Older and wiser: Seabees in Iraq
AL-ASAD, Iraq — In the faces of the boys at the chow hall, Teresa Dougherty sees her own son.
“And I think, ‘Please don’t let him join the Marines,’” she said. “I wouldn’t want him here.
“I look at it from a mom’s point of view.”
There are a lot of moms in the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion FOURTEEN. Dads and grandparents, too. The average age of these Seabees is 41. When they were called to war, they left a lot behind.
Dougherty, a single mom and fifth-grade teacher from Jacksonville, Fla., worries that her teenagers are staying up too late. She’s 45. Jacqueline Icard of Marathon Key, Fla., has children older than many of the troops fighting here. She will turn 51 later this month.
Almost all of the NMCB-14 are reservists. They have houses and jobs and families and lives that they left back home.
About 70 Seabees are stationed at al-Asad, a former Iraqi air base. Most of the rest of the battalion is stationed to the east at al-Ramadi.
Their mission is to build things for the Marines and projects for the Iraqi people as needed.
Petty Officer 1st Class James Boglarsky, of Bradenton, Fla., said if anything makes him glad to be here, it’s helping out his “brother Marines.”
He’s in charge of moving people and pallets to where they belong. Some of the packages are small, such as care packages from home. Others are large, such as buckets for excavators. Coordinating flights is hard because the schedules are so secretive.
“You got the wood coming over in one pile and the nails coming over in another,” he said. “We’ve just got to make the piles meet.”
At 38, Boglarsky is a kid among the 14th Seabees, but he isn’t a kid to his three grandchildren.
“A lot of us do this on the outside already; we already know construction,” said Chief Petty Officer Michael Proctor, 40, of Pelion, S.C., whose job back home is to oversee buildings and maintenance at a local college.
Being older has its advantages. Older people rely less on manuals and more on smarts, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Danny Stapleton, 54, and grandfather of five from Tampa, Fla.
“We don’t follow military regulations the way our so-called leaders do,” said Stapleton, a mechanic. “We get the job done, whether we’ve got the parts or not.
“The kids don’t have that these days. They’re not taught how to think and make [stuff] work.”
The old Seabees don’t jump out of the back of trucks and kick down doors. Instead, Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Christian grinds brackets in the 100-degree sun.
Christian, 39, owns his own appliance-repair business in Orlando, Fla. He said the kid Marines call him, “Sir.”
“I’m just an E-4 like most of them,” Christian said. “But I don’t tell them that.”
The brackets and bolts he grinds aren’t just any parts. They will be used to attach armor to Humvees, and maybe they’ll save a life.
“That helps,” he said. “For me, that’s really doing something for the cause.”
The old Seabees don’t know everything.
When they began arriving in March, they didn’t know much about convoys in Iraq and improvised explosive devices and people who wanted to kill them.
“We have several projects outside of camp where we run supplies and materials,” Proctor said. “We had two [Seabees] killed on the 30th of April by an IED.
“These people still get on the vehicles and brave it out there knowing the dangers. I respect every one of them.”
Five more sailors were killed during a May 2 mortar attack, bringing the total number of Seabees killed during their 2½ months in Iraq to seven.
Photos of the deceased are displayed proudly and sadly at the al-Asad headquarters.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Alberta Davis has the job of making people feel better. She is a chaplain’s assistant who is “41 and proud of it.”
Young troops, she said, worry about things such as whether they should re-enlist. Davis tells them they should if they don’t have a better plan.
Older troops already have plans. They’ve just been put on hold.
Proctor recently missed his daughter Beth’s high-school graduation. The family e-mailed him some pictures.
Christian said he’s losing $3,500-$4,000 per month by not tending to his small business.
Davis said older troops just want to get home safely.
“Once you get older, there are real fears in life,” she said. “You have more to go back to.
“When you’re young, you think nothing is going to happen. When you’re old, you know something could happen.”
Lt. j.g. Christopher Lynch, 40, a married father of four young children, has the job of running the al-Asad detachment.
“I just treat them like the skilled tradesmen they are,” he said.
The oldest Seabee in Iraq might be 57-year-old Beryl Millard, a master chief who looks a little like Clint Eastwood. Millard operates a 40-ton crane back home in Tampa. Here, he operates smaller heavy equipment. Child’s play.
“One guy at the fitness center asked me if I was a two-star general,” Millard said. “I told him, ‘No, but I’m old enough to be.’”