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Engineers Apply D-Day-like Focus to Afghanistan Buildup

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan, June 5, 2009 – The last time the 25th Naval Construction Regiment had a mission even remotely approaching the scope of its task in Afghanistan, was during its last deployment, preparing for the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Navy Seabees position a truss for the new "Noah's Ark" headquarters and operations center under construction at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron Rooks
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

So 65 years later, Navy Capt. Jeff Borowy recognizes the symbolism as he borrows words from Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to tell the Seabees he commands, “The eyes of the world are upon you.”

The unit, decommissioned after World War II and recommissioned just last year in Gulfport, Miss., is part of the massive buildup under way in Afghanistan to accommodate incoming U.S. forces. One testament to their efforts is Camp Leatherneck, a facility that is springing up in record time alongside the British Camp Bastion in Helmand province.

Camp Leatherneck – a reference to the high leather neck collars Marines once wore to protect themselves from sword blows -- will serve as the base for about 6,000 Marines, most of whom already have arrived.

Leatherneck is one of nine bases Borowy’s team has been working on, alongside their other service counterparts, contract employees and Afghan workers as they expand existing outposts and build new ones in the sand.

“This place was desert at the end of January. I mean nothing,” Borowy told reporters accompanying Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last month as he visited Camp Leatherneck. “And now you have got a 443-acre secure facility with four miles of berm.”

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Mason, a Seabee supporting the construction effort, gave a big thumbs-up to the facilities being assembled: Force Provider tents with latrines and shower facilities. “I’ve had worse conditions on field exercises,” he said.

For now, Borowy said, the big challenge is “trying to get the job done in time for the warfighters coming in,” particularly in light of the logistical challenges associated with getting equipment and supplies to the desolate plain.

Amid hundreds of tents that dot Camp Leatherneck rises a massive wooden building that will serve as its centerpiece. “Noah’s Ark,” as the 12,000-square-foot headquarters and operations center is affectionately called, consists of 129 trusses, each requiring 1,300 nails.

“We don’t all come into theater with a box of nails in our back pocket, and even if we did, it would be gone in a day,’ Borowy said. “So the logistics chain has been really challenging, but it is working.”

Camp Leatherneck also will include a massive airfield able to accommodate up to 55 helicopters and other aircraft. Marine Corps Col. David Jones, who is leading that construction effort, called it the largest project of its scope to be conducted in a combat setting.

Jones’ Marines are working from sunup to sundown to level and compact the ground before laying matting for the new runway. The metal alloy pieces lock together like a jigsaw puzzle, and will serve as a temporary surface until it is replaced with asphalt.

All told, the amount of matting being laid to accommodate the troop buildup boggles the mind. “When you consider all the matting we are putting in, you could go two football fields wide from the steps of the [U.S.] Capitol down to the Lincoln Memorial,” Borowy said. “That’s how much matting is going into this whole [area of operations].”

Despite the workload and the searing heat, Borowy said, he has no problem challenging his crews, and said he rarely hears complaining.

“They have to be dragged off the site,” he said. “They just keep swinging their hammers when the crew leader says it’s time to go.”

The engineers and construction crews “know the importance of this,” he said. “They are doing what they signed up to do, … building things that the Marines and airmen and soldiers appreciate.”

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