Reserve Seabees Tackle NATO School Renovation in Bavarian Alps

Story Number: NNS020725-08Release Date: 7/27/2002 12:05:00 PM
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By Capt. Christine M. Miller, Naval Reserve NIB SW 111

OBERAMMERGAU, Germany (NNS) -- Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 23 has been taking the lead in a four-month Annual Training deployment in the historical village of Oberammergau, Germany.

Since June, small detachments of Seabees from the east coast have been reporting for duty at The NATO School, where they are honing their construction skills on a major renovation project.

Under the skillful eyes of Master Chief Constructionman (SCW) Robert Jones and Master Chief Constructionman (SCW) Tim L. Martin, the project remains on schedule as various entities work toward the end of a September completion.

Known for his resourcefulness and ability to utilize Reserve expertise, Capt. Rick Stevens, The NATO School Commandant, and his J-7 staff approached European Command NATO (EUCOM) last year about much-needed renovations at the School.

The NATO Community Club is a major hub of activities - its dining facility hosts the weekly get-together networking social bringing together more than 100 students, faculty and spouses. It serves as the primary reception and billeting center for more than 8,500 NATO and Partnership for Peace (PfP) students who attend more than 57 courses the school throughout the year.

"The renovation is a mission-essential requirement for the School," said David Coslow, assistant J-7 at the School and the project officer. "We needed to make these improvements to meet changes in both U.S. and German building standards and to meet fire inspection standards that will ensure the safety of our guests while using our facility."

After receiving the green light from J-4 EUCOM Engineering Office in February 2001, Stevens realized he had to make things happen in a timely fashion with limited resources. The project represents true NATO cooperation and consensus decision-making among four entities: EUCOM, who agreed to sanction the project and lobbied for 1200+ man days of Reserve Support; the U.S. Army Support Team (AST), Garmisch, Germany serves as the procurement agency for all the material and supplies; the Federal German Construction Office (Bauamt) acts as the agent for US forces doing construction within Germany; and Naval Construction Brigade.

The 2NCB, located in Little Creek, VA, exercises administrative and operational control of two Naval Construction Regiments in a specific geographic area. It provided the initial review of plans and construction capabilities and redistributed the resources.

All deployment costs including shipment of tool kits are covered by U.S. Naval Reserve while the school is renting tools and equipment including a crane and other specialized equipment. Material costs are estimated at $400,000.

"The scope of work is aggressive," says Stevens. "When they finish we'll have a wintergarden, a renovated dining facility with air conditioning, a game room, a new entrance area to facilitate in-processing of our students, new sidewalk and a coat room."

The building will be more energy efficient with fire retardant tile and space for each NATO country to display gifts for sale.

For Jones and Martin, the project represents the highlight in their Reserve Seabee career. They and one active duty Seabee, Utilitiesman 1st Class (SCW) Gene Craig represent the continuity and glue holding this project together.

Craig serves as the project safety petty officer, expeditor and tool custodian. Jones, a teacher of construction at Fairfield Career Center in Carroll, OH began to realize the full scope of the renovation when he traveled to Oberammergau in January to begin the arduous planning task.

With limited architectural plans to review, he assessed the scope of the project and worked with Coslow and his team to determine the manning document. Once back in the U.S., he coordinated with NMCB-23 to put names and skills sets with specific requirements needed to accomplish the various projects. Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCBs) provide responsive military construction support to Navy, Marine Corps and other forces in military operations and also construct base facilities.

He and Martin, an engineering manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation, spent two months e-mailing and working with the Brigade to ensure the right people were given the right jobs.

"Reservists who've gone the extra mile in their Seabee career were chosen by NMCB-23 operations department," said Jones. "It meant fine-combing our work force, determining when those selected could take 17 days of AT from their civilian careers, analyzing what Personal Readiness Capability Skills each Reservist would accomplish during deployment while at the same time meeting the approved Construction Management Plan."

Planning and complete attention to detail have paid off. During the first wave, Seabees began the preliminary work of setting up storage space for equipment and bringing the plans to life. Eight SeaBees from NMCB-23 Dets 0323, 0223 and 0423 and the 3NCR helped prepare the site for construction, clearing and grubbing the site layout.

