Seabees Establish Strong Bonds With Djiboutian Villagers
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti --
As the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1, deployed with Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, transfer their mission here to the incoming unit, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, they are leaving behind more than a memory of hard work and hot days while working on a humanitarian civic assistance project. They leave behind a village of grateful people and lasting friendships.
The Seabees of NMCB 1 have spent the last five months working at a remote village in Djibouti's Arta region to build a medical clinic complex to serve the local people, for whom very few resources are available and medical care is more than an hour away. When completed, the clinic will provide immediate first aid, as well as maternity and newborn care.
With construction still underway, NMCB 1 is redeploying to the United States, and it's time for NMCB 133 to inherit the relationships and bonds that the previous battalion has established with the people of the small village.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jason Ward, NMCB 1's officer in charge, sought to formally signify and honor this relationship by organizing a flagpole dedication ceremony with the people of the village that also offered an opportunity to introduce the incoming Seabees of NMCB 133.
Before the ceremony began, some of the Seabees played games with the local children, who have grown to love having them around. Over time, they have developed elaborate routines of songs and dances together, as well as clapping hands in unison.
Introducing the New Crew
During the ceremony, Navy Chief Petty Officer John Young raised the Djiboutian flag and Ward addressed the village chief, Hassan Diama.
"We want to thank you by dedicating this new flagpole to your village," Ward said. "We have to go home now, but our work will continue. I'd like to introduce you to the new crew who will be here and assure you of the good work they will be doing."
After the Djiboutian flag was raised, Ward asked each of the NMCB 1 Seabees who were leaving to raise their hands. He then introduced the NMCB 133 and asked them to raise their hands and introduce themselves to the villagers.
Ward then recognized the Djiboutian Gendarmerie, who have been on the site daily from the beginning, providing security for the construction crew. They, too, became friends with the crew and were given special plaques and coins recognizing their efforts.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Edward Harmon, project supervisor for NMCB 1, worked on the site from the start.
"When this crew first showed up, there were rocks thrown at us," Harmon said. "Those same kids wave at us now and know our names, and we wave back and know their names. We're welcome here now, and that feels really good to see that develop. I'm proud of what we've done, and we've made a bond with this community."
All members of task force support the U.S. Africa Command goals of promoting security and stability in the region. One method of doing so is engaging with partner nations to deter, disrupt and deny violent extremist organizations in East Africa. By forging partnerships with the local population through friendly behavior such as building needed infrastructure, the Seabees are directly helping to deter extremist group recruitment.
Feeling of Accomplishment
Though the faces working on the medical facility may change, the work will not. The flag will fly next to the medical clinic as it continues to make progress, and the NMCB 1 Seabees say that they feel good about what they've accomplished.
"It has been a privilege to serve as an ambassador of the U.S. with NMCB 1 Navy Seabees," said Navy Lt. Chris Joseph, NMCB 1 operations officer. "It's been an honor to work hand in hand with the village, Djibouti Gendarmerie, the [Djiboutian armed forces] and fellow U.S. forces."
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Lacy P'Pool, relationship manager of the construction site for NMCB 1, said she believes the NCMB 1 Seabees are leaving the construction site much better than they found it and that she hopes it makes a difference in the future.
"There's a part of me that thinks, 'Maybe if they're ever approached by al-Shabab and have to make a decision to do right or wrong, they'll think about us here,'" P'Pool said. "Maybe they'll remember that we built this clinic for them. Or they might just think about our friendship and make the choice to not participate in a [violent extremist organization]."
The official transfer of authority took place here the following day, as Ward and NMCB 1 transferred authority to the commander of NMCB 133, Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Taylor.