Maj. Dennis Sugrue, GeoE’04, learned an important lesson during his time in Afghanistan — engineering projects can solve social problems, but only if they maintain a community’s social balance.
Sugrue deployed in January 2006 with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, for a 16-month tour in Afghanistan to establish relationships with the people living in the country’s rugged and mountainous northeastern region.
“As remote as it was, they had common concerns with water, electricity and roads,” Sugrue says.
A few of the villages sat on the “hair-raising” main road, bordered by cliffs on one side and a raging river on the other.
“We would assess and prioritize village needs by working closely with their leaders,” Sugrue explains. During his time in Afghanistan, he worked on several water distribution projects, micro-hydro power generators and road improvement projects.
Today Sugrue is an environmental engineering instructor at West Point, where he teaches seniors how their engineering projects are really solutions to social problems.
“It’s important to not disrupt the social balance in these complex societies,” he says. “Sometimes we do more harm than good in trying to address their problems. If that becomes the case, you probably haven’t bettered the situation.”