Story and photos by MC1 Chris Fahey, NMCB 3 Public Affairs.
HM1 Joe Pica (right) helps a Timorese college student complete an English exercise .
When volunteer English teacher Lt. Brent Oglesby, the officer-in-charge of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3’s construction civic action detail (CCAD) in Timor-Leste, picked up an acoustic guitar belonging to a Timorese college student at the Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa’e campus, Tues., Oct. 29, he didn’t realize the educational impact “Knock’n on Heaven’s Door” by Guns And Roses was about to have.
As he played, the local students sang along to every word, performing pitch-perfect enunciation, correct verb usage and seamless parallel structure between like word suffixes – as well as the lyrics would allow, anyway.
These complex themes of the English language are difficult to teach, especially when the instructors are volunteers from a construction battalion who don’t speak Tetum, Timor-Leste’s national language.
“I love to sing with my brother and the other students here at the school,” said student Leonidu De Silva. “When we study, it becomes difficult. When we are able to talk to the Americans and sing with them, we learn better English. It helps a lot.”
NMCB 3 volunteers visit the school one day each week. During the actual classes, they break into groups and help the Timorese students complete conversational exercises. The class, according to the lead instructor Australian native Jane Thomas, works thanks to the Seabee volunteers.
Capt. Rod Moore (center), Commander, 30th NCR, helps two Timorese college studentscomplete an English exercise.
“There have been times where I simply can’t make it to teach, and I’ve been able to pass along the resources to the Seabees,” said Thomas. “They come, instruct the class and really do a rather amazing job. The other battalions who have come here have always lent a hand, and we appreciate them all, truly, but the current battalion, NMCB 3, makes such a strong effort to be here each and every week. It’s been great being able to rely on the so consistently.”
Thomas said that Timorese students recognize the importance of learning English. They understand English as the international language and feel learning it will make them more competitive for higher paying employment.
The classes are conversationally based, adapting difficult lessons, such as verb conjugation, into simple verbal interactions. Through these exercise, the Seabees and Timorese learn about each other and develop a deeper connection. NMCB 3 volunteers took this a step further by singing popular songs with them. During these sing-a-longs, the Seabee volunteers would point out what they learned and how it applies to the lyrics.
These moments, simple in nature and found across any continent, serve as building blocks, strengthening U.S. and Timor-Leste relations critical to ensuring peace and stability in the still-developing country.
EO2 Dominic Defelice (right) shares a laugh with Bolilta, a Timorese college student.
“It’s extremely important for the Seabees to do what they are doing,” said Capt. Rod Moore, commodore of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment (NCR). “We are trying to demonstrate the U.S.’s commitment to the region and promote regional stability and security. In order to do that, we have to build, foster and sustain real relationships. So, by coming to the college and helping these kids learn English, we are developing those relationships at a local level.”
Peace and stability are of course critical in a region as active as the Pacific. With the majority of the world’s trade conducted on the maritime highways and byways surrounding Timor-Leste, teamwork between East Timor and their allies will ensure a more prosperous future.
Seabees share a rich history with the Pacific, having operated here for more than 70 years. One of the first battalions commissioned during World War II, NMCB 3’s legacy stands strong in its ability to build and fight anywhere in the world as either a full battalion or as a group of autonomous detachments, simultaneously completing critical engineering and construction missions.
For this deployment, NMCB 3 has split into nine details to perform critical construction projects in remote island areas such as Timor-Leste, Tonga, Cambodia and the Philippines. The teams will also conduct operations in Atsugi, Yokosuka and Okinawa, Japan; Chinhae, Republic of Korea and China Lake, Calif.
NCMB 3’s Timor-Leste CCAD is deployed to the island nation to execute engineering civic assistance projects, conduct formal training with the host nation and perform community relations events to help enhance shared capabilities and improve the country’s social welfare.
The Naval Construction Force is a vital component of the U.S. Maritime Strategy. They provide deployable battalions capable of providing disaster preparation and recovery support, humanitarian assistance and combat operations support.
NMCB 3 provides combatant commanders and Navy component commanders with combat-ready warfighters capable of general engineering, construction and limited combat engineering across the full range of military operations.