Seabees build essential bridge in Uganda

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erick S. Holmes

NMCB 11 Det. Horn of Africa Public Affairs

AROMO, Uganda (May 6, 2009) -- Sailors from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 Detachment Horn of Africa (NMCB 11, Det. HOA), from Gulfport, Miss., have completed work on a concrete bridge of major importance to villagers here and continue to work on a second one nearby.

     The crew of Seabees built the Aromo low-water crossing bridge over a small river, replacing a lighter bridge that washed out during the last seasonal high floods and heavy rainfall. The bridge will once again connect the village of Aromo with the road leading to the city of Lira and other local areas, such as the public school. 

     “The Seabees’ strong work ethic and extensive technical skills are providing Ugandans with two bridges that will be able to withstand the seasonal flooding and provide transportation solutions to the largest vehicles used in the region,” explained Lt. Garth Pertersen, Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) country planner for Uganda. CJTF-HOA is based at camp Lemonier, Djibouti, and operates in 13 East African countries. NMCB 11 Det. HOA is currently on a six-month deployment to CJTF-HOA’s area of responsibility, working in four of those nations. One of CJTF-HOA’s missions is to foster regional security through infrastructure projects like this bridge.

In order to work at the remote project site efficiently, the Seabees set up a small tent camp only 50 yards away from the bridge. The camp was designed to be self-sufficient, giving the Seabees their own power and was where they lived and kept supplies for the project. It was also on the edge of local farmland, with goats and cattle constantly grazing next to the camp. The living conditions give the crew a unique chance to grow, according to Steelworker 3rd Class John Johnston, project crew member.

     “No one wants to live the way we do,” Johnston said.  “But it gives you such a great understanding of what the people we are helping have to endure on a daily basis. I have definitely developed a greater appreciation for the little things in life,” said Johnston.

     “By living in the vicinity of local Ugandans,” said Pertersen, “the Seabees are able to interact on a daily basis with Ugandan civilians and build goodwill between our two countries. The efforts of the Seabees of NMCB 11 outside Lira will provide benefits for both the people of Uganda and the United States for years to come.”

     NMCB 11 also had the opportunity to work with engineers from the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF), allowing more growth for relationships as well as cross-training.

     “It’s been an amazing experience working with the Ugandan engineers,” said Builder 2nd Class (SCW) Peter A. Belcastro, project crew leader. “They have such a strong desire to learn and their work ethic is incredible. I would be happy to serve side by side with them anytime.”

     The villagers, mostly children, watched the work daily, waiting for the Seabees to finish working each day before interacting with the crew. This was also the highlight of the day for the Seabees.

     “Handing out our extra water bottles and throwing the football with the kids is by far the best part of the day,” explained Johnston. “No matter how exhausted you are, those kids can always bring a smile to your face.”

     “The people around here are genuinely nice, too,” said Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Trent Thurnhorst, an equipment mechanic. “One guy came to my shop and began to cut the high grass.  He told me ‘I do this for friendship’.”

     Johnston said the work was draining and living conditions were below what they considered normal, but mission progress and success came from prospect of improving the lives of Ugandan youth. “Some days,” he said, “I don't feel like getting out of bed and going to work. On those days, I remind myself that this project will ensure the local kids can cross the river during the rainy season in order to get to school. Knowing my work has such a tremendous impact on the local community is enough motivation in itself. There is no project I’d rather be on.”

     The service members of CJTF-HOA employ an indirect approach to counter violent extremism. The task force helps build the internal capacities of countries at risk to help them prevail against extremists exploiting instability.

   
Uganda (April 18, 2009) Equipment Operator 3rd
Class Justain Fordt, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB)11, Detachment Horn of Africa, guides a roller during the Walela culvert bridge construction.  The original bridge was destroyed during heavy rainfall and NMCB 11 is building a new bridge for the local population.
  AROMO, Uganda (April 18, 2009) Sailors from Naval Mobile
Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, Detachment Horn of Africa and members of the Ugandan People's Defense Force (UDPF) work together to build the Walela low-water crossing bridge.  The original bridge was destroyed during heavy rainfall and NMCB 11 is building a new bridge for the local population.
 
