Same Vic, Different Day
Seabee's Get a Warm Welcome From Old Friends
The relationships formed during war are everlasting. Through bombs and battlefields, bonds become forged; spending countless days together in all conditions, just hoping that the pressure doesn't become too much, relying solely on each other for support.
In the case of two Seabees, they experienced that type of relationship - with their equipment.
For Equipment Operator 1st Class (SCW) Eric Wright and Chief Construction Electrician (SCW) John Labrie, equipment has followed them to a different country from a previous deployment, five years apart.
The Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Cougar Cat II is a highly durable vehicle, "vic" for short, used extensively throughout Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose designed purpose is surviving improvised explosive device attacks and ambushes. For Wright and Labrie, their MRAPs became indispensable to their missions. The two were both members of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 27 during a 2008-2009 deployment to Iraq; Wright as a member of the Convoy Security Element (CSE), and Labrie as the leader of a "tiger team," charged with maintenance and repair on forward operating bases (FOB). For each, their respective MRAP became a constant companion.
"Pretty much the missions were just hauling equipment to the various FOBs," said Wright. "We would work nights, running usually from 6 p.m., until the mission was complete. We were out of Al Asad, Iraq, but we ran all over the place. At the time I was the vic commander and the driver for my vehicle; drivers especially, we assign personalities to our trucks, so you get attached to them, you know? They really become part of the team, part of the family, just as much as the gunners or the drivers."
For Labrie, his MRAP became as essential as the equipment it was hauling.
"We did 51 convoys in 83 days with my vehicle," said Labrie. "Doing the missions that we did, that vehicle, 379, was on the highway constantly, she was our workhorse. And the Marines out there needed that support - it was wintertime and pipes would burst, pumps would go - so we were always on the road. If we didn't have that MRAP, we could not have done our job; she was the only one we had. She'd get us out there so we could say to the Marines 'Of course we can do that for you. We're Seabees.'"
After the end of the deployment the two Seabees parted ways with their MRAPs, though not without a small bit of sadness.
"I would often joke with my buddies who were going out, to keep an eye out for her," said Labrie, speaking of his vehicle like an old friend. "Even as recently as this past field exercise I was looking for her in the Alfa yard, but none of the serial numbers were right. I just figured I'd never see her again."
Fast forward to 2014 and both Wright and Labrie are members of NMCB 25, deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan. Imagine the surprise when each was met face-to-face with their vehicles; it was the closest thing to a welcome either of them would get in Afghanistan.
When Wright found himself back on the CSE team at Camp Phoenix, a friend was waiting for him to deliver some good news.
"It was pretty cool - one of the mechanics on NMCB 28's CSE team recognized that it was my truck, and when we got here he was like, 'Hey, I've got something for you. I got your truck here from '08,'" said Wright. "I couldn't believe it. So as we were claiming trucks, I claimed that one. I basically said, 'I don't care who thinks they're taking this truck but it's mine.'"
Not long after Wright had been reunited with his vehicle, Labrie happened upon his while walking across the camp one day.
"I was just walking through the Alfa yard one day, and I'm looking at the MRAPs as I walked by," said Labrie. "I never thought I'd ever run into her again, but I look over and I see 379. I think, 'No way.' I actually had to look closer because I didn't believe it. I had to double check the number, but sure enough, there she was."
Labrie's find proved to be bittersweet. While 379 made it out to Afghanistan, by the time Labrie found her the vehicle had been assigned to Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office and slated to be scrapped.
"When I saw her out in the yard the first thing I did was look in through the window and, sure enough, the dash was all ripped apart and sections of the engine had been taken out for parts," said Labrie. "So she's still doing her part to keep other vehicles running and even now she looks as beautiful as ever to me."
Even those in the NMCB 25 Alfa yard think it's incredible that two individuals would have two separate vehicles follow them on two separate deployments years apart.
"We get our vehicles from a large pool, so it's not out of the ordinary for a vehicle to come to a battalion more than once," said Senior Chief Equipment Operator (SCW) Lori Saville, NMCB 25 Alfa Company leading chief petty officer. "But to have two vehicles follow two guys after this long, especially in the case of Wright - who's still using his vehicle - I think it's just nuts."
Though the two vehicles have taken different paths, those who knew them still think fondly of them. For Wright, he gets to see a whole new team come to know the vehicle he grew so fond of.
"Some guys get really possessive of their vehicles," said Wright, now a convoy commander for the NMCB 25 CSE team. "Then all of the sudden it comes back around to find you again, it's pretty cool. So far the rest of the team has really taken to her, especially the driver. The driver's the one who really gets attached. But I still ride out on her every time; technically I'm part of the pack inside now, but that vehicle will go with me no matter where I am. I think she'll take care of us."
For Labrie, he takes comfort in at least seeing his vic one last time.
"When I saw that vehicle number and realized it was mine, it was pretty cool," said Labrie. "We're both continuing to do our part for our country. It will be sad to see her scrapped, but I'm glad I got to see her one more time."
Wright will also find it hard to let go when the time comes.
"I might sneak a little piece of her back home," said Wright. "You know, I'd like to take it all home, but my wife would kill me if I parked a 26-ton vehicle in the drive way."