De Oppresso Liber: NMCB 11 Seabees support US Army Special Forces in “Liberating the Oppressed” through Village Stability Operations

By Lt. Cmdr. Chris M. Coggins, Officer-in-Charge, NMCB 11 Detachment 4 & Lt. Brian A. Holmes, Assistant Officer-in-Charge, NMCB 11 Detachment 4

Material prepared for transportation via various methods to reach austere locations supporting Seabee build teams of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 Detachment 4, in support of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan Villiage Stability Operations

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – July 17th, 2012.  The temperature is 106 degrees, the elevation is 6,200 ft, and the location is an insurgent infested district in northern Kandahar Province, the historical headquarters and the spiritual heartland of the Taliban.  Recently established Afghan Local Police (ALP) units man checkpoints, conduct presence patrols and maintain security around the outpost.  The local Afghan district chief of police and the district governor reside and work in a building complex adjacent to the American compound, used as a headquarters and staging area for Afghan Commandos and US Army Special Forces conducting Village Stability Operations.  Interpreters, military working dog handlers, EOD technicians and a team of Navy Seabees assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan round out a joint contingent supporting the mission to establish an effective and legitimate district government that can meet the needs of the people and resist the influence and intimidation of the Taliban. 

Directly outside the walls of the camp lie the ruins of the old district center government, destroyed by the Taliban.  Coalition Forces deliberately chose this location to build the new Village Stability Staging Area to send a clear message to the Taliban and the people living in the surrounding village that the legitimate Afghan government is here to stay. 

Members of US Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 Detachment 4 pose for a team picture after the successful completion of four 20’x32’ Southwest Asia Huts in support of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanista.

Village Stability Operations, the primary mission of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A), is a bottom-up methodology that is aimed to enable Afghanistan to become a secure and sovereign nation that is inhospitable to insurgent activity.  It starts by supporting local leaders and village inhabitants who have the will to resist Taliban influence.  Based on foundations of trust and mutual respect, service members provide security and empower local village and tribal elders to stand up to the Taliban to protect the population. Support and investment in the community lends credibility to local elders, the Coalition, and ultimately a sovereign government of Afghanistan. 

Predominately made up of U.S. Army Special Forces personnel, or “Green Berets” as they are commonly known, CJSOTF-A is, as its name suggests, a joint organization that includes U.S. Navy SEALs, U.S. Marine Corps Special Operators, and Coalition Special Operations Forces from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.  Additionally, CJSOTF-A trains, advises and works hand-in-hand with Afghan National Army Commandos and Special Forces units.  A perfect mission for the Green Berets whose motto “DE OPRESSO LIBER” translates to “liberate the oppressed”, the Special Forces teams deploy to austere locations of country to establish security and stability for the oftentimes isolated rural population of Afghanistan, where they often find themselves living and working out of tents without showers or restrooms for many months on end. 

Remnaints of the destroyed District Government Center adjacent to a new Villiage Stability Staging Area.

That is where Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11’s Detachment 4 comes into the picture.  Permanently attached to the CJSOTF-A Headquarters at Bagram Airfield, NMCB-11’s Det 4 deploys small squad-sized teams to remote locations around the country to construct critical facilities and infrastructure to support the Special Forces and their mission.  Constructing tactical operations centers, berthing and dining facilities, guard towers and reinforced fighting positions, latrines, showers and septic systems, the build teams from Det 4 are able to make a huge improvement on the working and living conditions, not to mention the morale of the SOF teams in the few short weeks that the team is on the ground.  In other cases, the Seabees from Det 4 are asked to lend their expertise to conduct surveys and site assessments for new forward operating bases, optimizing camp layouts, developing requirements for facilities construction, power generation and distribution, and force protection measures.

Recently, Builder 1st Class Anthony Boldrey and his team planned and executed a successful mission supporting a Special Forces detachment located in a remote village in northern Kandahar Providence.  Literally working from dawn to dusk, the 9 person team completed 4 Southwest Asia Huts in 14 days despite repeated enemy direct and indirect fire attacks on the camp by insurgents. As team leader, Boldrey remarked, “I have a great team, once the mission is clear the crew does not stop.  I actually have to tell them to stop for lunch and dinner.”

One of the Special Forces soldiers mentioned his only prior knowledge of the Seabees was from a short part of the movie Green Berets which he had watched as a child.  In the movie one of the Seabees asked the team sergeant how big he needed the runway, and before the team knew it the runway was complete.  “I’ve never seen people work like this before”, he commented.  “It is cool to see Seabees in action”.

In many cases, the actual construction is only the tip of the iceberg. It takes many hands to support remote construction operations, particularly in getting the construction materials and tools to locations where many times roads do not exist. That’s where the embarkation and logistics team led by Engineering Aide 1st Class Dennis Denney and Logistics Specialist 1st Class Averial Craion comes into action.  Planning, staging, palletizing, weighing, marking and preparing the construction materials for shipment is a challenging and time consuming process, compounded by the huge variety of aircraft and ground shipment methods utilized in theater, each with specific constraints on cargo dimensions and weight.  

Working hand in hand with the CJSOTF-A Group Support Battalion (GSB), Det 4 is able to leverage the considerable logistical support capabilities of the CJSOTF-A to aid in completing construction missions.  Commanded by LTC Ronald Baker, the GSB is a versatile support organization that provides contracting, logistics & sustainment and movement control and coordination for the entire CJSOTF-A.   Coordinating with local and remote air cells and movement control centers, they coordinate requirements with team leaders in the field and assist in getting the required material to the project site by any means possible. Helicopter, airplane, tactical airdrop, military ground convoy, or even contracted Afghan commercial “jingle” trucking gives new meaning to “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”.  Denney’s and Craion’s persistence and liaison with supply sources and transportation assets provide outstanding support to the team leaders allowing them to complete seemingly impossible tasks in remote locations.  

Seabees of Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 Detachment 4 stage tools and equipment for pick up at a HLZ while 2 CH-47 helicopters hover in the distance after completion of a successful build in support of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Afghanistan

The tactical airdrop capability employed by CJSOTF-A to provide rapid logistical support to secluded and often inaccessible locations has enabled the Det 4 logistical support team to quickly get replacement tools and additional material into the field, thus avoiding the sometimes multiple week delays incurred by traditional ground or air transport.  From the time a shortfall is identified in the field and relayed to the Detachment headquarters at Bagram, the required tools, material and/or equipment is palletized and rigged with parachutes, assigned a flight mission and dropped at the site, sometimes within hours, giving a whole new meaning to the term “Rapid Resupply”! 

Upon completion of a mission, project teams typically return to the Det 4 headquarters at Bagram Airfield to refit tools, refresh personal demand items and get some well deserved down time before they begin planning their next mission. To date the Seabees of NMCB 11 Detachment 4 have completed over 48 construction missions and site assessments in remote locations across Afghanistan. With compassion for others in every mission, they “Build and Fight” in support of U.S. and Coalition Special Operations Forces conducting Village Stability Operations.

Constructing the future and remembering the past, the Seabee’s of NMCB 11 are spreading the “CAN DO” spirit one mission at a time.

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