NMCB 3 Completes Pacific Deployment with Tongan Thanks

By MC1 Chris Fahey, NMCB 3 Public Affairs

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Lt. Justin Webb, officer-in-charge, NMCB 3’s Construction Civic Action Detail (CCAD) in Tonga, presents Tonga’s Crown Prince His Royal Highness Tupouto’a Ulukalala with a pair of scissors used to formally announce the opening of a new 710-square-foot community hall and disaster response center during an official ribbon cutting ceremony, Te’ekiu, Tonga, Feb. 19. Photo by MC1 Chris Fahey

NMCB 3 TONGA CCAD GOES FROM 0 TO 100

When Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 arrived in Tonga’s Te’ekiu community in September 2013 for a six-month deployment, the 25-person Construction Civic Action Detail (CCAD) faced a difficult challenge: Build a more than $650K community hall and disaster response center atop years of layered pig feces and rotten succubae, under hostile weather conditions using locally procured materials from an unpredictable supply system.

Although unsettling, Seabees are used to working in these kinds of austere environments and are no strangers to innovative engineering necessitated by either combat or natural inhibitors. This project, however, represented the most costly investment of all scheduled construction during NMCB 3’s recently completed Pacific Region deployment, and offered no secondary option for handing off an uncompleted project to a relieving battalion. Therefore, if NMCB 3 failed to complete the building, Tonga would not receive the only structure on the island build to manage severe natural disasters.

Without fail, construction needed to steam from 0% to 100% completion under budget, on time, and meet all relevant quality assurance codes – a process known by Seabees as going from 0 to 100.

“When we got here, there was nothing,” said UTCS Steve Harvey, NMCB 3 Tonga CCAD’s senior enlisted leader. “We had the construction plans and a shared vision – that’s it.”

With that vision, the dedicated Seabees moved in with their engineering counterparts from the Tongan Defence Service (TDS) at a local base and began forging a friendship that would become responsible for the team’s overall success.

From the first step to the last, the Seabee/TDS team conquered hurdle after hurdle to erect the steel and stone 710-square-foot building. Under constant stress of time and budget, mistakes had to be marginal or the project would fail. Hard rain and heat had to be worked through or the project would fail. Anything that would affect either the construction timeline or budget had to be managed with an almost surreal precision or the project would fail.

“We didn’t fail – not even close,” Lt. Justin Webb, NMCB 3 Tonga CCAD officer-in-charge. “We completed our project under our allotted budget and with nearly 500 fewer man hours.”

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Lt. Justin Webb (front), officer-in-charge, NMCB 3’s Construction Civic Action Detail (CCAD) in Tonga, gives a tour of the newly completed community hall and disaster response center to Tonga’s Crown Prince His Royal Highness Tupouto’a Ulukalala and U.S. Pacific Command Representative Air Force  Brig. Gen. William Burks following an official ribbon cutting ceremony, Te’ekiu, Tonga, Feb. 19. Photo by MC1 Chris Fahey

According to NMCB 3’s senior leadership and members of senior construction commands, the completed building represents the kind of quality construction the Seabee’s “Can Do” reputation was founded on.

“To say I’m proud of my guys doesn’t cut it; not by a long shot,” added Webb. “They have exceeded every expectation and put forth the kind of effort and attention to detail you dream of seeing as a leader. Our level of success stemmed from each person taking the absolute greatest amount of pride anyone can take in their work and demonstrating that pride in every task during each and every day. It’s incredible.”

This pride was certainly tested. The Seabee/TDS team would arrive to the jobsite and watch as their previous day’s work would all but wash away thanks to heavy all-day tropical rains. The following day, humidity would require greater maintenance for all support equipment and heavy machinery to remain running. Planning and forethought from senior leaders on both the U.S. and Tonga sides allowed the correct management of these issues – issues that under a slightly less able team would have provoked a complete halt to all construction thanks to an injury or damaged equipment.

