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Carving a pathway to enduring partnership: Seabees and Afghan soldiers combine skills on joint road

By Seaman Marlene Houngbedji , Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11

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HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (April 6, 2012) — Seabees and Afghan National Army personnel embarked on their sixth consecutive day of work on a joint road improvement project.

Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 launched the next phase of its CENTCOM deployment with an early Tuesday morning brief inside FOB Dwyer. Several daily briefs later, Seabees and Afghan National Army personnel embarked on their sixth consecutive day of work on a joint road improvement project.

Seabees assigned to NMCB-11’s DET Dwyer were introduced to their ANA counterparts amid recent reports of tensions between Allied and Afghan troops. Undeterred by what could have become a considerable obstacle to cooperation, the crew welcomed the opportunity to help increase Afghan forces’ self-reliance. 

Unquestionable professionalism and focus on the tasks at hand prevailed, as both teams merged into one committed to overcoming logistical, linguistic and cultural barriers. “They seemed confused about how we operate things in the beginning,” said Equipment Operator Constructionman Birendra Adhikari, of Manassas, VA. A naturalized US citizen from Nepal, Adhikari can relate to the soldiers’ initial difficulties to communicate. “Now they’re doing great and after days of working together, we found out that there is a language we both speak, Urdu. It’ll make things a lot easier.” 

Detachment Officer in Charge Lt. Seth D. Cochran not only shares his troops’ confidence, but also considers the project a great chance for Seabees to mentor and train with the ANA alongside the Marines whom NMCB-11 continues to support. “It’s an opportunity to take part first hand in establishing an Afghan National Army with the engineering capabilities they desperately need,” concludes Cochran.

The presence of an interpreter allowed for on-the-job training during the first two days. Seasoned Equipment Operators instructed ANA personnel on pre-start procedures, a daily, pre-operational step critical to the proper maintenance of Construction Engineer Support Equipment. Further training and preparatory measures included a test of Afghan soldiers’ ability to lay gravel on large stretches of road with sizeable machinery. 

“Working with the ANA has been a learning experience for us and them,” Equipment Operator 2nd Class Kevin L. Rapier of Austin, TX, acknowledges. Rapier, who has been part of the crew since the early stages of the project, saw his Afghan teammates strive to overcome the language barrier in order to learn how to properly spread gravel. 

The ANA-operated dump trucks having nearly twice the loading capacity of the Seabees’ MK25A1s, Afghan service members were able to both hone their skills and increase productivity despite minor technical difficulties. “We’re good, now and look forward to going out every day,” said Sgt. Hussain Mohammad when asked what he thought of his time on the project thus far, “because this is what we’ve been trained to do.” 

Homeported in Gulfport, Miss., NMCB-11 is deployed to Afghanistan to conduct general, mobility, survivability engineering and defensive operations, Afghan National Army partnering and detachment of units in combined/joint operations area. 

As combat operations draw to an end in Afghanistan, and the training of local armed forces is gaining prominence, a growing number of similar ventures pave the way to enduring collaboration. Such successful combination of manpower and expertise to improve local infrastructure gives a promising glimpse of the future of US Navy Seabees-Afghan National Army relationship.