NMCB 7 Redeploys to, Focuses on Afghanistan Operations

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Jan. 28, 2009) Seabees assigned to NMCB 7 depart an Air Force C-17. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael B. Lavender/Released)
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Jan. 28, 2009) Seabees assigned to NMCB 7 depart an Air Force C-17. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael B. Lavender/Released)

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SCW) Michael B. Lavender

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (NNS) - Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 7 home ported in Gulfport have redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan. The move repositioned the battalion to build bases for additional U.S. forces already flowing into southern Afghanistan to reinforce the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

"Our engineering services are needed here in Helmand Province, Afghanistan to construct a number of new forward operating bases (FOB) in support of the much publicized 20,000-plus troop surge into southern Afghanistan," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Brown, NMCB 7's operations officer.

"We had a very important mission in Iraq supporting the First Marine Expeditionary Force, but there was a larger demand signal here in Afghanistan. Our unique capabilities to not only build, but to build in hostile areas, and defend ourselves and the new areas we create made Seabees the logical and necessary choice."

The movement included the embarkation of troops and equipment necessary to ensure mission success.

"The effort needed to airlift an entire Seabee Battalion's armored construction equipment in less than 40 days would be a tremendous accomplishment for any unit," said Brown. "Recognizing the extreme importance of the mission and aggressive surge timeline, NMCB 7 successfully rose to an even higher challenge. For the first 30 days we were simultaneously embarking ourselves out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, constructing a new 430-acre FOB, and providing security for five-miles of site perimeter."

While deployed to Afghanistan, NMCB 7 will be part of ISAF, working with other U.S. Armed Forces and NATO allies, including British, Danish and Dutch forces.

"The first real evidence of the U.S.'s surge into Southern Afghanistan became apparent when the Seabees arrived," said British Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Bawer, deputy chief of staff, Bastion for Supply, Logistics and Real Life Support.

"The U.S. Marines arrived first but the Seabees are what really captured our attention. We describe them as the 'enablers to the enablers.' In the [United Kingdom], we have nothing like them. The Seabees are a self contained unit who not just arrived, but asked not 'what the base could do for us' but rather 'what can we do for you?' Their efforts greatly impressed us as they were eager to help with an amazing attitude to back it."

While NMCB 7's main effort focused on quickly building the necessary force protection emplacements for the FOB the battalion will occupy, some Seabees focused on providing service to the U.K.-run base and other deployed units.

"The battalion of Seabees assisted with cooking meals and with dental work as well as some construction work," said Bawer. "They came in with great numbers, yet the impact to our base was minimal as they were so eager to help. We're very big about the Seabees, as they are personnel who can take charge of a project and ensure it is completed. The British can learn a lot from this cooperative effort and we have so far. It's been a great experience thus far. We in the [United Kingdom] like to align with U.S. forces when we go forward in countries and the Seabees of NMCB 7 are a great example of why we do."

Some of the projects being undertaken by NMCB 7 include perimeter berm construction, conducting security, construction of perimeter security towers, grading the entire site, building nearly 10 miles of interior roads, constructing fuel storage areas, constructing helicopter landing zones and other infrastructure for various coalition forces.

Additionally, NMCB 7 accepted the challenge and surpassed the expectations not posed to many Seabee battalions.

"Our most recent redeployment evolution proved that our deployment success was not just a luck or chance," said Brown. "In fact, it showed us that we were well-prepared by the 20th Seabee Readiness Group embark staff. NMCBs, by doctrine, can deploy an air detachment of 89 personnel within 48 hours of notification. When the battalion deploys an air detachment.the entire battalion contributes to the effort. In this case, we had less than a full battalion, worked in a semi-austere contingency environment, and moved a great deal more equipment. We also had to compete for air lift with other services that were also in the process of redeployment. We trained very hard in embarkation last homeport and it was a magnificent success!"

NMCB 7 will continue the remainder of its deployment in Afghanistan, providing contingency construction support to allied forces in support of NATO ISAF.