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Marines team up with Seabees to pass along construction skills

6 Aug 2004 | Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

Marines are getting a hand when it comes to rebuilding Iraq from some of the military's most-practiced construction crews.

Marines teamed up with Navy Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14, based in Jacksonville, Fla., to run an Iraqi Civilian Apprenticeship Program to teach locals the construction skills needed to help Iraqis rebuild their country.

The sailors are shepherding a class of 20 Iraqis from nearby Baghdadi.  The first project: build a schoolhouse for Iraqi Security Forces.

"These guys are the ones really helping them out," said 1st Sgt. Octaviano Gallegos Jr., a 37-year-old first sergeant for Company B, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, from Las Cruces, N.M.  "They're training them how to do something other than kill."

According to Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Graham, a 33-year-old instructor from Flagler Beach, Fla., the program has been going on throughout Iraq for nearly six months, but that this is the first in Al Asad.

"There are many buildings we're putting up here for the Academy," Graham said.  "We've been working with them for nearly six weeks and won't be done until October."

The apprenticeship program is much different from the Marine-sponsored security schools, said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Gene Chomor, an instructor.

"We're not tough with these guys, they're just civilians," said 36-year-old Chomor, from Melbourne, Fla.  "We take our time and ensure they know everything.  We hope they take with them these tools to help in reconstructing their cities."

The students already made lasting contributions to the camp here.  They helped build nearly a dozen tents and have since moved on to learning how to construct solid structures.

"We've put all sorts of different construction works into this building," Graham said.  "They'll learn how to not only build the hard structure, but also know the electrical, plumbing and wiring works."

Upon graduation, the students will receive a variety of different tools to help them with job interviews and to give them a head start.

"Once they graduate, they'll get tool belts and all the tools they need," Chomor said.  "When they show up to interviews... they'll already be equipped to work."

The two sailors with the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion have different reasons for enjoying the work with the Iraqis.

"I think it's good, really good," Graham said.  "Now they've learned a trade that can help them."

Graham added that the fact the Iraqis leave with valuable skills also makes it less likely they'll turn to being paid hands for terrorists.

Chomor was happy to pass on his knowledge to the Iraqi civilians.

"These guys learn really fast," Chomor said.  "When we first got them they didn't know a hammer from a nail, but now they take over for us sometimes.  It's just really great, I know they'll take these skills now and apply them to help themselves. 

"We came over here to help them get back their freedom," he added.  "To me, this is the best way.  They are no longer trapped and unable to provide for themselves and the community."