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Gulfport Seabees Provide Disaster Relief Support Around the Globe

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Story by CPO Rosalie Chang on 11/20/2018
GULFPORT, Miss. U.S. Navy Seabees assigned to battalions under the command Naval Construction Group (NCG) 2 participated in Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) and service authority response operations to provide disaster relief efforts and essential lifesaving and preserving support to military and civilian personnel affected by recent natural disasters.

"DSCA and related missions are vital to assist the nation during times of crisis," said NCG 2 Assistant Operations Officer, Lt. j.g. Christopher Hefner. "The military possesses unique capabilities that can fill, local, state and federal government requirement gaps when needed in extremely austere environments and in short notice."

Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB)1 Detachment Guam, conducted DSCA with the Commonwealth Advocates for Recovery Efforts, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in rebuilding roofs for homes as part of the relief operations in Rota, Tinian and Saipan after a typhoon hit in early September.

During their mission in Rota, the Seabees removed damaged roofing materials and reconstructed a total of 33 emergency temporary roofs, able to withstand wind forces from future storms.

"I understand firsthand the feeling of not having a roof over your head," said Construction Electrician 1st Class Brenton Shepherd. "My house was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, and for me it feels so gratifying to help the members of this community turn a house into a home again."

Many of the homes on Tinian were damaged or destroyed by the more than 150 mph winds that Super Typhoon Yutu brought to the island, which is the second strongest storm to ever strike U.S. territory. The Seabees also built tents that can accommodate up to eight people, letting residents return to their property and move out of emergency shelters.

"Some of the families have been in emergency shelters for about two weeks and so it's great that we could build these tents, which got them back on their property and helped them get one step closer to resuming normal life," said NMCB 1 Detachment Operations Chief, Chief Equipment Operator Jared Vehrs.

NMCB 11 and NMCB 133 deployed a component of their respective Air Detachments after Hurricane Michael made landfall as a category 4 hurricane in the Florida panhandle, Oct. 10. The Seabees conducted relief efforts in order to restore sustainable base operations on two military installations. Their missions included debris removal, restoring mobility and setting conditions for reconstruction.

"Getting the Seabees aboard both bases was crucial to enable service crews such as utilities and electrical to get to the areas needed to restore power and utilities to the base," said Hefner. "Recovery efforts are still underway, but the massive workload taken on by both battalions has certainly had a direct impact on the opening of each base."

NMCB 133 deployed to Tyndall Air Force Base with approximately 20 personnel where damaging hurricane force winds and storm surge caused extensive damage to the installation. Debris and damaged facilities required clearing and some demolition to facilitate reconstruction.

"The detachment cleared downed trees and construction debris over a 600-acre area to include clearing roads, parking lots, fence lines and around buildings," said Detachment Officer-in-Charge Lt. Andrea Keirstead. "This provided safe access to critical infrastructure for the personnel and contractors on the base. The parking lots also provided space for temporary RV housing for the personnel returning to Tyndall."

Task Force Phoenix was established to coordinate and direct recovery efforts between U.S. Air Force and other joint engineer partners. Leadership stated most of the Seabees were operating in a disaster environment where they did not have a lot of practical experience, but they quickly learned and accomplished more than what was expected.

"This was a good opportunity to expand our leadership capabilities," said Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Travis Wyatt. "It also gave our junior Seabees a chance to grow, gain experience and take on small unit leadership. It's nice to see a small organization accomplish this much work."

There is still a lot of work to be completed on the installation. However, the Seabees were able to expedite the process of getting it back to operating capabilities.

"We are an asset that is here to help; it's what Seabees do," said Equipment Operator 2nd Class Zachary Bunter. "We are here to help other units rebuild the base and get back to operational capabilities. It's a huge team effort."

54 personnel from NMCB 11 deployed to Naval Support Activity Panama City, Fla. Within 48-hours, the detachment convoyed more than 250 miles with 18 pieces of Civil Engineering Support Equipment (CESE) and various other supplies and equipment to conduct the mission.

"Getting this base back up and running is a top priority, without this base the contractors coming to assist the local community won't have a place to base their operations," said Detachment Assistant Officer-in-Charge, Ens. Brett Renaker.

The Seabees got right to work providing initial damage assessment in conjunction with the base Public Works Officer, and began removing trees and other debris from vital access and perimeter roads that line the base.

NMCB 11 also has a small detachment of Seabees in Camp Lejeune where they suffered severe water damage from flooding during Hurricane Florence. The detachment is working to restore medical and dental facilities to operational status to get those services back online to service members and their family members.

"Both NMCB 11 and 133 have done an outstanding job completing their recovery responses. Public Works representatives from each base could not be more thankful and were impressed with the work done by each unit." said Hefner. "Both tasked tailored detachments conducted safe debris removal and clearance with a high degree of efficiency and a strong "Can do" attitude."

Homeported out of Gulfport, Miss., NMCBs are part of the Naval Construction Force (NCF). The NCF is a vital component of U.S. Maritime Strategy, and is comprised of deployable battalions capable of providing contingency construction, disaster preparation and recovery support, humanitarian assistance, and combat operations support.


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