Seabees Build EPW Camp

By Nathan Mihelich
Embedded Reporter

The Seabee Battalion 133 Air Detachment went to Iraq to construct buildings like an enemy prisoner of war camp to hold captured and surrendered soldiers.

Seabees work under the gun, both literally and figuratively. Just about 10 miles away from the EPW campsite there were reports of enemy units moving our way. At the same time, American and British forces in the area continued to detain members of Saddam Huessins's Republican Guard with no place to take them.

Calls from coalition commanders were steadily coming in, requesting to transfer prisoners to the Seabees' command. SW1 Tomme is one Seabee in charge of making sure construction of the project continued and was finished on time.

Driving a Hum-V, he gave me a quick tour of the facility and told me a little about himself.

"I've been in the Navy almost 9 years. I'm married with two wonderful children, who live back in Gulfport Mississippi, and I can't wait to get back and see them," Tomme said.

"I believe the EPWs will be transported here by civilian buses, and there's going to be a lot of them. They'll be coming down this road right here,"

"There is a medical facility, in case they run into any situations," Tomme said. "We've got three holding facilities C, B, and A."

"The prisoners will be directed by armed guards to an administrative area to do the proper paperwork. After that they will be searched and deloused. Once they're cleaned and searched they're going to go to the holding facility.

"Each of the holding facilities is roughly 408 foot by 140 feet wide. Our equipment operators are making approximately a 10, 12 foot burm all the way around the entire compound," Tomme said.

The flat plains of the Iraqi desert look like a lonely, desolate place. Coalition helicopters flew overhead blowing up a whirlwind of sand. The ten foot high burms are big piles of dirt and sand that partition each section of the camp off. From a distance, these mounds of sand look like mountains on the horizon.

"You just push dirt, move it up, best way you can. That's about it. The dirt's pretty soft where we're at, so it's not to bad," Seabee Michael Clubb of Missouri said.

Like old time ranchers staking their claims, Seabees stretched barbed wire across the desert. The coiled circles of the wire will create cells inside each of the holding facilities. Each cell can hold about 800 prisoners.

"I'm zip tying the top to the bottom strands so the prisoners can't pull the wires apart." Seabee Shawn Monkress said.

"It's going to be pretty tough to escape right here. We got constantine wire with barb wire keeping it nice and strong and tight. Later on, we're going to add timber towers with marine watches all the way around, so it going to be Fort Knox just about," Seabee Derick Wilson of Gulfport said.

"We're serving an important purpose, time is of the essence. We got to work to meet the deadline. I feel very privileged to be at this point right now," Gulfport Seabee Everette Bowens said.

The Seabees finished the entire camp in just 96 hours.