News: Seabees build up southern Afghanistan
Story by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Williams
KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – With Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces spread throughout Afghanistan, the need to expand construction capabilities into other areas is in great demand. In Regional Command-South, that mission belongs to the Navy Seabees of the U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 26.
Based out of Kandahar Airfield, NMCB 26 provides skilled workers to help expand coalition capabilities and bring the fight to the Taliban. The Seabee motto, “we build, we fight,” is exactly what they’ve been doing for almost 70 years, including most recently in Afghanistan.
At Forward Operating Base Wilson, the Seabees build guard towers and other basic necessities for newly constructed combat outposts. They also build roads or perform route clearance to improve logistical pipelines throughout the region.
“We work in direct support of the combat outpost team (located at Forward Operating Base Howz-E-Madad),” said U.S. Navy Master Chief Brian Benzinger, NMCB 26 Detachment-Wilson, assistant officer in charge. “Our Blade Team (road construction) does route improvement or route clearance. They go out and improve a dirt road, or grade through the dirt and make a road.”
Because guard towers are built in the safety of the FOB, the Seabees building the outposts don’t have to spend as much time "outside the wire."
“The pre-fabs are a huge help,” said U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Lee Hanna, NMCB 26 Detachment-Howz-E-Madad. “If it weren’t for those guys, we’d have to build them ourselves out in the field, wearing full body armor. All we have to do is put them in place and fortify them with Hescos and sandbags. It definitely makes our job easier.”
At FOB Tarin Kowt, the Seabees are entrenched in fortifying the base and making improvements to the overall infrastructure. Air travel in and out of the FOB is being enhanced as they build a new air traffic control tower and passenger terminal.
“That ATC project, it’s not just the tower. It’s also a 20-foot building with generators,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Xander Vincent, NMCB 26 Detachment-Tarin Kowt officer in charge. “The tower will be 42 feet tall … it’s set at an exact height for the operations here.”
Currently, passengers traveling through Tarin Kowt have three different passenger terminals to obtain flight information. The Seabees are building a new passenger terminal to consolidate those resources with enough space for 50 people.
“The PAX terminal is a pretty cool building, because it’s a 130 foot long by 32 [southwest Asia] hut,” Vincent said. “It’s a pretty big building, and it’s been pretty smooth going. We thought it was a pretty level piece of ground at first, but we have to bring it up two meters to even it out. We have to bring more dirt than we originally thought.”
One of the challenges is the lack of equipment needed to complete the projects on time, but the Seabees are pushing through.
“Because we’re in Afghanistan and there’s no [home improvement store], it has its challenges,” Vincent said. “We share a crane with a local contractor and we have to work around its schedule.”
Despite the setbacks, Vincent said he expects the passenger terminal and control tower to be completed by mid-May. They expect another major project to be complete before they redeploy in June. The Seabees are going to expand the perimeter of the base to increase force protection and improve security.
“The Air Force [Red Horse civil engineer squadron who recently left] completed about 50 percent of the southern Hesco expansion project. We’re going to tear out the old Hescos, level the ground and finish project,” Vincent said.
The majority of the NMCB 26 Seabees are reservists based out of Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. They come from different backgrounds and skill sets in construction, and they pull their resources together and feed off each other’s knowledge.
“We have some great civilian skills that translate over into building [these projects]. The crew is great,” Vincent said. “We have all sorts of skill levels. We have people who are builders in the Navy, but electricians on the outside. We have someone who is a crane operator on the outside, but he’s a welder for the Navy. They were definitely excited to come here. We have the oversight to train and utilize the skills and knowledge where needed. They’re talented, and you can see the best in them.”
A lot of those talents, along with on-the-spot flexibility, were demonstrated during recent heavy rains in the south that could have had devastating effects on the FOBs. The Seabees gathered their resources to prevent catastrophic flooding and damage.
“We had three days of flood mitigation,” Benzinger said. “Sand was getting sucked out of the Hescos, and we were getting too close to us losing those walls. We supported the Army in ensuring the safety of the base by digging ditches (to allow the water to flow out of the FOB).”
The sailors of NMCB 26 built seven combat outposts and widened, improved and laid approximately five miles of road since they arrived. They continue to build on the already proud Seabee history and have a big celebration planned for March 5 – the Seabees 69th birthday.