TONGA -- Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3, collaborated with Tongan locals to build disaster response center, Feb. 19.
When Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 arrived to Tonga’s Te’ekiu community September 2013 for a six-month deployment, the 25-person Construction Civic Action Detail (CCAD) faced a difficult challenge – build a more than $650,000 community hall and disaster response center atop years of layered pig feces and rotten succubae, under hostile weather conditions using locally procured materials from an unpredictable supply system.
Although unsettling, Seabees are used to working in these kinds of austere environments and are no strangers to innovative engineering necessitated by either combat or natural inhibitors.
This project however, represented the most costly investment of all scheduled construction during NMCB 3’s recently completed Pacific region deployment and offered no secondary option for handing off an uncompleted project to a relieving battalion.
Meaning, if NMCB 3 failed to complete the building, Tonga failed to receive the only structure on the island they could use to manage severe natural disasters.
Without fail, construction needed to steam from zero percent to 100 percent completion under budget, on time and meet all relevant quality assurance codes – a process known by Seabees as going from zero to 100.
“When we got here, there was nothing,” said NMCB 3 Tonga CCAD’s Senior Enlisted Leader Senior Chief Utilitiesman Steve Harvey. “We had the construction plans and a shared vision – that’s it.”
With that vision, the Seabees moved in with their engineering counterparts from the Tongan Defence Service (TDS) at a local base and began forging a friendship that would become responsible for the team’s overall success.
From the first step to the last, the Seabee-TDS team conquered hurdle after hurdle to erect the steel and stone 710-square foot building. Under time and budget constraints, mistakes had to be marginal to make the project a success. Anything that would affect either the construction timeline or budget had to be managed with an almost surreal precision to successfully complete the project on time.
“We didn't fail – not even close,” said NMCB 3 Tonga CCAD Officer-in-Charge Lt. Justin Webb. “We completed our project under our allotted budget and with nearly 500 fewer man-hours.”
According to NMCB 3’s senior leadership and members of senior construction commands, the completed building represents the kind of quality construction the Seabee’s “can do” reputation was founded on.
“To say I’m proud of my guys doesn't cut it, not by a long shot,” added Webb. “They have exceeded every expectation and put forth the kind of effort and attention to detail you dream of seeing as a leader. Our level of success stemmed from each person taking the absolute greatest amount of pride anyone can take in their work and demonstrating that pride in every task during each and every day. It’s incredible.”
Planning and forethought from senior leaders on both the U.S. and Tonga sides allowed the correct management of foreseeable issues such as weather.
At the completion of the project, distinguished visitors from the Naval Construction Force, U.S. Pacific Command, the State Department and Tonga’s Royal Family addressed the Te’ekiu community as they formally announced the opening of the community hall and disaster response center during an official ribbon cutting ceremony.
“Tonga wishes to extend its sincere appreciation to the U.S. Navy Seabees for their continued support to the people of Tonga,” said Tonga Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano. “Thank you for all your hard work during the six months that you’ve been here. Our community regards this project as one of the most significant contributions to our country.”
NMCB 3 is a vital component of the U.S. Maritime Strategy, providing Seabees capable of providing disaster preparation and recovery support, humanitarian assistance, and combat operations support.