Part II: Hands On “Can Do”
By MC1 Patrick Gordon, NMCB 25 Public Affairs
UT2 (SCW) Karl Philip, NMCB 25, installs an air conditioning unit in an Afghan National Engineer Brigade (NEB) barracks at Camp Ghazi, Afghanistan. Photos by MC1 Patrick Gordon
At Camp Ghazi, Afghanistan, history is being made. A new force within the Afghan National Army (ANA) has been formed and is being trained by some of the best engineers the U.S. military has to offer: Navy Seabees.
The newly formed Afghan National Engineer Brigade (NEB) is set to become the primary engineering and disaster response unit of the ANA. To accomplish this, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 25 has taken a holistic approach to training the Afghan engineers.
As the battalion officers train their counterparts in the NEB, the enlisted Seabees of NMCB 25 train as well. As boots-on-ground subject matter experts in construction and camp maintenance, the members of NMCB 25’s November Company spend their days training the Afghan engineers in their skill sets.
The NEB battalions, or kandaks, are instructed in their respective trades of vertical/horizontal construction (Construction Kandak) and water well/bridging operations (Specialty Kandak). Joining the Seabees are U.S. Army engineers of the 2d Engineer Brigade and a handful of civilian contract instructors from DynCorp, creating a joint and diverse training environment. The instructors train each class of students in the basics of carpentry, plumbing, electrical theory and installation, survey and design, HVAC and plumbing.
“What we’ve been doing is sort of a round robin showing them the whole nine yards as far as the block and masonry, showing them how to mix mortar, lay it correctly, use line blocks, the level, the trowel, how to mix mud properly by hand and by mixer,” said Builder 1st Class (SCW/EXW) David Shingleton, November Company project supervisor. “And same with the carpentry – you know, measure twice, cut once – and we’re really basic with everything, so it’s a graduated process.”
EOC (SCW) Chad Strauser (far right), NMCB 25, works with members of the National Engineer Brigade (NEB) Specialty Kandak to clear debris from a water well drill bit, Kabul, Afghanistan. The NEB soldiers perform on-the-job training with NMCB 25 to improve their camp as well learn valuable skills for future missions.
According to Shingleton, the goal of the course is to produce a well-rounded engineer within the NEB with a baseline of construction knowledge. Once the NEB engineers graduate, they will be capable of a variety of projects, both for the country and themselves. Part of this involves facility maintenance, which many of the student soldiers are learning through on-the-job training by helping to renovate their own camp.
“We’re trying to get them to the point that they can make their own repairs in the future without any outside assistance,” said Dennis Burch, a civilian construction instructor with DynCorp. “They’re working really hard with the November [Company] guys to learn what they need to know so that they can make their own repairs in the future. It’s really great to see these guys fresh out of boot camp and building their proficiency to be an asset to their kandak.”
As with the officers of the NEB, a wide variety of experience fills the enlisted ranks as well. Prior knowledge of any of the construction skills is an asset utilized by the instructors. The NEB students with such skills are often tapped by the instructors to assist in the training.
“I’ve got a couple of guys who actually did masonry work in Tehran on the outside before they even joined the ANA,” said Shingleton. “Same with the carpentry class – we’ve got a couple of really good carpenters in the mix. And then some of the new guys who’ve never really picked up a tool before, are doing the measuring, they’re like sponges – they just soak up all of this information from all of these professional sources – and they pick it up in no time. What’s more, we’re selecting the top five students from each trade class and have them be the trainers for the rest of their guys – so basically we’re training the trainers to make sure that they continue on in that mission.”
Shingleton said the overall goal of the training is for the NEB to continue with engineering missions of all types after the ISAF drawdown post-2014. An added benefit of that, he said, would be a force of professional engineers able to aid their country and communities in and out of ANA service.
“Sustainability is the name of the game; at the end of the day, that’s what we’re working toward here,” said Shingleton. “And I think we’re right on track with that. Once they graduate the class they’ll get a certificate of training, which, once they fulfill their contract with the ANA, they can take that certificate and obtain civilian employment. That certificate is like gold to them, because it allows them to turn this training into a trade on the civilian side.”
NEB leadership has taken note of the progress made by their personnel, as well as their growing relationships with the training cadre.
“I am confident the U.S. training is professional and once trained, my soldiers will be able to train their guys,” said Lt. Col. Ghulam Muhajuddin Bigzada, NEB operations officer. “Not only am I sure they are getting professional training, the training will be very good for Afghanistan.”
SW1 (SCW) Jay Masey (left) and SW1 (SCW) John Corcoran, (second from left), NMCB 25, speak to an interpreter while an Afghan National Engineer Brigade (NEB) student instructor demonstrates spot welding techniques to other NEB soldiers at Camp Ghazi, Afghanistan.