KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Israel is your average junior officer.
Standing at just under 6 feet tall, he has a slim build, sandy-brown hair and looks no older than 25.
For his age, he shoulders an enormous responsibility. He runs the Kandahar detachment on NMCB 15. Despite his youthful appearance, he maintains wisdom beyond his years.
The Illinois native decided that he wanted to do something more with his life. He applied to and was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Upon graduating with a degree in electrical engineering he soon found himself being recruited into the Civil Engineering Corps and became an officer in the Navy Seabees.
After being assigned to NMCB 15, Israel soon found himself placed in charge of the Kandahar detachment.
“I take care of the paperwork so that the guys on the ground can make the magic happen,” said Israel. “That’s the simplest way to explain it.”
The lieutenant sits at his desk with a cup of coffee in his left hand. He takes a sip as he scrolls through his email, reviewing his job requests. He scrolls for a what seems likes minutes. The amount of requests his unit is receiving is massive.
From things as small as fixing maintenance issues on base to organizing 20-man teams to build large projects off-base, NMCB 15’s Kandahar detachment has been tasked with and has tackled a variety of challenges.
For as well as he handles the job, Israel maintains his modesty.
“If you asked me a few years ago, I would never have imagined myself here,” he laughs.
The responsibility of being in charge of the detachment is a test of leadership that Israel learned to master.
Israel receives work requests from all over his area of operations. He then designs a plan of action, organizes the material necessary and then coordinates the execution of his plan. He performs all of this while maintaining contact with his unit’s headquarters in another area of operations.
Israel says his job is complex, but he attributes his success to having a good working relationship with his chief petty officers and noncommissioned officers.
“It’s crucial,” says Israel. “Without that relationship, nothing would get done.”
Israel maintains his relationship by keeping an open dialogue with his senior-enlisted and encouraging a collaborative work environment – skills that he culminated at Annapolis. He stressed that while sticking to one’s own leadership principals are vital, it’s important to know one’s own limitations.
“The responsibility is substantial,” said Israel. “With that extension of trust, you need to be able to reciprocate it for your guys, but at the same time, you need to make sure everything is checked off and accounted for.”
Israel also noted that without heavy trust, the workload would quickly become overwhelming.
During his own interview, a chief petty officer arrives at his door with important information about a problem. Israel swings his chair around and after a few moments of discussion, he calmly asks the chief which options are available to them. They talk for a bit longer when Israel stops to think for a moment and then makes a decision. The chief nods satisfactorily and leaves to carry out the plan.
As he turns his chair back around, a wide grin stretches across Israel’s face, as if his case in point could not have been more perfectly illustrated.
“Just another day,” he laughs.
Still modest about his accomplishments, Israel thinks for a moment when asked to offer some advice for aspiring Seabee officers. His advice almost reads like his own blueprint for success.
“Trust your chief. Listen more than you talk. Be as humble as you can.”
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.
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