Seabees, Marines Teach Iraqis to Build, Pave Way to Future

Story Number: NNS070822-13Release Date: 8/22/2007 3:16:00 PM
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By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shane Montgomery and Lt. Peter Ott, 30th Naval Construction Public Affairs

CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq (NNS) -- Every action taken by coalition forces in Iraq is leading toward the ultimate goal of accomplishing Provincial Iraqi Control.

Whether it's routing out insurgents alongside the Iraqi Army or helping Iraqi police maintain peace, much of the recent success in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq can be attributed to Americans and Iraqis working together. Seabees and Marines from the Naval Construction Force in the region are doing their part as they teach Iraqis how to build, maintain and repair their infrastructure.

When the 7th Iraqi Army Division relocated to Ramadi from Fallujah in early 2006, only 25 soldiers manned its engineering company. Since then, recruiting efforts by the Iraqi Army have helped the unit grow to more than 160 personnel.

While the recruits are eager to help rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, many of them lack any formal training or construction experience.

"As the number of recruits increased, I knew that I needed help," said Marine Capt. Donnie Fricks, who leads the U.S. initiative to train members of the Iraqi engineering company.

"I asked around and discovered that we had Seabees nearby," said Fricks. "Who better to train the Iraqis than Sailors who do it every day? I am grateful to have six of them serving as subject matter experts. Seabees do hard work. I need more of them."

Since April, six Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4 have worked alongside members of the Iraqi Army as part of the Seabee Military Training Team (SMTT), passing along their construction skills and leading them in increasingly complex construction projects.

"The Seabees are great," said a member of the 7th Iraqi Army Division. "They help us learn skills like maintenance, carpentry, electrical wiring and welding."

As one of the Seabees from NMCB 4 attached to the SMTT, Steelworker 2nd Class Miguel Rosado has enjoyed the chance to step into a leadership role while helping the Iraqis improve their skills.

"We're not here to do the work for the Iraqis, we're here to advise them," said Rosado. "We show them what to do, then step back and let them make mistakes for a little while before stepping in and guiding them to success."

The SMTT mission may become a permanent part of every Seabee battalion's tasking in order to continue to provide critical training as Iraq seeks to rebuild and stabilize once fractured regions.

"The SMTT program is an important mission for the Seabees in Iraq," said Lt. Peter Simmons, the 30th Naval Construction Regiment's assistant operations officer. "Training the Iraqi military engineers in various construction fields helps them to better execute successful missions that support their country."

Under the watchful eyes of the SMTT, Iraqi soldiers have completed projects ranging from up-armoring tactical vehicles for the Iraqi Army, to installing and repairing light fixtures and air-conditioning units, to widening roads and constructing gravel parking lots for the camp.

The company's most recent project included building three Southwest Asia huts on their camp that will serve as berthing spaces for the Iraqi Army. At the same time, they've learned how to better plan for their projects and manage and maintain their supplies and equipment.

"When I first got here, the Iraqis didn't know how to take care of their equipment, so I had to take a very hands-on approach," said Equipment Operator 3rd Class Ralph Fiore. "I had to show them how to properly pre-start a vehicle, how to check the fluids and perform preventive maintenance. Now I just double-check their work, and they are good to go."

An Iraqi Major participating in the training, said the training is working and he sees a bright future, thanks to the help his team has received from the SMTT.

"The Seabees help us a lot," said the Major. "Fiore teaches us the proper way to check the equipment and (another Seabee) helps us fix the Humvees. I now have light in my office because (Construction Electrician 2nd Class Marlon) Romero teaches us how to wire electricity. This will allow us to help the people of Iraq in the future."

The ultimate goal, according to Fricks, is to train and equip the engineering company so that it is self-sufficient, able to replicate itself by drawing on the experience of senior members to train new recruits. The training has provided a sense of pride for many of the Iraqis.

"Before the Seabees came, I know a little about carpentry and construction because that's what I did before I joined the Army," said a junior member of the Iraqi Army engineers. "Since we received help, I know a lot more about carpentry and how to use teamwork to build a house."

Many of the Seabees have a lot of hope for the Iraqis as a result of their partnership.

"I hope the Iraqis take our training and run with it," said Romero. "They have the opportunity to make a real difference in their country after we are gone."

While the Seabees were supporting the Iraqi Army engineers, in another part of Al Anbar Province, Marines from the 8th Engineer Support Battalion (ESB) were also teaching Iraqis from the 7th Division engineers how to make construction improvements.

"We've instructed 22 Iraqis on how to conduct route repair on roads and 30 other Iraqis on prefabrication of wooden structures," said Marine 1st Lt. Christopher Stokes of the 8th ESB. "We've taught them how to repair craters in roads by using a couple of different types of quick fill material available to them, and we've had the opportunity to teach them how to construct Southwest Asia huts and Davidson huts, which are used primarily for their billeting and office spaces and dining facilities."

Stokes explained it is important to provide the Iraqi Army with the skills they need to carry on the missions coalition forces have been conducting.

"We have to set them up for success, or the work we have done here is in vain," said Stokes. "As we get closer to PIC, more and more combined operations will be conducted to ensure they are capable of carrying on the missions once we leave."

The Naval Construction Force in Iraq focuses on achieving PIC when determining contingency construction operations in theater.

"Everything we do has to be pointing in the same direction, and that direction is supporting Iraqi control of all operations in Al Anbar," said Capt. Kate Gregory, commodore for the 30th NCR in Iraq. "Everything we do that supports the warfighter or helps train the Iraqi Army engineers is leading us to PIC. We're working hard for that eventuality, and we've made huge strides in achieving that outcome. Seeing all of our forces work together should give all of us hope for a positive future."

There are more than 1,100 Sailors and Marines supporting critical construction efforts in the Al Anbar Province as part of the 30th NCR and the II Marine Expeditionary Force (forward), including both NMCB 4 and the 8th ESB.

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