Two large groups arrived late June and mid-July including SeaBees from NMCB-23 Dets 0123, 1323, 0523, 0723, 0823, 1123 and 1223 and NMCB-14. In late July and August, 41 more construction workers will rotate in; other Dets represented in this group include the NMCB-23 Det 0823 and 1023. A small detachment of seven will conclude the project in September.

Together, the SeaBees collective participation represents a 60 percent savings in the total cost of the project.

"I had the pleasure of overseeing the best Reserve workforce," said Jones. "NMCB-23 Ops' ability to identify skilled Reservists who needed specific training to improve their mobilization readiness was exceptional. This was a triple win -- for Reservists, The NATO School and the U.S. Navy."

Personnelman 1st Class Kelly Lavadie, a native of Everett, PA and a school teacher outside Erie, never expected to spend her summer in Oberammergau learning the art of construction. The manning document called for several non-Seabee ratings to work on the project. Assigned to Det. 0723, Lavadie handles administrative work for her unit.

"This is training at its best," said Jones. "Lavadie rolled up her sleeves and tackled assignments given to her, such as tying rebar and excavating footers. In my book, she's a bonafide Seabee."

While others celebrated the 4th of July, the 16-person group made final preparations for a huge concrete pour that would bring shape and meaning to the wintergarten. After weeks of clearing the area, digging footers, fabricating the reinforcing steel including tying more than 10,000 steel ties, the Seabees were ready for the first of six cement trucks that began arriving shortly after daybreak on July 5.

Jones was ready. Builder 2nd Class James Miller, an assistant principal and a member of unit, waded through wet concrete as he screeded. Builder 3rd Class Salvatore Lupo and Steelworker 2nd Class Todd Naponic took turns manning the chute. Engineering Aide 1st Class Tim Rossow and Utilitiesman 3rd Class Kenneth Jacques raked and vibrated the concrete.

"Over the course of 10 hours, we poured 61 cubic meters of concrete," said Coslow. "The trucks couldn't keep up with the Seabees. This was one of the School's largest homogenous concrete pours in its history."

Jones credits the success to teamwork and everyone's ability to work in and outside their ratings. Never one to miss a teaching opportunity, Jones jumped into the wet mass of gray slush to provide hands-on training to his fellow SeaBees.

Some of the work on the project is done in the small village of Peiting, about 15-and-a-half miles from Oberammergau. Steelworker 1st Class David Behe has been working with German steelmakers for several weeks prefabricating the steel structure for the wintergarden.

"Their craftsmanship is a work of art," he remarked. "What I am learning is invaluable and will make me a better tradesmen in my civilian job."

For Craig, a active duty Seabee currently on assignment in Spain, working with more than 70 Reservists over four months has been an eye-opening experience.

"They jump right in and do more than is expected," he said. "Their ability to parlay their civilian skills into the military environment energized the project. Without a doubt, it's the 'One Navy' concept alive here at The NATO School."

A project of this magnitude offers many challenges and Project 2002 had its share. The school wanted to preserve as many trees as possible, and this meant digging up 50-year-old trees and relocating them.

"Digging into the ground without an utility plan is a bit daunting," recalls Jones. "As we began to dig we realized there were electrical and steam pipes not listed on the drawings. This meant immediate readjustment, sealing off abandoned steam lines and hand digging around a main power supply line. This is flexibility at its best."

Following the concrete pour, new detachments of SeaBees are demolishing the old lounge for the new game room and preparing the existing building to receive the wintergarden steel structure that will support the new addition.

The NATO SeaBee Project 2002 lays the groundwork for a five-year renovation plan. Next year, the School has targeted the expansion of the Blue Crest Lounge and fitness room at the Recreational Center as well as improvement of the bathrooms and plumbing at the Visitor-Officer Quarters. These billeting quarters are filled to 100 percent occupancy and were last renovated in the mid-1980s. In 2004, a major expansion and renovation of the Recreation Center's multi-purpose room is slated.

"Even though I won't be here for the entire five year plan," says Capt. Stevens, "I trust the Naval Reserve will continue to support our endeavor. This School represents the future of NATO, Partnership for Peace and the Mediterranean Dialogue. What Reservists are doing to help our school and students is immeasurable. We couldn't do it without them."

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