Seabees Construct Life

By Ensign Brooks Sanderson, CEC, USN

“ENS Sanderson, be on standby for an Emergency Mission”, warns the NCMB 11 Alfa Company Commander.  Adrenalin circulated through the veins of a new Ensign in his first Naval Construction Battalion tour, awaiting oncoming mission tasking. That Ensign was me and the time had come for me to prove my worth as a Civil Engineer Corps Officer in a community that demands nothing but the highest of expectations.  What I did not realize was how that mission would further engrain in my mind the force multiplying impact capability provided by Seabees. 

On a day much like any other in Afghanistan, the temperatures soared in excess of 105 degrees with a slight dusty breeze. It happened to be the day before the mission, and I was going in to receive a mission brief from the Operations Officer, LCDR Ryan Carey.  While the mission cannot be disclosed, I was given additional tasking to take several pictures of the Role 2 Medical Facility aboard COP Shukvani in the Northern end of the Helmand Province; which happened to be built by OIC, LTJG Sam Webb, AOIC BUC Daniel Sherman and their detachment of Seabees. 

I immediately jotted down the note, “take pics of Role 2” in my book and proceeded to plan the mission.  Not paying too much attention to the “Photo Op”, EOCS Matthew Dooley and I laid out the plan of attack for the evening movement.  Upon arriving at the COP, we took the night off and prepared for the next day. Morning came, just like every other, way too quickly and in need of coffee.  True to form, Senior Chief Dooley said, “Let’s go find a Chief”, and off we went in pursuit of hot coffee and our Navy brethren.

In a land of Alaskan tents, lie what seemed like a mirage; two SWA huts filled with camaraderie and hot coffee.  Inside we met LCDR David Streets, Shock Trauma Platoon Orthopedic Surgeon of the Role 2 Facility at COP Shukvani, and were welcomed with open arms.  Prior to receiving their new “Hospital”, they were providing care out of tents, hampering their ability to perform surgeries and crucial life saving procedures. “Having a hardened structure made it easier to deal with emergency situations, provided a cleaner environment, and increased patient capacity”, LCDR Streets explained.  What the Seabees of NMCB 11 had constructed was a 3,000 sq ft facility with an infirmary, two operating rooms, a lab, and the gift of life. 

As the morning progressed, a call came in for MEDEVAC:  3 members in an IED blast, 2 dead and one barely hanging on.  With extreme professionalism, the corpsmen and doctors rushed to prepare for the incoming casualties. In what seemed like minutes, the MEDEVAC Blackhawks had arrived back on the Role 2 LZ site with the injured.  Immediately, the first victim was rushed into the facility with wounds that seemed devastatingly fatal.  Right before our eyes, we witnessed a team of professionals save an Afghanistan National Army man’s life.  A successful single amputation had been conducted in a land far away from civilization, in a building built by the world’s finest contingent construction force.  On this day, I truly felt the impact that Seabees are capable of providing and the crucial role they play in the “War on Terror”. 

In the four days we spent on our mission, the “Dust off” Blackhawks landed on the Role 2 LZ repeatedly, no doubt saving multiple lives.  The Seabees of NMCB 11 were instrumental in “constructing life” and reflected great credit upon the Naval Construction Force, the United States Navy, and the hearts and minds of Afghanistan citizens affected by their efforts.

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