Seabees Build Infrastructure and Relationships in Cambodia

By CE3 Kevin Bhirdo, NMCB 4

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CM2 Timothy Switzer, NMCB 4 Detail Cambodia, inspects a water well to ensure its integrity and continued supply of water to the Hun Sen Croung Primary School, Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Sept. 11. Photos by EO3 Alexander Balaoing

A small group of Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4 deployed in August to assume Civic Construction Action Detail (CCAD) Cambodia, Sihanoukville. During the deployment, the Seabees are working to improve the quality of life for the local population through the development of infrastructure and facilities, upgrading sanitary conditions and increasing access to medical services.

The arrival of Detail Cambodia at Phnom Penh International Airport on Aug. 7 was the beginning of a new experience for a majority of the group. As the team approached for landing, the ‘Bees took in vast landscapes flooded with swollen river waters. Upon disembarking, they were greeted by a blast of humid air from the country’s warm local climate.

“I don’t think you can acclimate to the weather here,” said Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Timothy Switzer, NMCB 4. “It’s more like getting used to sweating.”

With the warm welcome and kindness of the local people, the Seabees from NMCB 4 underwent a quick and efficient turnover with NMCB 1 and settled into their home for the next six months.

The ‘Bees began work on their first task at the Samdech Chea Sim Primary School Head Facility in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Aug. 14. The project provides the school with a new five-stall head facility to improve sanitation conditions for students and accommodate the needs of an increasing student body. The Seabees utilize their skills across all rates in tandem with the support of a local life support contractor to construct the facility. While construction is the main focus of the crew, engagement with the students and local community is also an essential pillar of the Detail’s objectives. The close proximity of the school and job site fosters daily interaction between the Seabees and students through sports, language and vocabulary lessons, and other activities. The Seabees have also distributed reading books and other educational materials to the school.

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Seabees from NMCB 4 Detail Cambodia lay out concrete block and spacing during a head facility project for Samdech Chea Sim Primary School, Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Sept. 8. 

“The greatest benefit of the project is the impact we are making in the country, being able to come here and help the students,” said Builder 3rd Class Rudy Fehrle, project crew leader.

The Detail’s deployment has not been without difficulty as the crew has endured torrential downpours nearly every day as they work during the country’s rainy season.

“The largest obstacle by far that we face is the weather [since] it is now the rainy season here,” said Fehrle. “Every day is a constant battle to continue progress…with bad weather you face delays and standstills, to get as much work in during the times as you are able.”

The site of the head facility is next to a drainage area for the school and surrounding area; therefore the site is routinely filled with water and washout. The crew has been relentless in its efforts to combat the weather conditions, many times waiting for the rain to slow down enough in order to resume work, often multiple times a day. They have utilized water pumps and tarps, and even built a hut-like structure to cover the project and prevent it from becoming a swimming pool for the local students.

“I believe every Seabee in this Det. will find a mutual ground and come up with the best course of action to overcome the weather in Cambodia,” said Fehrle.

Though a continued challenge, the weather has allowed the Seabees to be innovative in their efforts and will serve as a valuable learning opportunity for future projects. These humanitarian efforts continue to assist communities in need and strengthen the partnership between the United States and Cambodia.

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