CAWACI, OVALAU, Fiji -- A relaxing day at the beach was not quite what Task Force Koa Moana experienced during their exercise in Fiji. While tourists around the world visited the white sandy beaches awash with turquoise water, the engineers were laying block, pounding nails and welding beams.
Marines and Sailors, with Task Force Koa Moana conducted vertical construction training with the Seabees, from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4, and engineers with the Republic of Fiji Military Force, July 1- August 1, as a part of their deployment in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We worked with the RFMF to partake in vertical construction training to build and increase relationships and interoperability,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew G. Pentecost, a combat engineer with Task Force Koa Moana, originally assigned to Company B, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “We built a one-room building and repaired the roof on a nine-room building during that time.”
Building engineer relationships in the Asia-Pacific region aids in the bigger picture when considering the relations already formed with countries like the Philippines and Thailand, where Marines often conduct similar construction-based engineer training.
“The mission is joint training,” said Chief Petty Officer Michael J. Hamlin, from Glenn Falls, New York, an equipment operator with Company E, NMCB 4. “We share a lot of capabilities to teach each other step-by-step how get the mission done in our own ways.”
Their lengthy stay in Fiji gave them an inside view on Fijian culture. The Fijian service members resembled the Marines and Sailors in many ways, according to Pentecost, from Glencoe, Alabama. Neither party was hesitant to crack a joke to share laughs, but neither were they opposed to voluntarily skip meals to ensure the completion of projects.
“We shared a lot of meals together,” said Pentecost. “The harder they worked the more they ate and vice versa. If they ate a huge meal they knew they were going to work hard after chow. I’m going to miss sitting around the Kava bowl until midnight after a long day of work or just having a conversation and getting to know them during a break.”
The training in Fiji gave the Marine engineers, from III MEF, a broader opportunity to practice and apply engineering skills they often do not have time or space for on Okinawa, Japan.
The service members often worked well over 12 hours a day, even pushing into 24-hour operations toward the end of the exercise to finish their training.
“They came ready to work every day, and I hope they learned from us the same way we learned from them,” said Pentecost. “I made a lot of good friends through hard work here.”