News: Enlisted leader fills an officer's billet, runs an entire construction project
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Garas
REGIONAL COMMAND EAST, Afghanistan – Senior Chief Steelworker Ronald Stocker stands in the blistering sun, carefully watching his Seabees pour concrete. “Without this labor force this job just couldn’t be done,” he says.
“You talk to anyone on this camp and they’ll tell you that the Seabees are the only ones working before 9 o’clock in the morning,” says Stocker in an unmistakable Boston accent. “We are on that job site religiously everyday at 7 o’clock in the morning.”
Stocker is the Regional Command East detachment officer in charge.
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 15, a reserve unit headquartered out of Belton, Mo., are currently placing more than 2,000 cubic yards of concrete to add more than 1,500 feet of runway for Regional Command East. The project is currently the largest construction project in the Afghan theater of operations.
“We are building a runway extension to increase the capabilities of coalition forces,” says Stocker with a hint of confidence.
Organizing such a momentous project could prove daunting, but Stocker utilized effective planning and management to ensure his team’s success. Breaking his crew up into three teams, Stocker divided his work by rate, thereby increasing efficiency. Rate refers to the specific job position of a Seabee or sailor.
The scheduled shifts help fill gaps in work to complete other tasks, such as allowing steelworker rates to prepare the steel and rebar while builder rates construct the frames for the concrete. This way, when the concrete is ready to pour, the Seabees simply need to lay the rebar inside the frames and reduce time.
“We try to pour concrete every three days in cycles,” said Stocker. “We try to maintain that schedule for the entire detachment.”
The consistent work schedule allows the Seabees to have zero down time, meaning no disruptions or slack during the build process. It has also allowed the Seabees to stay ahead. In just over two months, they are already ahead of schedule.
The work cycle, while efficient, is challenging.
But Stocker is no stranger to building large projects under a tight schedule.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Stocker was given control of a small detachment and tasked with building Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay.
“I took a group of 75 Seabees there and built the camp,” said Stocker. “It was a lot of concrete and steel work, pretty much the same pace as this project.”
But the similarities of building in Cuba end there. The logistical differences of building in Afghanistan are night and day.
“The biggest thing here is getting our material,” Stocker said. “If we don’t have it, we don’t get it.”
If tools break, the Seabees are forced to fix them on site. If equipment breaks, Seabees are forced to salvage parts from other equipment.
The "can-do" attitude Seabees are famous for persists. Stocker notes that resilience is a Seabee hallmark.
“If we don’t have it here, we’re not getting it here, so we have to make do,” says Stocker.
Stocker started his career on active duty as a young man, but left the service in 1987 to run his own construction company out of Boston. He has since re-entered service in 1991.
“My civilian construction business in Boston is similar to what we are doing here, so I think that gave me my rate-knowledge,” Stocker says.
As a senior-enlisted member, Stocker finds himself in charge of an assignment that is usually under the control of an officer. While he thinks that officers tend to be more educated than the enlisted chiefs, he thinks some of them lack the job experience. He calmly notes that officers may manage construction projects, but they usually don’t work them. Both roles are challenging.
When he first arrived on site, Stocker admits he micromanaged the project. However, the first class petty officers began to step up and take charge. As they did, the lines of communication opened up and Stocker was able to achieve his desired effect.
“You have to let your leaders find themselves,” Stocker said. “Leaders are leaders, regardless if they are a first, second or even third class petty officer.”
The Seabees of NMCB 15 are pouring a batch of concrete into a wooden frame. Sweat pours from their brows, past the spatterings of concrete dried to their faces. They continue to work without complaint, as if driven by the importance of the project.
Stocker watches them intently as they continue to work on the largest project his battalion has undertaken. None of it could have been made possible without him guiding them. Yet, he’s quick to pass on taking any of the credit.
“This job isn’t done by me. This job is done by those 30 guys out there,” says Stocker. “That’s what it’s all about.”
NMCB 15 is currently deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and is an expeditionary engineering element of U.S. naval forces supporting units worldwide through national force readiness, humanitarian assistance, and building and maintaining infrastructure.
For more news, visit www.navy.mil
For more news from NMCB 15 visit www.facebook.com/NMCB15