by Ryan Labadens, U.S. Navy Public Affairs
It has been seven years since the United States officially ended Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), the U.S. military campaign that was launched in response to the September 11th al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in 2001.
Both the Pacific- and Atlantic-based Seabees, the construction arm of the United States Navy, played a major role in the operation, which officially lasted from October 2001 to December 2014 and spanned the reaches of the globe, including Afghanistan, Iraq and many other countries.
One of the first groups of Seabees to set foot in Afghanistan in November of 2001 was an advanced party from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 Air Det. (Heavy), which was home-ported at Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, Mississippi.
They were part of U.S Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis’ Joint Task Force 58, and these Seabees were initially responsible for upgrading the forward operating base (FOB) known as Camp Rhino, which was 70 miles south of Kandahar, Afghanistan. While at Camp Rhino, the Seabees repaired the runway located at the base, an essential component for launching future operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces.
From there, the Seabees moved north to Kandahar Airfield itself, performing Rapid Runway Repair on the runway at the airfield and constructing other structures to help build up the base.
Within 48 hours of the Seabees beginning runway repairs, the airstrip was able to support landings of C-130 and C-17 cargo aircraft, and further repairs eventually allowed for even larger aircraft to conduct operations out of Kandahar, which served as the main operational hub for coalition operations in Afghanistan at that time.
Operation Enduring Freedom also resulted in the formation of the First Naval Construction Division/Naval Construction Forces Command (1NCD/NCFC) in August of 2002.
This united Seabees serving in OEF operations under one command structure, and was responsible for organizing, training, operating, and maintaining the Naval Construction Force until its inactivation in 2013.
The formation of this division during OEF allowed the Seabees to work closely with the Marine Corps construction arm, the First Marine Expeditionary Force Engineer Group (I MEG), both of which worked to build various structures to support U.S. military actions throughout both Iraq and Afghanistan, such as building, maintaining and repairing aircraft parking aprons, ammo storage areas, hot refueling points, helicopter parking pads, and tent camps.
The Seabee also took part in numerous other projects, including Naval Construction Group 2’s management of a munitions program for 13 Naval Construction Force Units. One of these other projects even included construction of a Navy medical facility constructed by NMCB 7, a battalion that was home-ported at NCBC Gulfport until its inactivation in 2012.
Not only did Navy medical staff treat U.S. military personnel at this location, but it also gave them the opportunity to provide medical treatment to local Afghan civilians and treat their children for issues such as malnutrition.
The Seabees also took part in the 2009 military surge into Afghanistan, which resulted in the deployment of more than 30,000 additional troops in support of OEF operations.
During that time, NMCB 4 out of Port Hueneme, California, deployed along with Gulfport’s NMCB 133 to supplement the 2,600 Seabees who were already supporting OEF operations in other countries around the world, bringing the total number of deployed Seabees to nearly 4,000 at that time.
After the surge, the Seabees completed approximately 625 other projects in support of OEF operations, including tapping into an artisan well in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan Dec. 31, 2009, which proved to be a valuable water source for U.S. military members in that region.
One of the Seabee’s final deployments in support of OEF ended in July 31, 2012, when the 22nd Naval Construction Regiment out of Gulfport, Mississippi, took part in a transfer of authority ceremony at Kandahar Airfield with the U.S. Army’s 411th Engineer Brigade.
Seabee support of Operation Enduring Freedom was not without its sacrifice. Sixteen Seabees gave their lives in the line of duty during OEF operations, including Builder Chief Petty Officer Raymond J. Border, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in the Paktika province of Afghanistan Oct. 19, 2011.
To honor Border’s memory, the Seabee base in Gulfport is planning to name its base fitness center the Raymond J. Border Fitness Center during a ceremony scheduled to take place Feb. 11, 2022. This would be the first building on base named after a Seabee who died serving during Operation Enduring Freedom.
One of the hopes for this ceremony is that it will serve as a reminder not only of the sacrifice made by Border, but for the sacrifices all Seabees made while serving during Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Seabee in the picture where he’s walking down the road is Builder Chief Petty Officer Raymond J. Border, who was killed in the Patika Province, Afghanistan, Oct. 19, 2011, by an improvised explosive device. Border served 12 years before his death and was the recipient of the Bronze Star with combat V, Purple Heart and Combat Action Ribbon.