Female Seabees bring ‘girl power’ to Afghanistan

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Petty Officer 3rd Class Gafayat Moradeyo, of Abeokuta in Ogun State,
Nigeria, a seabee, checks equipment inventory at Bagram Air Base.
KABUL, Afghanistan – An eight-woman construction team wrapping up a deployment in Afghanistan has taken the country by storm.

Their story, which “all started out as just eight women who wanted to
swing a hammer,” according to team member Petty Officer 3rd Class Amber
Mann, has captivated audiences throughout America since it was covered
in the Los Angeles Times and several other outlets since.

The group wasn’t specifically deployed as an all-female crew; it was
coincidence so many women ended up at Bagram Air Base’s Naval Mobile
Construction Battalion 4. Their work was standard Seabee duty: building
an operations center, two barracks and a gym for Coalition forces in
northern Helmand province.

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But what stands out is the play of their personalities – their
rapid-fire banter, their professional pride as they compete with male
co-workers and their perspectives on interactions with local Afghans.

“We’re women who work in construction,” Mann said. “Even if in reality
there’s nothing for us to prove, we will always want to outwork the guys
next to us. … They think it’s fun too – and it’s even more fun when
they get ‘smoked’ by us.”

Mann, of Gautier, Miss., said the team woke up every day excited about
their work, and often had the chance to meet with locals, especially
Afghan children.

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Many team members said they’ll remember their time with Afghan children the most.

“That was really cool, to see those kids and how they act – to see them
wide-eyed to learn that females are out there working,” said team member
Seaman Kacie Dunlavey of Lompoc, Calif.

The Seabees, based at Port Hueneme, Calif., also universally praised
Afghans, describing them as working as best they can to resist insurgent
intimidation and build a better future for themselves and their
families.

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“We had the opportunity of interacting with the Afghan nationals,
helping them learn the English language,” said team leader Petty Officer
3rd Class Gafayat Moradeyo, of Abeokuta in Ogun State, Nigeria. “We got
to understand the culture of Afghanistan. … For me they’re just like
everybody else – maybe the culture is different.”

She called Afghans normal, “loving” people with families and aspirations common to individuals around the world.

Mann said non-Afghans may have a mistaken impression that a high
percentage of Afghans are loyal to insurgents, but most simply want
personal security and economic stability.

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“There’s more good than bad – the bad is a rarity. The bad is something
that rarely shows its face to you,” she said, adding that “I think
they’re just as curious about us as we are about them.”

Simply by working among locals, team members said, the Seabees were able
to influence perceptions among Afghans, both male and female, about
what women could do.

“We not only showed the [Coalition] military guys, but there were a lot
of military Afghans too. We gained their respect,” said team member
Seaman Carla Diazcastillo of Arequipa, Peru.

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Officials initially considered the implications of fielding an
all-female team before deploying the crew to Helmand. But the women
worked to set any concerns to rest.

“There will always be opinions,” Mann said. “It’s how you strive to step
above that opinion that defines what kind of woman you are in the
military.”

Mann stressed that given the presence of Seabees in the wider force, there were no policy hurdles to overcome.

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The group finished their work in record time, which further drove home
that an all-female crew is as capable as any other, team members said.

Mann added that it was fortunate there were no delays associated with
weather or supplies, saying that “everything fell into place perfectly”
to help prove that females are just as capable as men in construction.

They did not face combat during their deployment, only the discomforts
of austere conditions such as cold showers. But the crew gelled, each
falling into complimentary roles.

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“Normally the first push with the first crew has its hiccups,” Mann
said. But “we all had parts that we flowed on – a very fluid effort. …
That’s what you want it to be like with a crew. You want someone to see
what needs to be done, then just go do it.”

Team member Shelby Lutrey, of Apache Junction, Ariz., said she’d remember the crew’s camaraderie most.

“I think I’m closer to the people I work side by side with on this deployment than I’ve ever been,” she said.

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Other Seabees on the team are Petty Officer 3rd Class Jessica Vera, of
Chicago; Petty Officer 3rd Class Kadisha Lee, of Compton, Calif.; and
Seaman Shayla Miles of Pulaski, Tenn.

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