News: Construction begins on new chapel, gym, rec center for Marines in Afghanistan after damage
Story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
NAWA, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — After a helicopter's strong winds leveled the base gym and floodwaters inundated the chapel tent at Forward Operating Base Geronimo three weeks ago, construction is now underway to rebuild and expand these facilities to better serve the Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment here.
Construction began about a week ago on four facilities with the help from a team of civilian carpenters who built raised wooden floors for the tents to protect them from future flooding as southern Afghanistan enters its rainy season.
The chapel, which currently doubles as the base's morale, welfare and recreation center, will soon move into a new, larger tent and make more room for the MWR activities. The gym has already moved to a larger tent which boasts aluminum aircraft cargo pallets as flooring to protect it from any dropped weights.
Where the chapel/MWR used to be, a new facility is being constructed for a commercial telephone and computer center which will be an extension of the MWR. With these new systems, Marines will be able to call home or e-mail friends and family when not conducting or supporting counterinsurgency operations in Nawa district.
"Between the helicopter and the flood, if those two things had not happened, I don't think we'd be doing this at all right now since everything would still be working," said Navy Lt. Carl P. Rhoads, 1/3's battalion chaplain, who expects all of the facilities to be mostly finished in a week's time. "These three things, the chapel, MWR and gym, touch everyone here at Geronimo in some way.
"The new chapel building will actually serve three functions — a chapel, a classroom and a theater," said Rhoads, 40, from Weippe, Idaho. "It has an open wood floor and I hope to be able to seat 100 people there comfortably. That's a lot better than the old chapel/MWR tent, where it felt crowded with only 20 people."
One of biggest benefits of separating the MWR and the chapel into different tents is it will minimize conflicts of activities, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Bradley C. Smith, the religious programs specialist who serves alongside Rhoads.
"People won't have to end their phone calls when we start playing a movie or people won't have to stop watching personal DVD players or get off computers when a religious service starts," said Smith, a 21 year old Reno, Nev., native. "The new chapel will also have a bigger wall we can project on for movies, video games, classes or Armed Forces Network television. This is going to be a big morale boost, especially once we get the XBOX 360 and Nintendo Wii there."
Once the chapel's assets are moved out of the MWR tent, it will also allow Rhodes more storage space for care package items to hand out to Marines.
"People think I'm the coolest guy in the world because I have this great stuff to give away, but I could not do it if I didn't have so much support from back home," Rhoads said. "Sometimes I feel like the mainstream media has forgotten us here, but the American people certainly have not."
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