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USACE Transatlantic District-North provides different kind of relief

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic District - North
Story by Todd Lyman

KABUL, Afghanistan (Dec. 13, 2012) - Members of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic District-North, based here to help rebuild the country, provided a more direct form of relief to three families affected by the Nov. 21 suicide bombing that occurred in the Green Zone.

The district, comprised of approximately 500 military and civilian personnel in Kabul and throughout the northern and eastern regions of Afghanistan, directs the construction of hundreds of projects designed to reinforce the country’s infrastructure after more than 30 years of war.

Work activity was interrupted very abruptly at approximately 8:15 a.m. with the sound of an explosion from outside the compound. Unknown to team members at that moment, the lives of three families’ lives were forever changed.

Two Burhan Security Services guards were killed and one severely injured in the blast that killed both bombers.

“These men gave their lives to protect us,” said Army Col. Alfred A. Pantano Jr., district commander. “They exhibited the same courage I witnessed of my soldiers I led as a battalion commander in Iraq.”

Another district member was moved by the sacrifice. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Joel L. Billingsley, staff non-commissioned officer in charge of force protection, immediately felt something had to be done. Billingsley works with BSS guards daily, and knew that these men collectively were responsible for four children, two wives and a fiancee. One guard killed was a promising boxer who planned to box in a tournament in the Republic of Korea and was to be married shortly. The other guard killed was in his mid 50’s and came from the same village as the younger. He left behind a family. The injured guard will suffer disabilities as he continues to recover. He also has a family.

Billingsley said, “It was reported in the media that the government would pay for the education of the guards’ children, but there are still expenses associated with the losses. Weddings and funerals are the most expensive events in Afghanistan, plus daily living expenses remain.

“I felt it was right to do something for these families—the same as for those in the Marine Corps. I lost a Marine when I was a young corporal and I send flowers to his mother every year. These BSS guards may wear different uniforms, but I care about them the same as my Marines. They are family.”

Billingsley knew that the rest of the TAN team felt the same and were asking after the men. He decided to update the district during a house meeting Nov. 24.

“I have never organized a drive like this. I just took the ball and ran,” Billingsley stated matter-of-factly.

The Chesterfield County, Va., native stood before hundreds of Corps members Nov. 24 and explained the loss and displayed photos of the men killed.

He eloquently relayed the details and told about the men killed and injured. He offered to take charge of any district support activities. He set up a plastic jug in the dining facility for anyone who desired to donate.

The 12-year Marine set the modest goal of $3,600 in his mind, thinking that would pay the annual rent for three families.

“I was shocked after the first day. TAN members had stuffed nearly $1,700 in the jug. On day number two another $1,900 was added,” Billingsley commented.

He kept the district family informed of the daily total. Billingsley had reached his goal in only two days. At the end of 15 days, Billingsley gathered his jug from the DFAC for the last time. TAN had given more than $9,100 and several sympathy and condolence cards. Fellow guards followed Billingsley’s and the district’s example and passed the hat for their fellow members. Their collection will also go to the families.

Marine Staff Sergeant Joel L. Billingsley, Staff non-commissioned officer in charge of force protection, Transatlantic District-North, USACE, updates the team Dec. 8. (Official photo by T.W. Lyman)

Marine Staff Sergeant Joel L. Billingsley, Staff non-commissioned officer in charge of force protection, Transatlantic District-North, USACE, updates the team Dec. 8. (Official photo by T.W. Lyman)