Sailors of the Navy Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 hosted Brig. Gen. Kenneth Moore, the U.S. Army Africa deputy commanding general and Army Reserve Engagement Cell chief, Feb. 7, 2017.
Moore was in town attending the final planning event for Unified Focus 2017 (UF17), scheduled for April. UF17 is a tabletop exercise that brings the military partners of the Lake Chad basin area's Multinational Joint Task Force together to practice joint planning and coordination through a series of scripted vignettes. While there, Moore had the opportunity to see first-hand what the Sailors of NMCB 11 have been up to.
The Sailors of NMCB 11, or Seabees, are the third detachment deployed to Douala and have been in Cameroon for seven months working with local contractors and Cameroonian military personnel to construct a multipurpose facility.
The facility will provide both U.S. and Cameroonian militaries with a location to conduct future joint and combined training exercises, further strengthening the partnership between the militaries and enhancing the Cameroonian Defense Force capability to provide regional security and stability.
"Once the full site is complete, this will benefit the Cameroonian military by providing a space to conduct training, operations and accommodate an increased number of people," said Lt. j.g. Michael Scaplehorn, the NMCB 11 detachment officer in charge. "With the proximity and line of sight to the base, this will also help communications training for Cameroon."
Although the construction project is limited to the multipurpose facility site, the Seabees recognize that their efforts have far-reaching consequences.
"The purpose for coming to Cameroon and constructing this multipurpose building has been to strengthen U.S. Cameroonian relations," said Equipment Operator 2nd Class Joshua Plute, lead equipment operator for the detachment. "From a broad perspective what we do here will help to stabilize the region from foreign terror threats."
The Seabees live alongside Cameroonian military, sharing their living spaces, makeshift gym area, and even meals.
"This project also has been an opportunity to share experiences and skills between the Seabees and Cameroonian engineering forces, fostering relationships between our two nations," Scaplehorn said.
"Living in Cameroon for seven months is truly a humbling experience to me," said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Fritz Batiduan, an independent duty corpsman. "Every day you get a glimpse of a totally unique lifestyle and get to know people from a very different background than those from western society. It definitively broadened my views of African culture."
The time spent in Cameroon has included challenges dealing with local infrastructure, said Construction Electrician 2nd Class Keith Spoon, the lead construction electrician.
"Relying on local water, power and facilities that are often times shut off or not to the standards we are used to is difficult," Spoon said. "Especially after working a long day out in the Cameroonian heat and humidity, coming back to the barracks and using a water bottle to shower isn't the most appealing."
The Seabees are due to return home soon, and are focused on setting up their replacement detachment for success in continuing the project.
"I have a high regard for the Seabees," Moore said. "They built a runway for us in Liberia under challenging conditions. What they are doing here is building future success for everyone. They are a credit to their profession."