Heavy Equipment Maintainers Keep Earthmovers Moving
Seabees assigned to the Gulfport, Mississippi-based Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11, Detachment Horn of Africa (NMCB 11 Det. HOA) maintain what they call Civil Engineer Support Equipment, or CESE. That equipment is used daily by Seabees in construction and other operations in direct support of the Djibouti-based Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa mission.
"If we have to order a part to a forklift, it has to be ordered from the United States and it takes two weeks to get here if we are lucky," said Petty Officer Second Class Petty Officer Alhagie J. Ceesay, NMCB 11, Det. HOA's supply representative.
Logistical challenges for Seabees range from availability of repair parts to the working conditions faced by forward-deployed units throughout the CJTF-HOA area of responsibility. Working from sunrise to sunset, in heat and rain and with limited tools, the crew members say they keep motivated because their hard work will directly affect the success of other Seabees here in Africa.
"In homeport, we used air tools to change tires; here we change them all by hand -- with the jack sinking into the mud," said Construction Mechanic Constructionman Apprentice Dirk W. Lauber, Uganda maintenance shop mechanic.
"No matter how different our backgrounds, we are all very close and committed to providing top notch quality work," said Petty Officer 2nd Class (SW) Clinton D. Dearth, maintenance shop floor supervisor. "We already know that the heat and road conditions are going to affect battery life and tire condition, and we strive to stay one step ahead of the game."
NMCB 11 Det. HOA has 72 pieces of CESE at Camp Lemonnier and at forward-operating locations throughout a 1,600 mile radius of the expeditionary camp. The NMCB 11 Alfa Shop is the maintenance crew responsible for the Seabees' vehicles. In that sense, the Alfa Shop is an interchangeable term for motor pool.
"This causes many logistical challenges that NMCB 11 needs to overcome," said Petty Officer 1st Class (SCW) Daniel R. Tanner, Alfa Shop work-center supervisor. "The troops taking pride and ownership in their work -- and working together as a team -- contributes to our shop's continued success. We want the next battalion to be able to come right in and take over where we left off without missing a beat."
This is the first time NMCB 11 has deployed since the Vietnam era; the unit, previously known as Mobile Construction Battalion (MCB) 11, was operational from 1942 to 1969, but the end of the Vietnam War resulted in the restructuring of Seabee units and, in turn, the decommissioning of MCB 11.
NMCB 11 was recommissioned in 2007, and has maintained a 100 percent availability rate over their first three months of its present deployment. The unit's leadership credits aggressive training in three phases for that success.
Training was the main focus of the CESE shop during that pre-deployment period, called a 'homeport' by Seabees. Training included technical skills, a military training phase and a battalion-level field exercise.
"Our goal (with the CESE) was to perfect our troubleshooting skills, leading to an accurate diagnosis the first time, every time," said Chief Petty Officer Chad A. Donoho, the mechanized equipment maintenance supervisor. "We look forward to deployment because that is when our mission tasking really begins."
"Our first- and second-class petty officers have a lot of prior deployment experience, and have guided us in the right direction. We follow their example and all come together to make sure the job gets done," said Construction Mechanic Constructionman Brian K. Chilson, a technician in the Alfa Shop.
The service members of CJTF-HOA, headquartered in Djibouti, employ an indirect approach to counter violent extremism. The multi-national task force uses a strategy of cooperative conflict prevention, partially by building the internal capacities of countries at risk of exploitation by violent extremists.