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Multimeters for Seabees

Fluke donates DMMs to Al Asad Air Base

May 2013

Members of the Seabee Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 24

Engineering and building don't get much more intense than this. As part of the U.S. Naval Seabees, hundreds of reservists who work in the construction trade as civilians are helping the U.S. military build its infrastructure in Iraq.

At Al Asad Air Base in the Al Anbar province, the Seabee Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 24 - consisting of construction specialists, engineers and steelworkers - were there to support the Second Marine Expeditionary Force at Al Asad. Their tasks included building bases for new Iraqi security forces, building a triage wing for a hospital, refurbishing a runway and installing armor on vehicles used by Marines and Seabees. Materials and tools to do these jobs are often thousands of miles away. The climate is harsh on tools and often troops are forced to make do with what's at hand.

So when NMCB 24 found itself without any working Fluke meters, finding replacements wasn't going to be easy. CE3 Rodney Mason contacted the Fluke customer service center with their problem.

Fluke Customer Service Representative Sue Hunt was reading the international e-mails on May 15, 2005, when she came upon the message from Mason in Iraq. In his e-mail, Mason explained that he and his battalion were building operation structures and living quarters for the US marines stationed in Iraq. He went on to say that their multimeter of choice was Fluke and that they had three inoperative meters they needed to repair or replace. Mason wanted to know if Fluke could help them with a discount.

For Hunt, it struck a nerve that "They were in a war situation and they depended on the Fluke products." She took the request to her supervisor, Senior Service Provider Marty Kidd. With help from Judi Smith, a specialty associate, Kidd obtained several refurbished 87V multi-meters and sent them to Mason.

Battalion 24 put the tools to use. While in Iraq the NMCB 24 built forward operating bases in three locations. They also completed building a location for the newly-formed Iraqi Security Forces.

"Anytime our Seabees receive support from back home," Commanding Officer Tim Simpson wrote to Fluke, "they receive a huge morale boost and much needed encouragement to carry out their daily missions."

Lone Star Battalion arrives in Iraq

Construction Electrician 2nd Class David Martinez, right and Construction Electrician 1st Class Eddie Valdez

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Louisiana and Mississippi gulf, the battalion was called home in late September to assist in rebuilding. They were replaced by the NMCB-22, (Lone Star Battalion) from Fort Worth, Texas, which took over the responsibilities NMCB-24 left behind. The Lone Star Battalion brought with them their own long history of engineering and construction including building for the Atlanta Olympic Games, rebuilding after flooding in North Carolina and considerable work in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm.

Fortunately, the tools remained at Al Asad to continue testing.

"Our primary task is construction in forward operating areas," says NMCB-22 Commander Gilbert Jordan. "This encompasses a wide range of jobs."

But the work they do is not much like that of their civilian counterparts in the United States. "The pace is frantic, requiring long hours and seven days per week scheduling," Jordan says. "Many of the basic components we build are designed and engineered, but the field implementation usually requires onsite design to adapt the site and basic design for construction, utilities, and force protection." That work needs to be done in a hurry and with limited resources in a harsh environment.

Many of the battalion reservists, Jordan says, have told him that the most striking difference in Wartime Seabee construction from their civilian work is the existing infrastructure and metric and international standards for nearly all types of construction materials. That is one area in which the Fluke meters can be of help. "They have been especially helpful for safety in places requiring both international voltage (230/400) and US standard voltages (120/208 and 277/480)," Jordan says.

The battalion faces other hardships as well. "The lead time for materials can be very long, which requires adaptability to be able to complete projects with the material on hand."

Working conditions are difficult with extreme heat and dust, Jordan says, "and are very harsh on nearly all of our tools and equipment." The climate can take a toll not only on the tools and equipment but on the men as well. Additional strain comes from the fast pace of the work. "Work schedules are long," Jordan says, "and require adaptability to meet operational requirements, mission changes and force protection requirements."

Fluke tools at work

Utilitiesman 2nd Class Pablo Esquivel uses a Fluke Clamp Meter to check voltage on the base theatre chill water plant in Al Asad, Iraq.

Jordan says that the three Fluke DMMs handed down from Battalion-24 are used in a variety of applications. "On forward construction they are used to ensure the safety and operation of installed electrical systems and to troubleshoot a variety of equipment," Jordan says. That can range from AC systems to heavy equipment. In maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure they are used for electrical systems, he says, including chiller systems, pump systems, generator troubleshooting, AC systems and a variety of other uses.

The Lone Star Battalion is also rebuilding a damaged bridge that is critical to the Iraqi people, continuing runway repair, doing electrical upgrades and building and maintaining camps throughout the Al Anbar Province. Jordan even used a Fluke 187 to repair a non-working stationary bike at the base. "This was a morale booster," he says.

For those at home in the Fluke office, Everett, Wash., there was satisfaction in knowing how the tools would be used. "This felt really good," Smith said and Hunt agrees.

"It's heart-warming to see the impact a small gesture can have on our troops," says Kidd. Kidd spent 10 years in the US Air Force himself and feels a connection to those Seabees in Iraq. He says, "I know what it's like to be out there, wondering if people back home are thinking about what you're doing …I hope we get more opportunities to let our troops know we care."

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