training Center (NPTC) in Wardak Province southwest of Kabul.   The self-contained center provides training for 134,000 recruits and houses about 3,000 students.  Full of confidence in her skills and abilities, the 27-year-old did not let the immensity of the project overwhelm her.  

   “I was really lucky because I’ve received a lot of good guidance.   The people on the team realized that I’m one of the main people to go to, and I learned that you really have to establish credibility.  You have to keep the channels of communication open all of the time.”

       NPTC was just one of several other projects she was involved with.  She traveled extensively throughout northern and eastern Afghanistan to work on projects for the Afghanistan National Army and the Afghanistan National Police.  In a short period of time she gained even more experience with a 13-hour-a-day, six-and-a-half-days-a-week schedule. 

   “There’s a lot going on and it’s nice to be able to work on projects that you know will have significant impacts.  You really develop a good sense of community on the AED team although people are constantly arriving and departing for their six-month deployments.  The longest person on the team was on board for almost two years.  The situation is more creative, and our team members are open to new ideas of getting the job done quicker and more efficiently.” 

   Rebuilding Afghanistan is a slow and cumbersome process.  The Afghans have known nothing but war for more than 30 years, and the country’s engineers and labor force have little practical experience in massive construction projects.  However, the more projects the Afghans complete successfully, the quicker they’ll gain even more experience and be able to provide their own security for their country.  According to Sattin, the knowledge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is passing to the Afghans is taking hold. 

   “Are we building good, solid structures and getting our mission done?  Absolutely.  Are they being used?  Absolutely.  How that affects the overall operations we can’t really say, but are we getting results from what we’re doing?  Absolutely.” 

    Sattin learned more in six months than she ever would in roughly two years in a regular civil engineer job.  But she’s not done yet.  She’s back in Afghanistan for another six-month voluntary deployment. 

    “I’m picking up where I left off and I’ll be working more in the northern provinces.  I dabbled in that the last time and the senior project manager is going to be leaving.  I’ll have a lot on my plate, but it’s a very rewarding experience.”