News: My Shipmate's Keeper: Troops' Perspectives on Lucky 11's Mission in Afghanistan
Story by Marlene Houngbedji
AFGHANISTAN — In his March 2012 statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee, regarding U.S. Central Command’s and the International Security Assistance Force’s role in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, U.S. CENTCOM commander, reminded lawmakers that coalition forces are “postured to […] promote peace and stability,” and “transition operational lead to the Afghanistan National Security Forces.” This has been NMCB 11’s focus since a transfer of authority from NMCB 4 occurred last February. Though there is still much to accomplish, how can we not feel a pang of pride in what we have achieved as a battalion in a mere three and a half months of deployment?
This quarter has indeed been a display of Seabees’ ingenuity, adaptability to a constantly changing environment and acquired capacity for working long hours in recurrently harsh conditions. NMCB 11 Main Body and its various DETs have thus far: successfully harnessed the arid Afghan soil for water, provided convoy and construction site security, erected an advisor compound from the ground up for U.S. Marines and two pre-engineered buildings in support of mentoring the Afghan Uniformed Police academy; established productive partnerships with both the Afghan National Army and one of our supported commands on road improvement projects, instructed Afghans in preventive medicine and contributed to training the first ANA lead instructor in the field of generator operation and maintenance, built a detention facility in Shir Ghazay in support of anti-insurgency operations; and lent skillful hands to special operations forces, including a U.S. Navy SEALs unit, despite daily threats of attacks and occasional rushes to nearby bunkers.
Lucky Eleven has carried out its CENTCOM mission conscientiously despite reports of random acts of aggression against coalition forces or inclement weather, while also remembering to partake in the U.S. Navy’s overall efforts to promote better command climate. The battalion celebrated the achievements of some of its female Seabees during Women’s History Month and joined in raising awareness on sexual assault. Furthermore, NMCB 11 has demonstrated its commitment to excellence when one of its own was named Task Force Stethem’s Warfighter of the Month, and another selected for the NAVCENT Combat Meritorious Advancement Program. Two more had the privilege of receiving their Seabee Combat Warfare devices from none other than the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
Notwithstanding the extent of NMCB 11’s achievements, it is easy for younger, junior troops to lose sight of the ‘Big Picture’, especially when deployed to remote forward operating bases or combat outposts. As routine, fatigue and demoralization surreptitiously set in, we often confine our enthusiasm and drive to obscure corners of our minds. Supporting the growth in capacity and capability of the ANSF then becomes a mantra strictly designed for the ‘Higher-Ups’, a goal we find it hard to make our own at all times.
But one thing remains unscathed by the doubts, growing stronger as months elapse: our reliance on each other.
We are our shipmates’ keepers.
“My biggest motivation,” says a young Equipment Operator crew leader, “is the people I work with. Caring for them helps me to not give into fear about what might happen to me while I’m out there. And fear,” he concludes, “might mess up my work.” He, like so many of us, chose to focus on the tasks at hand and getting the job done every single day. We have been compelled to reassess our priorities and reengineer the thought process that determines what matters while in theater.
It was a mental transformation of which we were unaware until we realized that one particular moment now ranks first among our favorite, right when a working day draws to an end. It is not having a real, warm meal after a long, 10-hour snacking binge while on the job. It is neither the hot showers unloading our bodies off a day’s worth of intense activity for some and frustrations for others, nor the well-deserved rest in a clean bed or a worn-out tin cup, depending on the location. We have come to acknowledge that a Seabee’s favorite moment is watching teammates working outside the wire return to camp at sunset, exhausted, dirty, reeking of stale sweat and limbs sore after over 10 hours working in full gear, but alive.
That sight –Seabees returning safely after contributing to a mission’s success- makes playing one’s part in a crew, a DET, a company, a battalion and in U.S. forces’ strategic goal of restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan, something we look forward to doing all over again the very next day.
This work, My Shipmate's Keeper: Troops' Perspectives on Lucky 11's Mission in Afghanistan, by Marlene Houngbedji, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.