Part VIII in a multi-part series about Operation Continuing Promise
(Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, & VII)
Regularly Updated (Finally Fixed) Photostream Here
They’d been cutting boards and climbing scaffolding and shooting nails and digging post holes and mounting hundreds of feet of chain-link fence all day. The weather was perfect for sitting in the shade, chewin’ the fat, and crackin’ a cold one — pero, no hay ningunas cervezas. The Seabees and their Air Force colleagues settled instead for the warm water they were sipping from their Camelbacks — which, I’ve noticed, is practically part of the uniform for enlisted around here. Combat engineers — Seabees and the like — usually go ashore before the main force arrives and build the huts the troops will live in. They generally don’t stick around long and they certainly don’t spend much time refurbishing a school — putting cielings in the classrooms that previously only had exposed rafters, and replacing the chain-link fence that surrounds the school. One Seabee who had long since sweat through his t-shirt and trousers commented:
You don’t really see the effect of what you are doing everyday But here your in so close with the people that it make you deal with the heat a lot easier you put up with it a lot bettere when, Just everybody waves to you and smiles It just makes what your doing feel that much better and that much more rewarding to see it first hand.
Engineering projects are happening at at least six sites in and around Puerta Cabezas. A little ways up the coast near the village of Tuapí the engineers strengthened a bridge. In this part of the country roads between villages are few and are always dirt, so a given bridge may be the only way to cross a river for many, many miles. In Betania the COMREL teams installed two basketball hoops during the three days of the medical clinic at that village and played around at b-ball with the kids. Later this week in Yulu engineers will cover the town’s well and install an electric pump. In Puerta Cabezas itself, aside from the aforementioned improvements at the school, some “SEA huts” (Southeast Asia huts) for general use as trade education facilities, and the municipal park at the center of town will have a new 30′ x 35′ playground, a new swingset, a new teeter-totter, and new lighting on the gazebo — to replace a single 100 watt bulb in the center that had burned out who-knows-when.
These engineering projects provide the opportunities for sailors to come off the ship and visit terra firma. I was with the COMREL team that went to the municipal park on the first day of that project. Site manager, US Air Force Tech Sgt. Price, an energetic, stocky, muscled man with intense, bright eyes, a quick smile and loud, distinct laugh, admitted to the COMREL team that he wasn’t actually prepared for them to be there — he had been told that they would be coming the next day. No matter: they adjusted the schedule and got a good deal done that day anyhow. The sailors started the day clearing some of the trash from the park. Some assisted the electricians who were working on the gazebo lighting — handing them tools and holding the ladder. Some helped with the surveying equipment and helped layout the 30′ x 35′ block for the playground. By noon the soccer balls we had brought were out and a few of the local kids, who were already quite comfortable with these larger people who seem to sweat an awful lot, lost any remaining bashfulness they may have had.
In Betania, which I visited on Monday, the COMREL team installed two posts on which the next day’s COMREL team mounted backboards and hoops. The court is just the hard ground, but the ground gets about as hard as hardwood during the dry season, albeit not exactly level or flat. The soccer players among them should be practicing kicking the ball in an arc to go through the hoop in no time …
I will visit Yulu Thursday to see the well they intend to cover and add the pump to. Yulu is the third site for the satellite medical clinic now that Tuapí and Betania are finished.
To tell the truth, while this mission is seen primarily as a medical mission with some engineering elements tacked on, as I look at the long-term effects of our time here, the engineering projects will be the constant, visible reminders to the people of this area about the people who came to help from all over the Americas and the Netherlands. When the prescriptions are finished and not refilled, when the glasses are broken and scratched up, when the next set of teeth begin to decay, when the many other great medical things this mission is about have run their course and the patient is once again in dire need to medical attention that isn’t coming; when all of that is the case the playground will still give kids a place to romp and imagine, the training hut will house training classes, the fence around the high school will still keep out those who should not be in and in those who should not be out, the well will still be covered and pumped, the bride will still stand for people to cross, and the basketball hoops will still have a big hole in the middle. The engineering projects will outlast the medical treatments and will be our lasting legacy.
The engineering projects, and the memory of the good people who brought it here. The legacy of good will shall outlast everything.