AROMO, Uganda (April 18, 2009)  A trio of Seabees from
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, Detachment Horn of Africa, remove framework during the construction of the Walela low-water crossing bridge.  The original bridge was destroyed during heavy rainfall and NMCB 11 is building a new bridge for the local population. 
  AROMO, Uganda (April 18, 2009) Equipment Operator
Constructionman Scott Wert, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, Detachment Horn of Africa, drives a roller to compact soil during the construction of the Walela low-water crossing bridge.  The original bridge was destroyed during heavy rainfall and NMCB 11 is building a new bridge for the local population. 
     
AROMO, Uganda (April 18, 2009)  A Seabee from Naval
Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, Detachment Horn of Africa, dumps a load of rocks used in the construction of a low-water crossing bridge.  The original bridge was destroyed during heavy rainfall and NMCB 11 is building a new bridge for the local population.  
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erick S. Holmes)

NMCB 11 completes water crossing in Uganda

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Dustin Q. Diaz

CJTF-HOA Public Affairs

AROMO, Uganda (May 6, 2009) – U.S. Navy Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 completed construction on a concrete, low-water crossing here May 7.

     The bridge’s completion will be of great benefit to the local villagers, according to Uganda Peoples’ Defense Force (UPDF) Lt. B.Y. Gala. “This is a great development for the people of Uganda and this region, and a great achievement for the U.S. Navy and the UPDF,” Gala said.

     Gala led a group of UPDF engineers who worked alongside the Seabees. Another group of Ugandan soldiers served as force protection for the joint camp. This project was a different kind of military-to-military engagement than service members assigned to and supporting the multi-national Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (which provides cooperative guidance for Uganda and other countries in East Africa) usually participate in, Chief Builder (SCW) Jonathan Poellot said.

     “We’ve been able to pass on a lot of technical knowledge to them, instead of coming in with a show of force,” said Poellot, a native of Mahopac, N.Y. “We’ve formed good relationships, and we’re teaching them to do construction (and) perform maintenance on the roads. Sharing our knowledge with these guys, who don’t have the educational opportunities that we have, will greatly improve their engineering ability.

     “From here, all the way down to Kampala, everybody knows why we’re here: to build a bridge and improve their transportation ability.”
Gala said this bridge will go a long way in that regard. He said it will significantly shorten the five-hour drive to Kampala, along with cutting the 90-minute drive to Lira in half. This will save on fuel costs and improve access to resources, he said.

     “Some of these people are farmers who grow cash crops that need to be taken to Lira,” Gala said. “This is (a great improvement to the) infrastructure in terms of access to some of the things they cannot get here in Aromo.”

     Many of the Seabees have befriended the locals, who have watched the construction every day. They said it means a lot to them that they can make a positive impact on people in need.

     “When we leave here, we’ll be gone, but knowing we’ve made a difference in their day-to-day lives. … I love what the Seabees do,” said Builder 2nd Class (SCW) Peter Belcastro, crew leader. “We live in pretty rugged conditions, with the tents and the outhouses, but any time you look outside the concertina wire, you know the people out there have it so much worse, so it’s a very humbling experience.”

     These Seabees took on the project in February. Since then, they have worked 65 days, many for 10 to 12 hours, but some for as long as 22 hours. Poellot praised their performance and dedication.

     “There have been days we’ve lost due to rain, and to my guys’ credit, they’ve just worked longer and harder and stayed on schedule,” Poellot said. “Ninety-five percent of them, this is their first deployment. Most of them have been in the Navy less than two years.

     “They took the nothing that was there and built a 150-foot bridge. Any time you can do something like that without getting hurt, it’s a good evolution.”

     Poellot, who is making his tenth deployment, said the Seabees won’t rest with the completion of this bridge and will set to work on the next one immediately.

 
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