Civil Affairs Teams Continue to Make a Difference in Afghanistan: A firsthand perspective by Builder 1st Class Nicholas R. Mileham

Last month we were introduced to CMTT by Lt. j.g. John Kaiser followed shortly by a firsthand account by one of its members, SW1 (SCW) Coogan J. Kennedy.  As the teams continue to make great strides toward the coalition goal of transitioning the active roles from U.S. and allied forces to Afghanistan, another Seabee and CMTT member, Builder 1st Class Nicholas R. Mileham brings us his perspective.   

By Builder 1st Class Nicholas R. Mileham, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11

There are some things that most Americans do in their day without even thinking.  A drive to work, read the newspaper, drop the kids off at school, let your kids go to the playground; these are things most of us do every day.   But let us think about what if.  What if there was a canal between you and the next town with no bridge to cross, what if there was no school for you to drop your children off to learn, what if there was no playground, what if there was no school for you to learn how to read when you were young?  Would you still take these simple things for granted?  Would it still be possible for you to even go about your day as you now know it?

It’s hard to imagine; but there are such places in the world that we live in.  One example of many is the Nawa District in Afghanistan.  Not too long ago it was a very dangerous place to call home.  There were few schools, and the ones that were here were in great disrepair; be it from time, poor construction, or destruction caused by the Taliban.  Many bridges in the area were not strong enough to support a vehicle, or destroyed all together; so it would be very hard to travel to the next town for supplies or medical attention.  Most villages didn’t even have an adequate place to get medical care.

In this place a small group of Marines and one Seabee are trying to make a small difference in someone else’s everyday life.  They are not building these “every day” items such as clinics, schools, bridges for the Afghan people.  The Civil Affairs Team is doing something much more; they are teaching them to build it themselves.

 Education is a powerful thing in this world, if you can do something yourself you will not have to rely on others to do it for you.  Education and self sustainment is a weapon that the insurgents are afraid of.  Why else would they try so hard to destroy all of the schools?  Since early February the Civil Affairs team I am partnered with have completed one school, one sports complex for children to have a safe place to play, and one bridge connecting two towns to allow for the transfer of goods and services.  Currently under construction is one more school, a health clinic, and an agricultural training facility. The agricultural training facility will enable the local farmers to learn to grow sustainable crops, raise livestock, and sell them at market as opposed to growing Poppy for the Opium market.   The team is also on the lookout for new projects, and opportunities to train the locals.  

The civil affairs team is made up of a hodge podge of Marines with different jobs; from artillery, to supply and communications, none of which were Civil Affairs.  The team accepted me immediately and by the end of the second day my first mission was complete with the ground breaking at the site of a brand new school.  We created the perfect storm: mobility, motivation, and the ability to place concrete.  Now only three months into the mission the team and I have completed over 40 missions.  Either mounted or dismounted, we go out into the area to inspect job sites, teach locals proper and safe construction methods, or to perform site recon of future quick impact fixes to schools and other infrastructure to get the district back on its feet.

We have done it all – We took pictures of destroyed schools to see what we can do to fix them, dropped off school supplies, trained contractors to mix concrete, we have even held classes to train local quality control inspectors to replace us when we leave.

Now as one Civil Affairs team has redeployed home, and a new one has replaced them, progress continues, as does the lasting relationship between Seabees and the Marine Corps.  It is their goal to provide hope and inspiration along with the skills to succeed for the people and children of Nawa District, Afghanistan.  

 –BU1 (SCW) Nicholas R. Mileham has been in the United States Navy almost 11 years.  He is from Oakfield, N.Y. and stationed in Gulfport Miss., where he is a member of NMCB-11.  He has deployed in support of Theater Commanders to Okinawa, Japan (twice), Iraq (twice), and Detail San Diego CA.  This is his sixth deployment, and his first to Afghanistan.  Before joining NMCB-11 Mileham was a member of NMCB-133, and NRD Pittsburgh.

The Marines that made up the Civil Affairs Team were deployed from multiple commands in California.




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