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Face of Defense: Enlisted Leader Runs Construction Project

By Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Garas
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 15

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, July 15, 2013 – Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Ronald Stocker stood in the blistering sun, carefully watching his Seabees pour concrete. “Without this labor force, this job just couldn’t be done,” he said.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Ronald Stocker coordinates activity to complete a runway expansion project at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, June 22, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Garas
  

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

“You talk to anyone on this camp and they’ll tell you that the Seabees are the only ones working before 9 o’clock in the morning,” Stocker added in an unmistakable Boston accent. “We are on that job site religiously every day at 7 o’clock in the morning.”

Stocker is the acting officer in charge for the Regional Command East Seabee detachment.

Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 15, a reserve unit from Belton, Mo., were using more than 2,000 cubic yards of concrete to add more than 1,500 feet of runway for Regional Command East -- the largest current construction project in the Afghan theater of operations.

Stocker used effective planning and management to ensure his team’s success. Breaking his crew into three teams, he divided the work by the Seabees’ specific specialties. Scheduled shifts help to fill gaps in work to complete other tasks, such as allowing steelworker Seabees to prepare the steel and rebar while builder Seabees construct the frames for the concrete. This way, when the concrete is ready to pour, the Seabees simply need to lay the rebar inside the frames, Stocker explained.

“We try to pour concrete every three days in cycles,” he added. “We try to maintain that schedule for the entire detachment.”

The consistent work schedule allows the Seabees to have zero down time, meaning no disruptions or slack during the process, Stocker said. It has also allowed the Seabees to be ahead of schedule two months into the project, he added.

Stocker is no stranger to building large projects under a tight schedule. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Stocker was given control of a small detachment and tasked with building Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“I took a group of 75 Seabees there and built the camp,” he said. “It was a lot of concrete and steel work -- pretty much the same pace as this project.”

But the similarities to building in Cuba end there, Stocker said. “The biggest thing here is getting our material,” he explained. “If we don’t have it, we don’t get it.”

If tools break, the Seabees must fix them on site. If equipment breaks, they must salvage parts from other equipment. But the resilience it takes to work through such issues is a Seabee hallmark, Stocker said.

“If we don’t have it here, we’re not getting it here, so we have to make do,” he added.

Stocker started his career on active duty as a young man, but left the service in 1987 to run his own construction company in Boston. He re-entered the military in 1991.

“My civilian construction business in Boston is similar to what we are doing here,” he said.

Stocker’s assignment here is a position usually occupied by a commissioned officer. Though officers tend to be more educated than enlisted sailors, he said, some of them lack the job experience. Officers may manage construction projects, he noted, but they usually don’t work them. Both roles are challenging, Stocker said.

Stocker admits he micromanaged the project when he first arrived on the site. But the first class petty officers began to step up and take charge, he said, and as they did, the lines of communication opened up and he was able to achieve his desired effect.

“You have to let your leaders find themselves,” Stocker said. “Leaders are leaders, regardless if they are a first, second or even third class petty officer.”

The senior chief was quick to give his Seabees credit for the progress they’ve made. “This job isn’t done by me. This job is done by those 30 guys out there,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.” 

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