Instead, distinguished visitors from the Naval Construction Force, U.S. Pacific Command, State Department and Tonga’s Royal Family addressed the Te’ekiu community with confidence as they formally announced the opening of the community hall and disaster response center during an official ribbon cutting ceremony, Feb. 19.

“Tonga wishes to extend its sincere appreciation to the U.S. Navy Seabees for their continued support to the people of Tonga,” said Tonga Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano. “Thank you for all your hard work during the six months that you’ve been here. Our community regards this project as one of the most significant contributions to our country.”

The friendships forged between the TDS and Seabee force is the only thing that may stand longer than the community hall. Each day, the Seabees awoke under the same sun, fell asleep under the same moon and worked through the same storms as the Tongan people. During holidays, Tongans would share their culture with the U.S. service members, exchanging customs, specially prepared meals and warm smiles.

With presence of force serving as one of the main contributors to peace in the Pacific, Seabees pick up where the ships stop – at the shoreline. Seabees spent thousands of hours forging trust. They learned to understand the Tongan people in a way no ship’s company could. The sandpaper-like callouses on their hands and boot blisters on their feet came from not just reading about the ally during an in-port brief prior to liberty call, but from sharing their lives with the culture they may one day fight alongside. Unlike any other naval community, Seabees become a part of the culture they help develop and protect. They share in their pain and stand as a real witnesses to their daily struggles. This acclimated adoption into the community serves as the final and most cemented act that allowed NMCB 3’s Tonga CCAD to go from 0 to 100 – under budget and on time.

NMCB 3 is a vital component of the U.S. Maritime Strategy, providing Seabees capable of disaster preparation and recovery support, humanitarian assistance and combat operations support.

NMCB 3 RETURNS FROM 6-MONTH DEPLOYMENT

More than 550 Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 returned to the welcomed arms of friends and families, Port Hueneme, Calif., Feb. 18, marking the successful completion of the battalion’s six-month Pacific Region deployment.

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HM2 Donald Carter, NMCB 3, is greeted by his wife, Sunny, and their daughter after returning home from deployment, NBVC, Calif., Feb. 18. Photo by MC1 John P. Curtis

The “Better Than Best” battalion split into nine teams, performing critical construction projects in remote island areas such as Timor-Leste, Tonga, Cambodia and the Republic of the Philippines. Known as Construction Civic Action Details (CCADs), each team’s mission was to execute engineering civic assistance projects, conduct formal training with the host nations, and perform community relations (COMREL) events to help enhance shared capabilities and improve each country’s social welfare.

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Brook holds a welcome home sign while she waits for her father, CM3 Tim Mangold, NMCB 3, to return home from a deployment to the U.S. Pacific Command area of operations, NBVC, Calif., Feb. 18. Photo by MC1 John P. Curtis

The teams also conducted operations in Atsugi, Yokosuka; and Okinawa, Japan; Chinhae, Republic of Korea; and China Lake and San Clemente Island, Calif. These details improved the infrastructure of the local bases, excavated local minerals, conducted training with host nation militaries and performed COMRELs.

“During each stage of this deployment, NMCB 3 showed the world how a construction battalion can improve a host nation’s infrastructure and military proficiency, and build lasting relationships with the local communities,” said NMCB 3’s Commanding Officer Cmdr. Gordon Meek III. “I couldn’t be prouder of our battalion. Our personal behavior during off hours set the golden standard of positive ambassadorship and when on the clock, their focus and motivation was nothing short of impressive.”

NMCB 3 will begin its homeport training cycle that will ensure the unit is prepared for the next deployment scheduled in 2015.

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. The Naval Construction Force is a vital component of the U.S. maritime strategy, and provides deployable battalions capable of disaster preparation and recovery support, humanitarian assistance and combat operations support.

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Ens. Jacob Springer kisses his wife, Jenna, after returning home from a deployment NMCB 3, NBVC, Calif., Feb. 18. Photo by MC1 John P. Curtis

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