News: Castle in the sand: US Navy Seabees improve coalition forces' access to Alexander the Great landmark
Story by Marlene Houngbedji
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Tasked with not one but two short-term projects, Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11, Detachment Dwyer defied time constraints, high winds, uneven terrain and logistical challenges to complete a new Entry Control Point and repair damaged culverts in two locations: Combat Outpost Castle and COP Taghaz, which they completed June 9, 2012.
The 20-Seabee crew led by Equipment Operator 1st Class Jason M. Roy, from Oakland, Calif., reported to COP Castle in late May. The mission: thirty days to build a new ECP as a replacement for an existing one in which proximity to a local, crowded bazaar did not allow easy or safe access to the COP that serves as home to the U.S. Marines 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
The strategically-located COP owes its name to a castle captured from the Taliban as early as 2009.
Slightly above Khan Neshin, a district comprised of sporadic villages across the Helmand province, stands what remains of the ancient Khan Neshin Castle. Reportedly built by Alexander the Great in an area known as the Green Zone due to its abundant vegetation, the age-old structure was once an insurgent stronghold and the object of fierce battles between coalition forces and Taliban armed factions.
It now bears the hallmark of Seabee workmanship.
The crew laid the foundations of a more accessible ECP but not without difficulties. “We were working outside the wire in full gear, so our mobility was reduced,” said Project Supervisor Equipment Operator 2nd Class Sean P. Yarnell, of Finksburg, Md. “Trying to slow down the water flow coming from the Helmand River, while placing hescos and concrete culverts also proved challenging. We had to secure them with water pouring through them and sometimes, high winds destabilizing the equipment.”
A new ECP would not be a finished product without a crow’s nest, which required builder expertise. “The old one had to be destroyed but building a new watch post was one of the easiest things we had to do here,” said Builder 2nd Class Erlgen D. Aquino, from San Francisco, Calif., the only Seabee in his rate assigned to the project.
The ECP overhaul accomplished more than merely move a critical forward operating base’s entry road further from a busy local thoroughfare and increase security for the supported command, DET Dwyer Officer in Charge, Lt. Jeremy I. Gerrard, of Meridian, Miss., believes.
“The project’s impact is twofold,” he asserted, “it not only grants villagers better access to the bazaar, but also improves U.S./Afghan relations by showing locals that the US is here for them and willing to sacrifice for their needs.”
Despite a grueling seven-day-a-week work schedule set up to meet their deadline, the crew dispatched a group of six Seabees to complete an additional task in nearby COP Taghaz. Given four to five days to repair culvert crossings on a site with no running water and minimal berthing accommodations, the team dug and flattened the ground then placed concrete slabs to prevent erosion.
Under the watchful eyes of members of the Afghan National Police who provided security, the Taghaz undertaking ended, remarkably, after only 48-hours, and earned further commendation from Gerrard.
“This expedient culvert repair significantly improved freedom of movement and the timing of interventions by the 3rd LAR’s Quick Reaction Force,” said Gerrard. “Although the repairs only took two days to complete, the benefit of a reliable avenue of approach on a critical supply route between two forward operating bases will serve U.S. forces well.”
Commenting on the impact of the projects, Yarnell considers the opportunity challenging yet valuable training for young Seabees. “We used dump trucks, rollers, graders and made great use of all the resources available to us,” stated Yarnell. “It helped our new Equipment Operators experience a different aspect of their job.”
Crew Leader Equipment Operator 3rd Class Pedro Sandoval concurred. “I’m excited to be out here and doing something new,” said the Bridgeton, N.J., native. “It's my first time as a crew leader, so the responsibilities are greater. I'm really proud of the crew. I like the challenges this project has given us and how we have come together to overcome them." Together they have come, managing to cut through two berms and install culvert crossings in less than the thirty days allocated, and without, to Roy’s pride, any safety mishaps or damages to existing structures.
Twenty-nine days of arduous labor resulted in improved troop movement and enhanced security for coalition forces, while maintaining the architectural integrity of an ancient world historical treasure.
Homeported in Gulfport, Miss., NMCB-11 is deployed to Afghanistan to conduct general, mobility, survivability engineering operations, defensive operations, Afghan National Army partnering and detachment of units in combined/joint operations area - Afghanistan in order to enable the neutralization of the insurgency and support improved governance and stability operations.
This work, Castle in the sand: US Navy Seabees improve coalition forces' access to Alexander the Great landmark, by Marlene Houngbedji, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.