CAMP LEMONNIER, DJIBOUTI – As Seabees of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) ONE, deployed with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), transfer authority to the incoming unit, NMCB 133, they will leave behind more than a memory of hard work and hot days while working on a humanitarian civic assistance project in Djibouti – they will leave behind village of grateful people and lasting friendships.
The Seabees of NMCB 1 have spent the last five months working at a remote site in the Arta region of Djibouti to build a medical clinic complex to serve the populous as part of a humanitarian civic assistance project. There are very few resources in the small village and medical care is over an hour away. When completed, this clinic will provide immediate first aid as well as maternity and newborn care to locals. Since construction is still under way, and NMCB 1 will be re-deploying to the United States, it is time for NMCB 133 to take over and inherit the great relationships and bonds that the previous battalion has established with the people of the small village.
NMCB 1 officer-in-charge, Lt. Cmdr. Jason Ward, sought to formally signify and honor this relationship by organizing a flagpole dedication ceremony with the people of the village, which also offered an opportunity to introduce the incoming Seabees of NMCB 133.
As the ceremony was waiting to begin, some of the Seabees played games with the local children, who have grown to love having them around. Over time they have developed elaborate routines of songs and dances together, as well as clapping hands in unison.
During the ceremony, Chief Petty Officer John Young raised the Djiboutian flag and Ward addressed the village chief Hassan Diama.
“We want to thank you by dedicating this new flag pole to your village,” said Ward. “We have to go home now, but our work will continue. I’d like to introduce you to the new crew who will be here and assure you of the good work they will be doing.”
After the Djiboutian flag was raised, Ward asked each of the NMCB 1 Seabees who were leaving to raise their hands. He then introduced the NMCB 133 and asked them to raise their hands and introduce themselves to the villagers.
Ward then recognized the Djiboutian Gendarmerie who have been on site daily from the beginning, providing security for the construction crew. They, too, became friends with the crew and were given special plaques and coins recognizing their efforts.
Petty Officer 1st Class Edward Harmon, project supervisor for NMCB 1, worked on the site from the beginning.
“When this crew first showed up, there were rocks thrown at us,” said Harmon. “Those same kids wave at us now and know our names, and we wave back and know their names. We’re welcome here now, and that feels really good to see that develop. I’m proud of what we’ve done and we’ve made a bond with this community.”
All members of CJTF-HOA support the U.S. Africa Command goals of promoting security and stability in the region. A method CJTF-HOA uses of accomplishing this is by engaging with partner nations to deter, disrupt and deny violent extremist organizations (VEOs) in East Africa. By forging partnerships with the local population through friendly behavior like building needed infrastructure, the CJTF-HOA Seabees are directly helping to deter the recruitment practices of VEOs.
As the Seabees transfer authority from NMCB 1 to NMCB 133, the faces working on the medical facility may change, but the work being done will not. The flag will fly next to the medical clinic as it continues to make progress and the relationships will continue to build on this strong foundation. NMCB 1 Seabees say that they feel good about what they’ve accomplished.
“It has been a privilege to serve as an ambassador of the U.S. with NMCB 1 Navy Seabees,” said Lt. Chris Joseph, NMCB 1 operations officer. “It’s been an honor to work hand-in-hand with the village, Djibouti Gendarmerie, the FAD [Forces Armees Djiboutiennes] and fellow U.S. forces.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Lacy P’Pool, relationship manager of the construction site for NMCB 1, believes they are leaving the construction site much better than they found it and hopes it makes a difference in the future.
“There’s a part of me that thinks, ‘Maybe if they’re ever approached by al-Shabaab and have to make a decision to do right or wrong, they’ll think about us here,’“ P’Pool said. “Maybe they’ll remember that we built this clinic for them. Or they might just think about our friendship and make the choice to not participate in a [violent extremist organization].”
The Official Transfer of Authority took place the following day at Camp Lemonnier. Ward and NMCB 1 transferred authority to the incoming commander of NMCB 133, Lt. Cmdr. James Taylor.