Story by Suzanne K. Whang, Editor, Bureau of Diplomatic Security Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Chief Steelworker Joan Powers travels with a Seabee convoy security and mobile construction team in February 2012. (Photo courtesy of SWC Joan Powers)
The State Department commemorates its 51-year formal partnership with the Seabees. A Memorandum of Understanding, signed between the Department and the Navy Support Unit on this day in 1966, officially detailed Seabees to the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). Here’s the story of one brave Seabee doing her part to support the DSS mission.
Seabee Joan Powers peered inside a 40-foot shipping container near the gate of a recently attacked U.S. consulate. Light streamed in through the bullet holes, making the inside of the steel box look like a celestial dome of stars.
Then-Steelworker First Class Powers spotted the supplies she was looking for strewn all over floor near exposed wires, splaying from an electrical box. The shipping container was damaged by gunfire during the multi-pronged attack on the consulate. Bullets destroyed the electrical hub and supplies for the critical perimeter security systems that the regional security officer (RSO) wanted operational again as soon as possible. Powers and her DSS colleagues had their work cut out for them.
First, Powers and her fellow team members went over the area with a volt meter to make certain none of the wires were still live. Once they knew they were safe from electrocution, they inspected damaged supplies to salvage what they could. Then they cannibalized parts from two vehicle barriers that had been damaged. Within a day, they were able to get one of the barriers operational again by fixing the hydraulic power unit, hoses, fittings, power lines and electrical circuit board.
Next they turned their attention to the damaged CCTV cameras. “The shipping container had been the main thoroughfare for critical camera cabling,” Powers explained. “So we had to trace all the wires that had been ripped apart by bullets and splice them back together, one by one. The work was so tedious my sense of time got skewed, so I don’t remember how long this took. But we did get the critical cameras back online.” Much to the RSO’s delight, the team’s quick action restored camera coverage to the main road leading up to the consulate – the same route used by the attackers.
During a previous deployment to a warzone, Powers was part of a convoy security team that doubled as a mobile construction team. She and her team rode into a volatile area in armored vehicles and cargo trucks, and rotated between building a perimeter and standing watch. “It’s what Seabees are trained to do – what we excel at – working heavy construction tools one shift, then providing security with a weapon in hand the next with no time off until the perimeter is up and the work is done.”
As a Chief Petty Officer, Powers worked with a team of Seabees to build five vehicle gates, each 16-feet wide and 8-feet tall, for U.S. Marines deployed in a Marine Expeditionary Force. With nine years of military service under her belt, Powers is also well versed in complicated electronics, locksmithing, and networked technical security systems. For her exemplary service, the State Department’s Naval Support Unit awarded Powers the distinction of Senior Sailor of the Year in 2014.
“My dad was a carpenter, and I grew up ‘working’ with him on weekends since I was six-years old. So I love working with my hands. Cutting, framing out, and welding together huge sheets of steel to construct gates solid enough to stop a speeding truck is right up my alley. It’s all very satisfying work for me.”
This type of work is all part of what Seabees do for the State Department. For the past 51 years, DSS has relied on the Seabees for construction, installation, renovation and maintenance, and repair projects in sensitive areas of State Department facilities, oftentimes in unstable regions of the world. As long as men and women like Chief Steelworker Powers step up to meet the challenge, the State Department will continue to benefit from their courage and commitment to serve our country.
Steelworker 2nd Class Joan Powers helps install concertina wire to secure an area in Afghanistan in December 2010. (Photo courtesy of SWC Joan Powers)