BABYLON, Iraq (NNS) -- The Seabees are known around the world by their motto "we build, we fight." Thanks to diplomacy, they normally spend more time building than fighting. But the fighting was unavoidable for Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4's Seabee Engineer Reconnaisance Team (SERT) during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and their actions during the war recently earned them the Combat Action Ribbon.
Working closely with Marine Corps ground and air support to ensure mobility of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, SERT 4 found themselves at the forward edge of the battle area and became the first Seabee unit to engage in combat during OIF.
The decoration is only awarded to those personnel who have participated in a bona fide ground or surface combat firefight or action during which they were under enemy fire. SERT 4 qualified on all counts twice in one day.
SERT 4 was directed to find and relieve NMCB-5's SERT near the town of Qulat Sukkar, Iraq. While in convoy to the location, SERT 4 joined up with 7th Engineering Support Battalion, Combat Service Support Battalion 12 and 371 Marine Wing Support Squadron. As the well-armed convoy of more than 200 vehicles approached the city of Ash Shatraha, mortar shells exploded over the city and initiated a shower of sporadic small arms fire directed at the convoy.
Engineering Aide 3rd Class Chad Hook stated, "I didn't expect to be ambushed. It was a complete surprise, because we were told the area had been cleared already. As the rounds were whizzing by, my main thought was not about dying. I was thinking, 'I need to put a lot of rounds down range.'"
The convoy was forced to turn around and regroup on the north side of An Nasiriyiah. With air support in tow, the convoy left An Nasiriyiah, then engaged and pushed through an enemy ambush again in the city of Ash Shatraha.
During both trips, SERT 4's two .50-caliber machine gunners returned fire at enemy targets. Seabees with M-16 rifles also returned fire, as the convoy wound its way through streets riddled with mortar explosions and peppered with unpredictable small arms fire coming from windows along the street.
Although other units in the convoy sustained casualties, no one from SERT 4 was injured. Upon arrival at their planned destination at Qilat Sikkar Airfield, SERT 4 successfully conducted a battlefield relief-in-place with NMCB 5 SERT for the first time in the history of the Naval Construction Force.
Lt. j.g. Dean Allen, SERT 4 officer in charge said, "The nature of SERT is such that a turnover takes only a matter of hours, because each team, regardless of which battalion they're with, has similar gear, personnel and training to help expedite the process. Turnover is mostly an exchange of gathered intelligence. It's quite efficient."
Electronics Technician 2nd Class Miguel Perez laughed, "SERT 5 was happy to see us. They were scheduled to fly home soon. We were happy to catch up with them so they could do that."
The following members of SERT 4 received the Combat Action Ribbon for their actions during this conflict: Lt. Andrew Cook, Lt. j.g. Dean Allen, Chief Construction Mechanic (SCW) Jason Godusky, Equipment Operator (SCW) 1st Class Joseph Arnold, Builder 2nd Class Kevin Young, Steelworker 2nd Class Jason Condon, Electronics Technician 2nd Class Miguel Perez, Construction Mechanic 2nd Class (SCW) Travis Calvin, Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Lance Borromeo, and Engineering Aide 3rd Class Chad Hook.
Having finished it's mission, SERT 4 has since been disbanded. The team members have resumed their regular duties within the battalion. NMCB-4 is currently deployed to Guam, and will return to their homeport in Port Hueneme, Calif., this fall.
For related news, visit the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4 Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/nmcb4.