Seabees Build Essential Bridge in Uganda
Sailors from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 Detachment Horn of Africa (NMCB 11, Det. HOA), from Gulfport, Mississippi, have completed work on a concrete bridge of major importance to residents of Aroma and continue to work on a second one nearby.
The crew of Seabees built the Aromo low-water crossing bridge over a small river, replacing a lighter bridge that washed out during the last seasonal high floods and heavy rainfall. The bridge will once again connect the village of Aromo with the road leading to the city of Lira and other local areas, such as the public school.
"The Seabees' strong work ethic and extensive technical skills are providing Ugandans with two bridges that will be able to withstand the seasonal flooding and provide transportation solutions to the largest vehicles used in the region," explained Lieutenant Garth Pertersen, Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) country planner for Uganda.
CJTF-HOA is based at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, and operates in 13 East African countries. NMCB 11 Det. HOA is currently on a six-month deployment to CJTF-HOA's area of responsibility, working in four of those nations. One of CJTF-HOA's missions is to foster regional security through infrastructure projects like this bridge.
In order to work at the remote project site efficiently, the Seabees set up a small tent camp only 50 yards away from the bridge. The camp was designed to be self-sufficient, giving the Seabees their own power and was where they lived and kept supplies for the project. It was also on the edge of local farmland, with goats and cattle constantly grazing next to the camp. The living conditions give the crew a unique chance to grow, according to Petty Officer 3rd Class John Johnston, project crew member.
"No one wants to live the way we do," Johnston said. "But it gives you such a great understanding of what the people we are helping have to endure on a daily basis. I have definitely developed a greater appreciation for the little things in life," said Johnston.
"By living in the vicinity of local Ugandans," said Pertersen, "the Seabees are able to interact on a daily basis with Ugandan civilians and build goodwill between our two countries. The efforts of the Seabees of NMCB 11 outside Lira will provide benefits for both the people of Uganda and the United States for years to come."
NMCB 11 also had the opportunity to work with engineers from the Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF), allowing more growth for relationships as well as cross-training.
"It's been an amazing experience working with the Ugandan engineers," said Petty Officer 2nd Class (SCW) Peter A. Belcastro, project crew leader. "They have such a strong desire to learn and their work ethic is incredible. I would be happy to serve side by side with them anytime."
Aroma residents, mostly children, watched the work daily, waiting for the Seabees to finish working each day before interacting with the crew. This was also the highlight of the day for the Seabees. "Handing out our extra water bottles and throwing the football with the kids is by far the best part of the day," explained Johnston. "No matter how exhausted you are, those kids can always bring a smile to your face."
"The people around here are genuinely nice, too," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Trent Thurnhorst, an equipment mechanic. "One guy came to my shop and began to cut the high grass. He told me 'I do this for friendship'."
Johnston said the work was draining and living conditions were below what they considered normal, but mission progress and success came from the prospect of improving the lives of Ugandan youth. "Some days," he said, "I don't feel like getting out of bed and going to work. On those days, I remind myself that this project will ensure the local kids can cross the river during the rainy season in order to get to school. Knowing my work has such a tremendous impact on the local community is enough motivation in itself. There is no project I'd rather be on."
The service members of CJTF-HOA employ an indirect approach to counter violent extremism. The task force helps build the internal capacities of countries at risk to help them prevail against extremists exploiting instability.