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Seabees, Maritime Civil Affairs Group Forge Partnerships, Friendships in Africa

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS071006-01
Release Date: 10/6/2007 8:20:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Rosa Larson, CNE-C6F Public Affairs

BRAZZAVILLE, Democratic Republic of the Congo (NNS) -- U.S. Navy Seabees from Sigonella, Sicily completed their first project working with a representative of the newly formed Maritime Civil Affairs Group rehabilitating a local high school here Oct. 2.

The rehabilitation of the school, which supports 1,500 students, is directly tied to Naval Forces Europe's efforts to develop maritime security and safety in the region.

“Education in Congo is the first and foremost priority,” said Rear Adm. Michael Groothousen, commander, Navy Region Europe/Maritime Air Naples.

According to Groothousen, the success of this project lies not only in the act of renovating the school itself, but in the relationship-building that occurred during the process.

“Seabees and Congolese military worked side by side,” said Groothousen. “These relationships are the first step in promoting maritime security, safety and stability.”

Aside from building just military relationships, this project helped bring together entities that aren’t normally involved in Congolese school renovations.

Resources from local non-governmental organizations, U.S.-based corporations and schools were leveraged to complete the six-week long project.

While members of the Seabee team set out to renovate the school, replacing doors, windows, floors and the ceiling of the building, the civil affairs representative worked to build partnerships and friendships between all of the participants, including the local residents, teachers and the Congolese military.

Maritime Civil Affairs Sailors provide a necessary link to civil populations through their education, experience, language, and specialized training. Civil Affairs operators deploy with Navy assets like Seabees to work with the local populations, host nation governments, non-governmental and international organizations (NGOs) to foster partnerships through humanitarian outreach.

“This project demonstrated how we can achieve success when we all work together. In this case, the Navy component worked together with a foreign military and foreign populace on an important Humanitarian Civic Assistance project,” said Ensign Albert Gembara, the first Civil Affairs operator to deploy with the Seabees to West and Central Africa. “This was a joint cooperation between the Seabees, teachers, parents, students and the Congolese army.”

With Gembara’s assistance, the Seabees as well as the residents in the area were able to overcome cultural and lingual barriers.

“When we first showed up, the teachers would be sitting down at the end of the building watching us,” said Chief Builder (SCW) Brian Weddle. “By the end, they volunteered to clean up the grounds and help move desks back into the classrooms.”

Maritime Civil Affairs Sailors will participate in several COMUSNAVEUR/COMSIXTHFLT humanitarian outreach projects, including joint ventures with the NGO Project Hope and the Seabees, during the upcoming Africa Partnership Station deployment to West and Central Africa later this year.

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