Seabees, South Koreans prep for runway attacks
Stars and Stripes March 3, 2008
CHINHAE NAVAL BASE, South Korea — Fortunately, there are universal hand gestures for phrases like “Move there;” “Line up these notches;” and “Don’t get run over by the forklift.”
Hand signals and a few mutually understood words allowed Navy Seabees and South Korean sailors to coordinate a joint rapid runway repair Friday, an operation crucial during battle to getting planes into the sky.
The timed event required 12 Seabees from U.S. Navy Construction Battalion Five and 23 South Korean sailors to fill a runway crater, assemble a 360-square-foot fiberglass mat and secure it over the crater.
The sailors had 45 minutes Friday to complete the exercise. They finished the job in about 30 minutes.
The sailors cut their time down about 10 to 15 minutes over the past couple of days of training, said Petty Officer Second Class Ana Espinal.
The fiberglass cover required some muscle from about 20 sailors just to roll out. While others filled the crater with dump-truck loads of dirt about 60 yards away, most of the sailors worked on lining up the cover and locking it together with metal grommets.
The Port Hueneme, Calif.-based Seabees and the South Koreans worked in concert and didn’t show any noticeable miscommunications.
“They catch on quick,” said Petty Officer Third Class Alex Gagnon. “This was a good exchange on both sides of the house.”
Many of the sailors had never practiced the runway repair exercise before last month. A few said they had only a few days of familiarization.
But those who had done it before said they were impressed with the fiberglass mat.
Neither the South Korean nor U.S. Navy actually own fiberglass mats; the material was borrowed from the U.S. Air Force.
The older material normally used by the Navy is slower and requires sailors to assemble the mat piece-by-piece with locking pins.
After graders and rollers compacted the surface where the crater had been, sailors attached chains to a forklift and towed the mat.
Sailors said they were pleased with their time and that they could work with South Koreans sailors again without any problems.
“Some of them knew a few words of English, along with the [gestures],” said Petty Officer Third Class Jon Bosch. “It made things pretty easy.”