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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — It pays not to burn bridges when moving to a new duty station.

Because then-Cmdr. Mark Libonate, formerly a Sasebo public works officer, endeared himself to this community and earned respect as president of the Wardroom Association before transferring about two years ago, Sasebo residents have come to the aid of his men.

Now a captain, Libonate is the commanding officer of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 at Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, Miss.

When Gulfport took a serious beating from Hurricane Katrina last week, members of Sasebo’s Wardroom wasted no time determining how to help their old friend and the sailors in his charge.

An NMCB 74 detachment is now deployed in Sasebo for six months. About 40 sailors are in the detachment, said Chief Petty Officer Willie Farmer, assistant officer in charge.

“Among our folks in Sasebo, we have about five who lost … their homes, lost everything,” he said.

“We unanimously decided to make a $5,000 donation [after hearing Gulfport Seabees needed help],” said Elizabeth Baker, Wardroom Association vice president.

The association’s philosophy of compassionate assistance involves a commitment “to helping shipmates,” she said.

“The Seabees here are our shipmates. … Long range, I know many of the problems will be addressed through charitable donations and actions. But our shipmates here have immediate needs to meet. They need immediate access to cash until such time as other options might work out.”

Libonate expressed his gratitude from California, where he was traveling as part of his command responsibilities.

“Thank you so much for thinking of our Seabees,” he told them. “It is obvious the generosity of the Wardroom has not changed over the years.”

So far, Libonate said, “we’ve accounted for all our military members” and just 32 of the hundreds of families once out of contact remain unaccounted for.

While in Sasebo, the detachment is working on construction projects including building one new fire station at Akasaki Fuel Terminal and another at Sakibe Laydown Facility, Farmer said.

Those in the detachment “have all contacted family and are doing OK. They worry, of course, about their stuff, but are OK,” Farmer said. “We’ve been trying to get them out of here as quickly as possible so they can attend to whatever’s left of their stuff and be with their families.”

The Seabees first reacted to news of the donation by seeking ways to help others, Farmer said, including “comments about using this money to help other Seabees … those back in Gulfport who have suffered losses.”

“They said maybe it would help relocate families. Seabees are just like that: They always think of other Seabees first, even when they too have needs.”

Libonate said the plan now is to use the $5,000 solely for those Seabees in need.

“We have numerous families who lost all of their possessions and many of our junior troops don’t have insurance, making the loss very real,” he said.

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