News: Seabees build modern-day 'Noah's Ark' in Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Aaron Rooks
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - The Marines affectionately call the structure "Noah's Ark," for its similarities to the vessel built before flood waters covered the earth in biblical times.
In the rugged desert of southern Afghanistan sit hundreds of tents occupied by Marines for as far as the eye can see.
Rising above the dust and grit that blow across the Helmand plains, one object stands out majestically amongst Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan's sprawling tent city at the unit's base of operations at Camp Leatherneck.
The Marines affectionately call the structure "Noah's Ark," for its similarities to the vessel built before flood waters covered the earth in biblical times.
This modern-day ark, built for Marines in less than three months by sailors of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, looms over all other structures across the desert camp.
"In my 19 years in the Navy, I have never built a building this big," said Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas Damron, a supervisor for the construction of the 12,000 square-foot structure. "This is the largest wooden structure I've ever seen Seabees build."
Damron, a Port Hueneme, Calif., native, said the building is the largest building made by the Navy outside the U.S. since World War II and will be used for coordinating various aspects of MEB-Afghanistan's mission, which includes counterinsurgency operations and mentoring and training Afghan national security forces.
Construction of the massive building began two months before MEB-Afghanistan arrived in Helmand province. Damron said the Seabees are currently on schedule to meet their deadline for finishing the Ark, but only because of the sweat and perseverance that has come from the naval construction workers involved.
"We're all pushed to our limits," Damron said. "A construction job of this size takes an average of five months to complete. We're doing it in less than three."
The sailors each work an average of 12 hours every day at the least. By the time the sun rises, on average, the temperature is 85 degrees, said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Amber Chambliss, hospital corpsman, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5. She said temperatures lately can reach 125 degrees by mid-day.
"This job they're doing can be extremely dangerous," Chambliss said, of working both inside and outside the building, which currently lacks air conditioning. "Dealing with the heat is a serious issue alone, not to add the possibility of falling off the roof."
The Miami native said individuals who work on the job site drink anywhere from two to three gallons of water daily. And it's necessary, she said, noting the fact that if one of the workers falls out, the job will become even harder to complete on time.
The day-to-day job hasn't been easy, Damron said. In order to reach their completion deadline, the Seabees work nearly non-stop, taking an hour-long break for lunch and 10-minute breaks every hour to rest. Reaching their completion time has required every one of those minutes saved, he said.
"This is one of the toughest jobs some of us have ever done because of the elements and working conditions," Damron said. "It's controlled chaos. We've been building this at more than two times the speed it would take on average to complete. Everyone is constantly doing different things, moving different directions, accomplishing one job, then moving toward the next."
"Look at them, you can se the exhaustion in their faces," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Garrison Hardisty, project supervisor. "And they're only halfway through the day. They're all pushed to the limit."
Hardisty said everyone is physically drained when they leave the job site in the evenings. The job has taken an obvious toll on Damron, who said he's lost more than 30 pounds since he arrived in Afghanistan. But, Hardisty said, they return each day and never give up.
And even though returning each day reminds them of the grueling tasks ahead, it also reminds them of how far they have come in such a short amount of time.
"Everyone's excited to see the end result," Damron said, enthusiastically. "We're all proud to have had a part in this building. It will be around for years to come."
Petty Officers 2nd Class Landon Church and John Nicholas, project lead electrician and utilities man respectively, said they were confident in the building becoming operational by its deadline. Church, a Byron, Mich., native, said he and his team of electricians have installed more than 10,000 feet of wiring throughout the building to support hundreds of computers. Nicholas, a Boise, Idaho, native, said the facility will also be climate-controlled, ready to accept those who will work there when it opens.
As the clock continues to count down, the Seabees remain resilient, motivated by purpose and commitment. But as one job nears an end, others add up by the week. After the brigade command center is complete, they will move on and continue to build the Regimental Combat Team 3 and Camp Leatherneck Garrison Combat Operations Center, also 12,000 square-feet each.
"As soon as this job is complete, we will carry on to the next," Damron explained. "There will be no rest for us."