Story and photo by MC2 Matthew Snodgrass
MUSA QAL’AH, Afghanistan – Seabees with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4 began constructing a low water crossing in Musa Qal’ah district, Helmand province, Sept. 17, to decrease flooding and help Afghan locals transport their crops to the city.
The construction project, which is similar in appearance and function to a bridge, has been underway for over two weeks.
“The construction project is a solution to the flooding problem the farmers in the area have each rainy season,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Edgar D. Walker, the assistant officer in charge of the bridge project and an Ocean Spring, Miss., native. “The flooding damages crops and prevents the farmers from getting to the markets in the city. The bridge and water tunnels we’re constructing should be a solution to most of these problems.”
The bridge construction project will entail placing 61 bunkers weighing 20,000 lbs., and also 15,000 welds in order to hold crucial elements together. The Seabees rely on steady resupply shipments of building materials in order to efficiently get the project done.
“So far we’ve laid 62 meters of foundation walls in place, which will keep the water from damaging it,” said Walker. “We try to keep it so we’re always waiting for the next shipment of components, as opposed to them waiting on us.”
In order to lay the foundations, the Seabees dig canals with heavy machinery to break through the rocky top layer of earth and manually dig out the remaining rocks, often having to work in knee-high water.
“You get used to it,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Danny Thelen, a construction mechanic for the bridge project from Advance, Mo. “It’s difficult and frustrating at times, but we’re making progress every day.”
In addition to building the crossing, the Seabees are constructing waterways for nearby fields which will allow water from the Helmand River to run off in directions that won’t disturb the population.
“Each rainy season, this area experiences flooding, and the water barriers will keep the flooding from drowning their crops and damaging their homes,” said Walker. “The bridge will allow more access for the farmers here to get their goods to the city markets, and for them to get supplies back to their farms. We’re increasing their mobility which equates to advancing their commerce.”
“We’re glad that our work will contribute to the Afghans being able to do more for themselves,” added Petty Officer 3rd Class Thomas Cunningham, a steel worker for the bridge project from Farmington, N.M. “It gives the Afghans an incentive to help what we’re trying to accomplish out here.”
The bridge project may take months to complete, but the Seabees are committed to getting the project done, regardless of the time and effort it takes.
“I wouldn’t mind if it took the rest of the deployment,” said Thelen. “We’re doing good work out here that’s going to benefit a lot of people. That’s what we’re about.”
More photos here.