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NMCB 133 Rebuilds Village School

Navy Newsstand

Story Number: NNS030610-46

Release Date: 6/11/2003 9:36:00 PM

From U.S. 2nd Fleet Public Affairs

By Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Jacob A. Johnson, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 Public Affairs

IRAQ (NNS) -- Twenty Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 were sent to a village nine miles away from the Iranian border to repair a half-century old school.

Eleven years ago, Saddam Hussein attempted to eliminate the Shiite Muslims from Jassan, Iraq, a remnant of biblical Mesopotamia. After the teachers were murdered, the school was closed and never re-opened out of fear, leaving the children without a place to learn. In nine days, these 20 Seabees have almost fully repaired the school and restored the community's hope.

"We're remodeling a six classroom schoolhouse for 123 students and 14 teachers," said project supervisor, Builder 1st Class Ernest Davis, of Richmond, Va. "This is probably the best place in Iraq and the best job we've had since we've been in Iraq."

The project requires resurfacing 7,000 square feet of plaster and stucco walls and ceilings. The Bees will level 1,800 square feet of concrete floor. After the concrete plaster and stucco are finished, the Seabees will repaint the school its original colors of white, burgundy and green. The Seabees aren't the only ones working on the project; they're getting a little help from the locals.

"The locals are nice," said Construction Electrician Constructionman Elijah Degraw, from Tallahassee, Fla. "They're happy we're here and happy to help out."

Aside from the villagers, help is a little far off. The nearest camp is about 30 minutes from the schoolhouse; the nearest Seabee camp is nearly an hour and a half away. The remote location makes getting supplies to the village a little difficult.

"The drive in the morning is the worst part," said Degraw. "We had to throw together a couple of homemade tools because we didn't bring enough with us; they work pretty good."

Working beside the villagers has given meaning to what the Seabees do.

"It's been very rewarding to see the smiles on their faces every day," said Utilitiesman 3rd Class Brendon Whittington, of Greenfield, Ind. "I know the local kids are going to get a lot out of what we're doing."

The reward of working to help heal a community might be what drives the Seabees to work through the high heat and bouts of flu-like symptoms that have affected nearly all of the 20 Seabees.

"The weather's harsh, but the work is good," said Senior Chief Utilitiesman Lionel Hamilton, of Waynesboro, Penn. "It's great to help the Iraqi youth get a solid education so that they can make something of themselves."

Many Seabees are working in areas they normally wouldn't due to the small number working on the project.

"I'm a UT [utilitiesman]," said Whittington. "I do plumbing. Right now, I'm doing a builder's job by working with plaster and concrete. I'm glad I am; working outside of my rate is always a challenge."

The locals regularly show appreciation for the Seabees by bringing them food and tea. Most of all, the people have given the Seabees their friendship.

"They love us here," said Hamilton. "That's what I love about being a Seabee, the opportunity to leave something behind that will benefit others."

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