U.S. Navy Seabees Build Bridges in Uganda
U.S. Navy Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 completed construction on a concrete, low-water crossing here May 7, 2009.
Completion of the culvert bridge at Walela will be of great benefit to local residents, according to Uganda Peoples' Defense Force (UPDF) Lieutenant B.Y. Gala. "This is a great development for the people of Uganda and this region and a great achievement for the U.S. Navy and the UPDF," Gala said.
Gala led a group of UPDF engineers who worked alongside the Seabees. Another group of Ugandan soldiers served as force protection for the joint camp. This project was a different kind of military-to-military engagement than service members assigned to and supporting the multi-national Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa usually participate in, Chief Builder (SCW) Jonathan Poellot said.
"We've been able to pass on a lot of technical knowledge to them, instead of coming in with a show of force," said Poellot, a native of Mahopac, New York. "We've formed good relationships, and we're teaching them to do construction (and) perform maintenance on the roads. Sharing our knowledge with these guys, who don't have the educational opportunities that we have, will greatly improve their engineering ability.
"From here, all the way down to Kampala, everybody knows why we're here; to build a bridge and improve their transportation ability."
Gala said the Walela bridge will go a long way in that regard. He said it will significantly shorten the five-hour drive to Kampala, along with cutting the 90-minute drive to Lira in half. This will save on fuel costs and improve access to resources, he said.
"Some of these people are farmers who grow cash crops that need to be taken to Lira," Gala said. "This is (a great improvement to the) infrastructure in terms of access to some of the things they cannot get here in Aromo."
Many of the Seabees have befriended local residents, who have watched the construction every day. They said it means a lot to them that they can make a positive impact on people in need.
"When we leave here, we'll be gone, but knowing we've made a difference in their day-to-day lives. … I love what the Seabees do," said Petty Officer 2nd Class (SCW) Peter Belcastro, crew leader. "We live in pretty rugged conditions, with the tents and the outhouses, but any time you look outside the concertina wire, you know the people out there have it so much worse, so it's a very humbling experience."
These Seabees took on the project in February 2009. Since then, they have worked for 65 days, with work days ranging from 10 hours to as long as 22 hours. Poellot praised their performance and dedication.
"There have been days we've lost due to rain, and to my guys' credit, they've just worked longer and harder and stayed on schedule," Poellot said. "Ninety-five percent of them, this is their first deployment. Most of them have been in the Navy less than two years.
"They took the nothing that was there and built a 150-foot bridge. Any time you can do something like that without getting hurt, it's a good evolution."
Poellot added that the Seabees won't rest with the completion of this bridge and will begin work immediately on the next one.