"Dirt Sailors" aid Marine missions

25 Apr 2003 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

This Marine camp would be a relatively quiet place if not for the 24-hour a day construction noise coming from the airfield. But, what may be annoying to some, will eventually be a blessing to all. The work is being done by Task Force Charlie, made up of Navy Seabees, are they work to improve the quality of life for the Marines of Task Force Tarawa."We're known as 'Dirt Sailors,' because where most sailors spend their time on ship, we spend ours on land, in the dirt," said Navy Lt. Sean P. McNelis, assistant operations officer for TFC, and native of Spartanburg, South Carolina. "We get in theater early to prepare for Marines and leave after them, we're also 'first in, and last out."The Seabees of TFC have been with Task Force Tarawa for two weeks. During that time, their work have not only helped the Marines in accomplishing their local missions, but also increased their quality of life"It's all about getting the Marines off of the dirt. We're building everything from chow hall tables to basketball hoops to (bathroom facilities)," said Navy Capt. Albert Garcia, commodore for TFC and native of Georgetown, Texas.Garcia said there are four types of projects the Seabees concentrated on: Humanitarian and civil assistance projects; projects to help Marines prepare for the journey home; habitability projects, which include installing showers and floors; and enduring presence projects, which allow for a sustained military presence in Iraq."The Iraqis blew holes in Blair Airfield to deny its use. They placed the holes at specific intervals and definitely knew what they were doing," said Petty Officer 1st Class Mike J. Zangli, the project supervisor. "We're laying down 1,200 yards of concrete to repair it."The native of Upper Black Eddy, Penn., said the hardest thing about the job was getting material on time. They tried to purchase the required amount of concrete from a local contractor, but dealing with a different culture and economy has been difficult. Despite the supply problems, Zangli estimates the project to be completed in less than a week."The most rewarding part of a Seabee's job is to see the project completed. In this case, when we start seeing planes that carry mail, land on the runway we repaired, it'll be worth it."The Seabee's job doesn't stop with Marines. Many Seabees have been hard at work building tables and benches for the town council house and schools. The old desks and furniture had been confiscated or destroyed by Saddam Hussein's regime."We're working to try and build up Al Kut again as part of our civil affairs projects. This includes everything from building furniture for the schools and town house to repairing playgrounds," said McNelis.The first Seabees arrived in theater in October, to participate in what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom. One project the Seabees are proud of, is the storage facilities they built for the more than 60 FA-18 jets used by I Marine Expeditionary Force."We didn't have any place to park all of these jets. I MEF gave us three months to come up with a solution," said McNelis. "For a normal contractor, that would not be enough time to get the job done. But when those planes arrived, we had their structures ready for use. It was a major factor in giving I MEF air superiority in this war."The Seabees have always helped the Marine Corps' missions, stretching back to World War II. Throughout their history, Seabees have helped Marines in every construction-related way imaginable; from building pontoons to land vehicles on beaches, to repairing the airfield gained in the victory of the battle of Iwo Jima. Today, the Seabees of Task Force Charlie continue that legacy of helping Marines get their missions accomplished."We're proud to play a part," said Garcia.