By Cpl. William Hester, III Marine Expeditionary Force/Marine Corps Installations Pacific
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Alex Hernandez (left) and Steelworker 2nd Class Samuel Rojas, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4, bend rebar in preparation for laying concrete, as part of vertical construction training during their deployment with Task Force Koa Moana in Ovalau, Fiji, July 6. (Photo by Cpl. William Hester/ 160706-M-IU904-327)
A relaxing day at the beach was not quite what Task Force Koa Moana experienced during their exercise in Fiji. While tourists around the world visited the white sandy beaches awash with turquoise water, the engineers were laying block, pounding nails and welding beams.
Marines with Task Force Koa Moana conducted vertical construction training with Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4 and engineers with the Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF), July 1- August 1, as a part of their deployment in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We worked with the RFMF to partake in vertical construction training to build and increase relationships and interoperability,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew G. Pentecost, a combat engineer with Task Force Koa Moana. “We built a one-room building and repaired the roof on a nine-room building during that time.”
Building engineering relationships in Fiji are similar to partnerships already formed with countries like the Philippines and Thailand, where Marines and Seabees often conduct similar construction-based engineer training.
Steelworker 2nd Class Ray Crumity (right) and Lance Cpl. J. Guadelupe Venegas take a break from digging during vertical construction training on Ovalau, Fiji, July 8. Marines and Seabees with Task Force Koa Moana conduct vertical construction training and infantry training on the island with members of the Republic of Fiji Military Force to increase interoperability and relations. (Photo by Marine Corps Cpl. William Hester/160708-M-IU904-333)
“The mission is joint training,” said Chief Equipment Operator Michael Hamlin, with Company E, NMCB 4. “We share a lot of capabilities to teach each other step-by-step how get the mission done in our own ways.”
Their lengthy stay in Fiji gave them an inside view on Fijian culture. The Fijian service members resembled the Marines and Seabees in many ways, according to Pentecost. Neither party was hesitant to crack a joke to share laughs, but neither were they opposed to voluntarily skip meals to ensure the completion of projects.
“We shared a lot of meals together, and the harder they worked, the more they ate and vice versa,” said Pentecost. “They came ready to work every day, and I hope they learned from us the same way we learned from them. I made a lot of good friends through hard work here and I’m going to miss sitting around the Kava bowl until midnight after a long day of work, or just having a conversation, and getting to know them during a break.”
The training in Fiji gave the Marines and Seabees a broader opportunity to practice and apply their engineering skills they often do not have time or space for. They often worked well over 12 hours a day, even pushing into 24-hour operations toward the end of the exercise to finish their training.
U.S. Marines and Seabees with Task Force Koa Moana, and Soldiers from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF), conduct vertical construction training on Ovalau, Fiji, July 22. Fiji is part of Task Force Koa Moana’s deployment throughout the Asia-Pacific region, where Marines and Seabees share engineering and infantry skills with the RFMF to strengthen military-to-military relationships and interoperability. (Photo by Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jesus McCloud/160722-M-NV775-010)