The U.S. Navy Seabees have a long history of providing humanitarian efforts around the world from Palau in the South Pacific to Afghanistan. Seabees are vital members of the Combined Joint Task Force- Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and are deployed to build partner nation capacity in Eastern Africa and help prevent Islamic radicalization. Lt. Cmdr. Michael James of NMCB 74 said, “as Seabees, we normally are supporting other units and forces…here in HOA, we’re one of the primary means for CJTF-HOA to accomplish its mission by building schools, medical clinics and water wells … we aren’t just building something and leaving, we’re interacting with the people and working with them to help themselves make their life better.”
Senior Chief Equipment Operator (EOCS) Pamela Leith (nee Lee), donated the first collection to the museum representing the Seabees deployment with CJTF-HOA. EOCS Leith was deployed with NMCB 3 to Djibouti for humanitarian missions in 2009. While in Djibouti, EOCS Leith worked on a school rehabilitation project in the city of Ali Sabieh and a water well mission in Dikhil. By using the construction force’s building expertise, the Seabees are able to complete many small projects and spend more time interacting with the community.
On one such occasion, the hotel where the Seabees were staying in Ali Sabieh was constructing an additional building and EOCS Leith noticed the Djiboutian’s were doing everything by hand and hauling dirt in by buckets. She decided to help by using the Seabee’s front end loader to haul a few scoops in and build up their floor. This small gesture probably saved them several days of labor which only took her an hour.
The hotel staff was grateful for the Seabees’ contribution to their community and treated them like family for the duration of their stay. They invited the Seabees as their guests to a large feast after Ramadan which they all attended and even threw EOCS Leith a dinner party before she departed on her new mission. The staff appreciated everything she had done for them and gave her gifts of local tradition which included a dress, skirt, shawls, and a large knife with leather scabbard which are currently on display in the museum.
While EOCS Leith was building the water well in Dikhil, she was notified that the new hotel building in Ali Sabieh had added her name in large letters to a pillar as a sign of respect and gratitude. She went back to see the finished building and to greet the hotel staff. Leith said, “It was truly touching that they did that for me!”
Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Legg of NMCB 11, who NMCB 3 replaced said, “Actions often speak louder than words…as we work side-by-side with the Africans through our military-to-military programs or build new school facilities here in Djibouti, our efforts speak volumes to the fact the American people care, and we are here to help Africans find solutions to African problems.”
Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and see EOCS Leith’s collection and other humanitarian mission stories.
Meet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.