With work in the Irish construction industry at an ebb those involved in the trade are looking further afield for work - but not many would have considered taking a project in war-torn Afghanistan!
This was what one Cashel man did earlier this year when Mike Ryan, a former chairman of Cashel Chamber of Commerce and local architect, took up a position with civilian contractors working for the Australian armed forces.
Mike, a native of Knockavilla, did such a good job as a project manager that he was honoured with two letters of recommendation from the Australian armed forces - an achievement never before reached in Afghanistan. The certificates recognise outstanding work, that comes in early and under budget.
All contractors that work in Afghanistan must be NATO sponsored, so Mike worked under the auspices of a Danish company. He tendered for the project managing role early this year and within two weeks had been award the contract and was on his way. He told The Nationalist that he applied for the unusual job because there was not much happening with his own company at the time and his partner, Brigid Browne, said she would look after the business here while he was away.
In Afghanistan Mike was based in a mountainous area between Khandahar and Kabul called Tarin Kot, known as a Taliban hide-out. It was a base of over 9,000 troops, made up of 80% Australians and some Americans. A lot of construction projects were jointly funded by the International Security Assistance Force.
Most of what Mike and his team were involved in consisted of infrastructural work, sewage systems, electrical work, plumbing and structural steel on accommodation buildings for military personal and areas for vehicle and aircaft maintenance. He also worked on buildings that will be used by the Australians and Americans as mentoring facilities where they will teach the new Afghan police and national army professional skills in advance of their pull out from Afghanistan. There were many nationalities on the base, with many Indians and Filipinos working for him.
The most difficult part of being in Afghanistan was the altitude. When he first arrived, in February, there was two feet of snow, followed by torrential rain, but then it was 46 degrees when he left in July.
“I enjoyed it,” Mike told The Nationalist of his adventure. “We were safe enough because we were on the base.” He admitted there were a few ‘hairy moments’ and the base did come under rocket attack in his time there, but in over five months on the base there was only one fatality among the community of 9,000 people. Mike said he made a lot of good friends in his time in Tarin Kot, and still keeps in touch with them via Skype now that he is home in Cashel, the same way he kept in touch with home while away.
Mike says Irish skills are in demand and he would consider going back to work in Afghanistan again if an opportunity came up.