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29 Apr 2024

U.S. Navy Seabees join forces with the U.S. Army and Norway for bridge construction

U.S. Navy Seabees join forces with the U.S. Army and Norway for bridge construction
DVIDS Image - Photo by Seaman Apprentice Laqdrick Bouldin
Originally posted on U.S. Army - By Maj. Vonnie Wright

In a display of international collaboration the U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11, Norwegian Armed Forces and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division joined forces to construct and maneuver across a medium girder bridge April 26-28 here testing joint mobility capabilities during DEFENDER 2024.

The 21st Theater Sustainment Command is in charge of setting the theater, which means rapidly deploying forces and equipment to the point of need anywhere in Europe. A critical part of that process is conducting Reception, Staging, and Onward Movement. The onward movement piece portion of that sustainment operation requires teamwork from allies and other services within the Department of Defense. The U.S. Navy was just that essential service.

When most people think of the U.S. Navy, massive gray vessels protecting international waters is the initial thought. Yet, the U.S. Navy has a ground force of engineers affectionately titled the “Seabees,” from NMCB 11 that assist mobility and protection efforts for maneuver forces.

U.S. Navy Lt. Mason Mullins, team leader, NMCB 11 discusses the importance of the Seabees on ground with their counterparts and how he prides himself on that expertise within the Navy with light humor.

“Floaty gray thing, what’s that,” said Mullins. “We often joke and say that because most of our operations are on the ground with you guys building resources. This was a different challenge than usual though as we couldn’t even see the ground when we first arrived as it was covered in snow. We had to use poles to find where level ground was prior to construction.”

The decision to build the bridge stemmed from the strategic importance of the region, which is known for its challenging terrain and numerous waterways. Recognizing the need for improved infrastructure to facilitate military operations and enhance logistical capabilities, the Seabees assembled a medium girder bridge that can be built utilizing their team with nothing but manpower if required, with the largest component of the bridge having the ability to be carried in a four-man lift.

Yet, the elements of Norway did provide key lessons learned to the warm weather stationed allies. 3BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. is not stationed with the rest of their division in Fort Drum, New York where conditions are similar to Norway. Additionally, the crew of 25 personnel from NMCB 11 are all stationed from the humid climate of Gulfport, Mississippi. The challenges for both teams were substantial and required adaptation to the artic environment.

Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Desalvo, bridge master, NMCB 11 led her team through 25-30 mph winds and snow so high the ability to find solid ground became difficult for bridge placement across the crossing site. Desalvo’s team worked together to ensure the safety and completion of the bridge site for Norwegian and 3BCT, 10th Mtn. Div.’s different vehicle types during the movement of the convoy.

“The biggest difference in building this bridge is the arctic conditions,” said Desalvo. “In Gulfport you have a lot of humidity which is a lot of heat slowing down the bridge building process, but out here you also have to take breaks to warm back up. Similar in slowing the process down, but just a completely different obstacle because you can at least see the ground during construction of the bridge in a warmer environment. The ice and snow made that task tremendously difficult, but the Norwegians assisted us and there was a lot of cross training involved. They gave the Army and us a few tips. It took us 12 hours which is pretty fast under these conditions.”

The construction process was a testament to the collaborative spirit between the U.S. Navy and Norway. Navy Seabees, renowned for their expertise in construction and infrastructure development, worked side by side with Norwegian engineers and the U.S. Army but the Seabees did majority of the heavy lifting as this is their expertise.

1st Lt. Stone Sawyer, sapper platoon leader, A Company, 326 Brigade Engineer Battalion, was grateful for the cross training his team of Sappers received working with the Norwegian Allies and the Seabees.

“This was a good training opportunity,” said Sawyer. “As light combat engineers we don’t get to do these things often. We had about 20 Soldiers here with eight Soldiers rotating through to receive the training with the Navy during construction. It has been great for me working with Lt. Mullins as I get to witness how he does his job as an engineer in the Seabees and how he can integrate into what we do as combat engineers to improve our unit’s mobility. This was a great opportunity to work with him and our Norwegian partners.

The successful collaboration between the NATO allies caused six multinational vehicles to cross the bridge and confirm their joint capabilities crossing linear danger areas. As the bridge stands tall, bridging not only physical gaps but also forging stronger bonds between two nations, it serves as a reminder of the incredible things that can be achieved when NATO comes together in defense of its territories.

“I’m the most proud of this crew,” said DeSalvo. “They came out here and overcame a lot of obstacles in an inexperienced climate and knocked it out of the park. This proves as a major benefit for mobility when it comes to the Army and our allies. When you come to an impasse and you need an alternate route, we can establish a bridge quickly, which allows you to get to where you need to go a little faster.”

As the 21st TSC continues to set the theater within the onward movement process, the U.S. Navy and our Norwegian partners have proven to be a vital ally for military exercises in the European theater.

DEFENDER is a Dynamic Employment of Forces to Europe for NATO Deterrence and Enhanced Readiness, and is a U.S. European Command scheduled, U.S. Army Europe and Africa conducted exercise that consists of Saber Strike, Immediate Response, and Swift Response. DEFENDER 24 is linked to NATO’s Steadfast Defender exercise, and DoD’s Large Scale Global Exercise, taking place from 28 March to 31 May. DEFENDER 24 is the largest U.S. Army exercise in Europe and includes more than 17,000 U.S. and 23,000 multinational service members from more than 20 Allied and partner nations, including Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

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