Tanner plays vital role in Afghanistan

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 13, 2006

Brookhaven native Capt. Mona Tanner capped an historic roadproject for the U.S. Army by immediately beginning another acrossthe wind-swept sands of Afghanistan.

Tanner, 34, did not oversee the projects, but her role for the864th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) was no less important.

She has been the officer in charge of supplying the 1,000soldier task force with every single item needed to link the citiesof Khandahar to Tarin-Kowt.

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The 75-mile road stretches through the Afghani mountains andinto the heart of the Taliban stronghold to the south. It is thelongest road in Afghanistan’s history and links the two largecities for the first time.

Since the unit completed that project in September, it has builttwo other roads and is presently working on a third to link thecities of Sharana, west of Bagram, to Gardez from a forwardoperating base in Sharana. The current project is in eastAfghanistan.

Tanner, the daughter of Annie M. Tanner of Brookhaven, joinedthe Army in 1998 after graduating from the ROTC program atMississippi State University.

Since then, the captain said, she has seen little of the UnitedStates. She has been stationed in Germany and Korea and deployed toKosovo.

After a tour in Korea, Tanner was stationed at Fort Lewis, Ga.,where she will return after her Afghanistan deployment. For reasonsof operational security, Tanner could not say when she or the taskforce would be returning to Fort Lewis.

The 1989 Brookhaven High School graduate said her logistics rolewas challenging.

“My job was to push support out to all our units, fromconstruction materials to food and water,” Tanner said. “There werecivilian contractors also. We did a lot of the rough work. Thecontractors actually came in behind us to pave the road.”

The logistics for supplying a large unit with not only thematerials it needs to complete its mission, but also the basicnecessities can be daunting, she said.

The hardest obstacle to overcome was the availability ofmaterials like wood, lumber and gravel in a country that has fewtrees and very little modern construction materials.

Wear and tear on the equipment posed its own challenges, Tannersaid. Soldiers could not simply run down to the maintenance shackor the nearest city to get parts they needed to keep the machineryoperating.

“A lot of it has to do with the remote location, but some of itare the rules and regulations of purchasing from locals,” she said.”The quality and specifications of what we need is not readilyavailable in this theater (of operations).”

Despite the sometimes overwhelming duties of managing the taskforce logistics, Tanner said it was an experience she would neverforget.

“It’s been awesome,” she said. “The great thing about being aconstruction unit is that we can see what we’ve done.”

In contrast, she said, many soldiers know they are making adifference with their patrols and raids, but it’s intangible. Theycan’t see it.

“We see immediate results,” Tanner said.

For example, the Khandahar-Tarin-Kowt road project transformed aformerly 12- to 15-hour trip into a three-hour drive. That allowedmany of the residents in the Tarin-Kowt area to participate in thenational election, she said.

“It’s hard being away from family and friends, but it’s worthit,” Tanner said. “What we’re doing over here is definitely worthit. It’s making a difference.”

Her work did not go unnoticed by the Army. Last week, Tanner wasnamed the commander of Alpha Company.

“Now I worry about the logistics of one company rather than atask force. But, of course, I have many other duties. It’s veryrewarding.”

Among those other duties is safeguarding her soldiers from thedangers of operating in a hostile environment.

“The biggest threat we face are IEDs (improvised explosivedevices),” Tanner said. “We have had some incidents. We definitelystay abreast of it and stay alert for things in the road. It’s avalid threat.”