Seabee Joan Powers peered inside a 40-foot shipping container near the gate of a recently attacked U.S. consulate. Light streamed in through the bullet holes, making the inside of the steel box look like a celestial dome of stars.
Then-First Class Petty Officer Powers spotted the supplies she was looking for strewn all over the floor near exposed wires splaying from an electrical box. The shipping container was damaged by gunfire during the multi-pronged attack on the consulate. Bullets destroyed the electrical hub and supplies for the critical perimeter security systems that the regional security officer (RSO) wanted operational again as soon as possible. Powers and her Diplomatic Security Service colleagues had their work cut out for them.
First, Powers and her fellow team members went over the area with a volt meter to make certain none of the wires were still live. Once they knew they were safe from electrocution, they inspected damaged supplies to salvage what they could. They also cannibalized parts from two vehicle barriers that had been damaged. Within a day, they were able to get one of the barriers operational again by fixing the hydraulic power unit, hoses, fittings, power lines and electrical circuit board.
Next they turned their attention to the damaged CCTV cameras. “The shipping container had been the main thoroughfare for critical camera cabling,” Powers explained. “So we had to trace all the wires that had been ripped apart by bullets and splice them back together, one by one. The work was so tedious my sense of time got skewed, so I don’t remember how long this took. But we did get the critical cameras back online.” Much to the RSO’s delight, the team’s quick action restored camera coverage to the main road leading up to the consulate – the same route used by the attackers.
During one of her deployments to a war zone, Powers was part of a convoy security team that doubled as a mobile construction team. She and her team rode into a volatile area in armored vehicles and cargo trucks, and rotated between building a perimeter and standing watch. “It’s what Seabees are trained to do – what we excel at – working heavy construction tools one shift, then providing security with a weapon in hand the next with no time-off until the perimeter is up and the work is done.”
As a Steelworker Chief, Powers was also part of a Seabee team that built five vehicle gates, each 16-feet wide and 8-feet tall, for deployed U.S. Marines as part of a Marine Expeditionary Force. With nine years of military service under her belt, Chief Petty Officer Powers is also well versed in complicated electronics, locksmithing, and networked security technical systems. For her exemplary service, the U.S. Navy State Department Naval Support Unit awarded Powers the distinction of the Senior Sailor of the Year in 2014.
“My dad was a carpenter, and I grew up ‘working’ with him on the weekends since I was six-years old. So I love working with my hands – cutting, framing out, and welding together huge sheets of steel to construct gates solid enough to stop a speeding truck is right up my alley. It’s all very satisfying work for me.”
This type of work is all part of what U.S. Navy Seabees do. For the past 51 years, the Diplomatic Security Service has relied on the Seabees for construction, installation, renovation and maintenance, and repair projects in sensitive areas of State Department facilities, oftentimes in unstable regions of the world. As long as women and men like Chief Petty Officer Powers step up to meet the challenge, the State Department will continue to benefit from their courage and commitment to serve our country.
Note: A version of this article was originally posted on DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State.