Hearts and Minds Marked for Good

By Lt. Greg Uvila, CHC, NMCB 5

Seabees from NMCB 5, along with women and children from Negele and Borena, Ethiopia, pose around a stone marker after its unveiling during a bridge dedication ceremony in Negele. The bridge allows villagers access to the market, school and clinic during the rainy season. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Jennifer Pearson

As NMCB 5’s AFRICOM/EUCOM deployment draws down, as the evening sun sets, we recall the many gorgeous sunrises and enthralling sunsets we witnessed across the continents of Africa and Europe – emblematic of our positive contribution to America’s global “Hearts and Minds” campaign.

However, the daily world of a Seabee is too real: endless training, demanding project deadlines, monotonous repetitive labor, the sweat, the angst and yes, even tears.  These stormy fronts cause one to really question…How positive was our presence overseas?

Seabees wonder within and occasionally question out loud…

  • Are we making a difference in this abstractly defined Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)?
  • Does the water well we just drilled make a difference when the villagers break it two weeks after it is installed?
  • Will the local citizens utilize the modern maternity ward we are constructing or will it remain vacant as they stubbornly hold to thousands of years of customs regarding childbirth?
  • And the schools, who will teach here when we leave?  What will they be taught inside these walls?  How will these chalkboards be marked, what politic will they speak?

In the chaplain world we speak of marking individuals for good, sharing compliments, speaking words of life and encouragement, spiritual speak-blessing. Seabees speak the language of hammer and saw, loader and roller. Their “marking for good” of our global friends and allies is seen in placing concrete, building bridges, drilling wells, cutting roads and engineering airstrips.

Each NMCB long ago was proudly marked. Navy Seabees wear and swear by their battalion’s number. It is this battalion’s pride that appears on every project, every pour, every bridge constructed across the globe. Our global neighbors in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Turkey and Sicily wear their marking – a simple knowing smile; NMCB 5 Seabees have marked them and their community for good!

Marked for good, the barren countryside of Ethiopia, we have brought fresh water to an impoverished village.  Think desert, think hot, think fresh drinking water for the first time in this locale. The community is so taken by the new reality that guards from within the region are being hired to help keep the well…well…functioning well!

Marked for good, outside of Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, we reached out to a nearby orphanage through the simplicity of soccer matches, offering our hearts through our futbol skills with the hope that Djiboutian and Somalian minds will see that Americans are a worthy ally in the global community.

NMCB 5 ‘Bees play futbol with Djiboutian youth outside Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Photo by LT Greg Uvila, CHC

Marked for good, close to Dikhil, Djibouti, we completed a solar-powered school and laid the foundation for a medical facility; main mission, the safe delivery of newborn children. When you tie the two endeavors together one observes that our Seabees are part of a holistic effort to nurture health and education among African youth. Estimates are that every year, 500 Ethiopian, Somalian and Nomadic women will benefit from the maternity ward.

Marked for good, beyond Sigonella in Acitrezza, Sicily, we reached out with assistance, extending helpful hands into a fishing village with much-needed building repair of a Catholic church.  Behind the COMREL effort is the conviction that the Sicilian partnership will enhance the view of America’s military presence in Europe.

Marked for good, in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, we modeled a dual passion for learning and playing.  As we completed the Gende Gerard schoolhouse we also finished the renovation of their playground, making it a safer and cleaner place to recreate. Our Seabees’ hard work reminds us that schools and playgrounds are where children’s innocent dreams are born and precious passions discovered.

Marked for good, near Negele, Ethiopia, we provided critical electrical support for a regional hospital, a local high school and an orphanage. Shelving was installed, kitchen tables built and bed slats repaired for a dormitory. A temporary footbridge was conceived and placed near the existing Buru Urii River ford to mitigate the impact of the coming rainy season on pedestrians. “The Professionals” built a couple of soccer goals and games with local kids routinely took place during downtime. Finally, in Negele community interaction was great as volunteers labored alongside Seabees for several weeks building gabion earthworks – placing 775,000 pounds of rock into baskets for erosion protection to preserve the newly constructed bridge.

As NMCB 5’s last jet whisks west, the sun disappears and the moon takes its post and tips its hat to another day well done. Darkness envelopes the Ethiopian deserts as nearby hyenas howl in approval. Their laughter creates chuckles, simple belly laughs, giggles of Seabee satisfaction within our newly found friends. Onboard the plane our GWOT questions are laid to rest.  Our own quiet laughter agrees with the hyenas below.  We have marked two continents, dozens of communities and hundreds of newfound friends for good.

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