By MC1 Patrick Gordon, NMCB 25 Public Affairs
CE1(SCW) Daniel Povkovich (left) and BU2 (SCW) Lee Boyles, NMCB 25, haul sandbags by rope to the roof of the Kabul Police District 1 (PD-1) headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. A team of NMCB 25 ‘Bees improved force protection measures at the PD-1 headquarters, increasing security and effectiveness of Afghan National Police in the district. Photos courtesy of Lt. Cmdr. Steven Sherman
The historic capital of Kabul, Afghanistan, is a city in transition. In the past 13 years of war, the city has made great strides forward in the security and safety of its three million residents. But as the country still sees conflict and crime, so does the city. For the Afghan National Police (ANP) of Police District 1 (PD-1), patrolling their beats could be difficult due to the condition of their headquarters. Years of wear had begun to make the facility less secure, requiring more and more manpower to plug holes in an increasingly rundown perimeter. That’s where the Seabees came to help.
“PD-1 is distinctive among all the police districts in Kabul in that it is not only in the heart of downtown in the city – a very busy business district – but it is also led by the only female police chief in the country, Brigadier General Jamila Bayaz,” said Lt. Cmdr. Steve Sherman, operations officer, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 25. “She is a symbol of the country’s transition from the Taliban, leading a police force in one of the most intense police districts in all of Kabul.”
SW1 (SCW) Jay Masey (foreground) and other members of NMCB 25 shore up defenses inside the Kabul Police District 1 headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Sherman emphasized that the Seabees’ role was to go in and make hasty improvements that would enable a deliberate and enduring Afghan-led solution to be developed later, while immediately freeing up police officers who were otherwise securing the porous compound to patrol out in the community.
Security was a major concern for the ANP in the district, explained Sherman. Large gaps in the headquarters compound’s perimeter, including partially destroyed and collapsed buildings, allowed criminal and insurgent elements to easily walk into the compound. Because of this, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) leadership took notice and utilized resources to shore up the PD-1 defensive infrastructure.
“This was an initiative that got the interest of ISAF Joint Command (IJC) Commander Lt. Gen. [Joseph] Anderson, and was really driven by [Regional Command-Capital],” said Sherman, noting the distinctive partnership forged between the Seabees, the ANP, their RC-Capital ANP mentors and colleagues from Task Force Volunteer’s Police Advisory Detachment. “Through this collective effort we went out to reinforce Police District 1.”
EO1 (SCW) Adalberto Carrasquillo (left) and BU1 (SCW/EXW) Chad Smith string concertina wire around the perimeter of the Kabul Police District 1 headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.
With that, a team of Seabees from NMCB 25 was sent in.
“From start to finish, a small group of us went out on a Thursday morning to assess the area, and then we spent Thursday through Saturday planning and another couple of days acquiring materials…we were out there early Tuesday morning, and finished within the day,” said Builder 1st Class (SCW/PJ) Michael Fleck, a team leader on the project. “It went extremely smooth.”
Once the mission began, the work ran swiftly. More than 500 meters of concertina wire was strung and 150 sand bags were placed to prevent unauthorized people from wandering into the compound. The project was not without hazard, though. The condition of the project site itself made the safety of the crew a priority for all involved.
“We had to climb down a 7-foot drop to reach our area of operations,” said Builder 1st Class (SCW/ EXW) Chad Smith. “There was debris all over which made it difficult to stretch the initial wire, as trash was always impeding the wire [making] it difficult to stretch out evenly. “
Others found safety concerns within the building itself.
“There were 220-volt cords running every which way, and some of the insulation had been stripped from them, so we were working around exposed wires,” said Steelworker 1st Class (SCW) Jay Masey. “And there wasn’t much of a roof, we were over on top of a wall, we were through windows and stuff. But overall our guys were smart and safe enough to do their jobs without injury.”
The location provided unique challenges, too. Due to the work site’s proximity to a bustling market in the heart of Kabul, physical security was needed to ensure the protection of those working from the ever-present threat of insurgents that blend easily into the populace. This was accomplished by a joint effort of the U.S. Army, Seabees and the ANP.
“Everyone got involved in our security out there,” said Fleck. “We had a team of Guardian Angels staffed by guys from [48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s] Task Force Volunteer, we had our Marine advisor with us up there, plus we had the ANP guys with us manning the balconies outside the perimeter, too.”
Smith agreed, saying that the Soldiers of Task Force Volunteer provided a level of security that allowed the Seabees to work effectively.
“The Army showed us why they are the professionals they are; they always kept their ‘game face’ on,” said Smith. “The Army PSD team was always on point and whenever we needed to install wire out of their site they would always have us wait until they cleared the area prior. The Army kept the high standards of security throughout.”
Upon completion of the project, the Seabees and the Task Force Volunteer Soldiers were thanked personally by Bayaz, the police chief, for their superior work.
“The PD-1 general came out after the completion of the project and gave not only my crew, but the entire team a few words of thanks through the interpreter,” said Smith. “She seemed much more relaxed knowing that the Seabees had given her and her police department a more secure area to perform their duties.”
The team agreed that the impact of the project provided instant gratification, as they were able to provide a visible, effective improvement for the ANP within one day’s time.
“When we walked out of there in the afternoon, that place was more secure than when they got there in the morning,” said Sherman. “And the impact to that area was immediate; they no longer need to have people standing watch to plug those holes, which frees up officers to patrol the community and provide that added level of security that allows the Afghans to go on living their lives without worrying about a Taliban threat.”
For some, the ability to contribute to the ANP was a very personal effort.
A U.S. Army Soldier of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team stands a “guardian angel” watch over Seabees of NMCB 25 as they string concertina wire around the perimeter of the Kabul Police District 1 headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“The project had immediate benefits, but I believe it will have a lasting impact,” said Masey, a Chicago, Ill., police officer. “With any police facility that’s hardened, security is key. I actually lost a partner in Chicago who was killed in a police parking lot in a bad section of town. So to do this project and harden this facility, I know we were able to go in there and not only provide security, but also provide the ANP with the peace of mind to serve in a more secure place. I think it will give them the safety they need to perform their jobs better.”
Sherman highlighted the unique capability of the Seabees to quickly task-tailor small teams of subject matter experts for an instant impact.
“We took three different small crews and aligned them against three different and specific holes in PD-1’s perimeter and hammered out work – in less than half a day – that was crucial to allowing someone else to come in and do the more long-term improvements,” said Sherman. “We were really setting the conditions for someone else to come in there and make PD-1 better, and that’s the Afghan part of it. It’s Afghan-led, they drive their own solutions, but we enable them to be able to come in and do that.”
And for those who were there, it will have a lasting impact as well.
“It was a good experience; it was a good opportunity, and probably one of the highlights of the whole deployment for me,” said Masey. “Because it was real Seabee work: to help, construct and give a hand to individuals and know that – no matter what the project is – we’re bettering the lives of people by doing it.”