Within hours of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, U.S. Navy sailors were gearing up for a variety of missions that would become Operation Enduring Freedom.

Hospital corpsmen deployed to New York City on board the hospital ship USNS Comfort to provide support to emergency workers at the site of the World Trade Center. Sailors manned the flight decks of their aircraft carriers and took their cruisers, destroyers and submarines to conduct and support combat missions in Afghanistan.

Navy Seabees like Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas E. Christilaw are now deployed to the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, responsible for a variety of construction projects as part of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainee facility.

Christilaw, son of Edwin and Bernie Christilaw of Belen, is a builder assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, based out of Port Hueneme, Calif., Christilaw is one of almost 140 Seabees tasked with constructing 320 holding units, guard towers, buildings for supply personnel and basic medical faiclities, including an operating room, laboratory and intensive care unit.

The Seabees, the Navy’s construction force, arrived in Cuba in early January. So far, 14 Seabees have been activated from the Naval Reserve. Seabees specializing in steelwork, building, heavy equipment operation and maintenance, utilities and engineering are on site.

“As a builder, I work in carpentry, plaster, roofing, asphalt, bricklaying and more. I help build and repair all types of structures, including towers and offices,” explained Christilaw, 30. “My job field makes up the majority of the Seabees and is sometimes considered the backbone of the battalions.”

In addition to building facilities needed for the detainees, the Seabees are also working on quality-of-life improvements for the soldiers and Marines responsible for the security of Camp X-Ray, including floors and lighting for the living area and showers.

Working in direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom is especially meaningful for the Seabees in Guantanamo Boy. “I feel proud to be directly contributing to the war on terrorism,” said Christilaw, a 1989 graduate of Chaparral High School in Santee, Calif. “These detention facilities are very important to the operation.”

Christilaw joined the Navy in April of 1993. “I joined the Navy because I needed a change in lifestyle. I became a Seabee be-cause I had previous experience in construction,” said Christilaw, husband of the former Racquel Roberto and father of three.

Serving as Seabees in the Navy provides unique opportunities to these men and women. “I was in Cuba before for Operation Sea Signal in 1995, building camps for the Cuban and Haitian refugees.”

Established in 1941, Navy Seabees have a combat history all their own. More than 325,000 Seabees served in World War II, building airstrips, bridges, roads, hospitals and housing. Seabees also undertake humanitarian projects around the globe, building schools, orphanages and public utilities, and providing relief following natural disasters.

Serving in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Navy Seabees like Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas E. Christilaw embody the motto of the naval construction forces “We build, we fight.”

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Misty Trent