CAMP COMMANDO, Kuwait (NNS) -- While many of the U.S. troops in the Middle East are starting to think about going home, the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) Engineer Group (MEG) Seabees continue to seek out and complete a multitude of rebuilding projects in Iraq.
Called civil-military operations (CMO), these projects combine the efforts of coalition forces and local citizens, to improve the general welfare of the Iraqi people and support U.S. forces still in theater. The result is setting a framework for the incoming Organization for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and Non-Governmental Organizations.
How do the Seabees maintain momentum and motivation to continue working, while their Marine and Soldier counterparts are preparing to pack up and depart? MEG Command Master Chief Kevin Timmons, who is responsible for the keeping the pulse on the morale and welfare of the MEG enlisted troops, explains, "As long as there's a purpose, the Seabees will work 24 hours a day to get a job done. U.S. Navy Seabees are the best resource around to ensure mission accomplishment. There is no one better suited to accomplish the humanitarian mission."
As the United States transitions its mission of defeating the Iraqi regime to setting conditions for a free Iraq, the MEG's forces do the same. The MEG has changed its focus from wartime construction and mobility of troops and materials to the frontlines, to the flip side of the now-famous Seabee repertoire; interfacing with local communities to rebuild and repair city infrastructures and structures, and improving the living conditions of fellow military personnel.
Timmons says that Seabees are some of the best ambassadors the Navy has - their regular deployments give them plenty of experience interacting with people and children. Chief Equipment Operator John Tyson, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 74, echoes this by saying the best way for the junior Seabees to learn is in the 'real-time contingency classroom.' "The Seabees are used to doing 'quality of life construction' all over the world. The biggest reason to keep doing it is seeing the smiles from the local people."
According to Ensign Michael Vanderweide, whose battalion, NMCB-74, performed rehabilitation projects for schools in An Numinayah, the Iraqis have been eager to work with Americans to confront the challenges of getting their towns back in order, but there is much work to do. After years of classroom lessons that centered around Saddam Hussein, the schools need more than structural repairs.
"As we try to identify what schools need in terms of repairs, the citizens are asking for assistance in obtaining new books and curriculum," Vanderweide said.
Rear Adm. Charles Kubic fills roles as both MEG commander and the commander, First Naval Construction Division, in Little Creek, Va. The MEG is composed of a command element and three task forces: Mike (Mobility), Charlie (Construction) and Echo (Endurance), with different missions that complement each other.
Task Force Mike's wartime tasking facilitated force mobility through emplacement of four non-standard bridges made by British firm Mabey-Johnson, and construction and maintenance of roadway and airfield infrastructure to support the First Marine Division. Post-war, Task Force Mike built the first CMO bridge - a set of twin non-standard bridges that span the Diyala River and provide two-way traffic along a major artery into Baghdad.
During hostilities, Task Force Charlie guaranteed troop passage and uninterrupted flow of logistics on important supply routes by upgrading and maintaining roads, and constructed an enemy prisoner of war holding area. Charlie convoys provided a constant flow of bridging materials, culverts, construction items, food, water and other materials to forward units.
Task Force Echo's wartime projects included battle damage repair to infrastructure, and preparation for long term sustainment tasking related to subsequent phases. Task Force Echo's first CMO tasking started before post-war phases officially commenced. A Seabee detachment was assigned to Umm Qasr to provide engineering assessments that led to restoration of the city's electrical power, and to develop a system for water purification and distribution. The work expanded into community assistance projects, where Seabees rehabilitated a girls' school to fix its electrical system, prepared and painted the wall masonry, installed new window glass and screens, and improved latrines.
Local Iraqi citizens were employed to help the Seabees at the school and on a project to improve the passage of traffic leading to a ferry landing at the port. Builder 2nd Class James Allen, of NMCB-21, was glad to have worked with some of the Iraqis on projects at the school. "Many are college graduates and professionals, not construction workers. But like us, they just want to work. They're quick learners and hard workers."
Addressing NMCB-21 Seabees after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a girls' school in Umm Qasr, Kubic summed up the MEG's post-war role. "There has been much change in a short time since Iraq was under Saddam's rule. We want to maintain a presence here awhile longer to show the Iraqi people that we are there for them. There is still much more to do, and Seabees will continue this work with coalition forces throughout Iraq."
For related news, visit the Commander, 1st Naval Construction Division Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/1ncd.