Afghanistan Engineer District

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Afghanistan Engineer District
ATTN: Qalaa House, Public Affairs Office
APO AE 09356
Email: Maureen.C.Ramsey@tac01.usace.army.mil
Mobile: 070-188-397 US Commercial 540-542-6197

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -A C-130 Hercules tactical aircraft makes its final approach to land on the operational part of the runway at Kandahar Air Field. The flight path is across and directly in line with the runway's new concrete touch down, an Afghanistan Engineer District project currently under construction. Photo by Dennis Campbell, Afghanistan Engineer District

Who are ya gonna call when the lights go out?

Yvan Nobile and a Gardez city worker inspect the electrical circuits prior to turning on power.

KABUL, Afghanistan -- After 20 years of darkness, the lights are finally back on in Gardez. That’s thanks to the Czech Republic’s donation of a generator and the talents of the US Army Corps of Engineers Afghanistan Engineer District’s (AED) Yvan Nobile.

Between years of conflict and a lack of maintenance, the city’s generator died years ago plunging the small metropolis into a world of darkness and back into the nineteenth century. Enter the Czech Republic with its donation and Nobile with more than 40 years of electrical expertise.

“The equipment was in poor shape. The Governor of Gardez had tried to fix the problem and realized he needed help. That’s why they sent me. I know electrical systems. I’m what they call a troubleshooter” said Nobile, a spry French-American master electrical engineer with a strong French accent.
Since the city didn’t have a new electrical switchboard to transmit electricity to the power lines, Nobile rigged up its old switch as a temporary “fix” until the new one is ready for installation in April.

Yvan Nobile and Gardez city workers check out the city's new generator.

“The equipment was old and damaged. It was dangerous to work with it. I could have blown myself up,” reflected Nobile.

To avert any glitches when he gave the city the go-ahead to turn the power back on, Nobile inspected the city’s power lines and meters to ensure they could still handle the electrical load. He gave them a “go.”

“It was wonderful. Everyone was happy when the lights went on. Once the new switchboard is here and installed, this will help Gardez to also generate monies to sustain itself, “ Nobile said. Nobile will train city workers how to maintain the switchboard when he installs the new one just as he had when setting up the generator. Nobile is a volunteer civilian deployee from the Philadelphia District. He has served in Afghanistan for two years.

“I want to see Afghanistan change for the better,” said Nobile when asked why he volunteered and why he continues to work 12-14 hours a day in country where most homes don’t have electricity or running water.

A power plant student explains the meaning of various gauges to Yvan Nobile.

“The people are poor. They need work to help them build confidence in themselves. I am doing my part by teaching them about electricity,” he said.

The District’s expert on power plants serves as a technical consultant for new and existing electrical renovation efforts throughout Afghanistan from Kabul to Herat, Kandahar to Mazar-e-Sharif. Nobile reviews power plant construction designs and oversees start-up procedures at each site. He has taught Afghan workers the intricacies of prime power and commissioned power plants at the Kabul Military Training Center and at Afghan National Army installations in Darualaman, Kandahar, Pol-e-Charkhi, Gardez, Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat. Nobile estimates that he has taught 400 students during the past two years.

“I enjoy teaching the Afghan workers how to install and maintain their electrical systems. They want to learn and I like to teach. They are also learning that knowing a trade is better than fighting,” Nobile said with a classic shrug Key to his success in training is “I treat people as human beings,” .he said. Nobile has provided emergency repair for the transformer at Kabul’s Women’s Hospital, Rabia-E Balkhi and upgraded a Kabul orphanage’s system. He also designed a power station for and restored power to the city of Ghazni.

The City of Gardez is building a facility to house its new generator donated by the Czech Republic.

When inspecting any job site, Nobile takes his fiduciary responsibility seriously. “I am here to protect the interest of the United States. My job is to keep everyone honest and to ensure they comply to code, regulations and safety,” Nobile explained.

A former member of the French Special Forces, Nobile has worked for the Corps for over 20 years. Prior to his assignment here, he was the acting Chief electrician for the federal navigation ship, the US Dredge MacFarland where he rewired the entire vessel. As Chief Engineer, Nobile ensured it was ready to meet any challenge including several active hurricane seasons. The modest Nobile was the power team leader following Hurricane Isabel.

Just before deploying to Afghanistan in 2004, Nobile and his wife bought a house in eastern Texas. In late September 2005, they lost the roof of their new home during Hurricane Rita. After a brief visit stateside to assess the damage, Nobile was back at work at AED. After nearly 30 years of conflict, Afghans don’t have the support system that his family and other Americans have to cope with disaster, he explained.

Yvan Nobile and friends pose after turning on the power in Gardez

So, when the power goes out, who are ya gonna call? I hope it’s Yvan Nobile. reflected Nobile.

To avert any glitches when he gave the city the go-ahead to turn the power back on, Nobile inspected the city’s power lines and meters to ensure they could still handle the electrical load. He gave them a “go.”

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