The Seabees have been the military construction arm of the U.S. Navy since 1942. The first Seabees were civilian construction workers who enlisted early in World War II to continue building for the Navy in the Pacific Theater and in Europe. Their accomplishments during the war are legendary. Nearly 200,000 men, master craftsmen, the most skillful of the nation’s skilled workers, are credited with paving the road to victory for the allies in the Pacific and in Europe. The work done by the Seabees was work only they could do. Using brains, brawn, blood and “Can Do”, they hacked at jungle growth and blasted coral to build the victory road to Tokyo. It appears a certainty that the 10,000-mile accomplishment will always remain the Seabees’ greatest masterwork.
The Seabee story did not end with V-J Day. Mobile construction battalions continue to build and fight today. At one time there were nearly 25,000 sons of World War II Seabees in Vietnam building camps for America’s armed forces, repairing roads, bridges and airstrips, teaching the tricks of their trade to the Vietnamese and building orphanages, schools, hospitals and market places during off-duty hours.
Seabees were among the first to be withdrawn from Vietnam to be put to work at Navy and Marine Corps stations around the world, which had been neglected because of the higher priority of Vietnam. Seabee Civic Action Teams deploy to the Micronesian islands of the Trust Territories of the Pacific. Naval mobile construction battalions deploy all over the world. Individual Seabees serve with the State Department at embassies throughout the world and a host of specialized assignments as needed.
On August 17, 1990, 10 days after the commencement of Operation Desert Shield, the first Seabees arrived in Saudi Arabia. By October 18, 1990, the entire mobilization of Seabees was complete and encompassed 2,410 Seabees, 1,131 pieces of equipment, and 12,000 short tons of materials. Three full Reserve Seabee battalions and portions of two others were reactivated in support of the Persian Gulf War.
In the summer of 1992, Seabees were called on to provide recovery assistance to the hurricane devastated area of Homestead, Florida, following Hurricane Andrew. Seabees were also vital to the humanitarian efforts in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope in 1992-1993. In 1994, they were again called on to provide assistance to the Haitian Relief effort at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And, on Christmas Day 1995, Seabees arrived in Croatia to support the Army by building camps as part of Operation Joint Endeavor, the peacekeeping effort in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Seabees participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. They served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and are still stationed in Southwest Asia in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
Seabees deployed to Pensacola, Florida in September of 2004 in response to Hurricane Ivan’s destruction to the Naval Air Station. The Seabees were greeted with cheers as they arrived with heavy equipment and chainsaws to clear away hurricane debris, repair roads, erect tents and help their fellow service members.
Seabees have resumed their peacetime strength of about 10,000 active duty and 12,300 reserve personnel. Today’s Seabees may be assigned to naval bases where they perform public works functions. Other Seabees are assigned to operational units, which deploy with the fleet. Active and reserve Seabee operational units include 20 Naval Mobile Construction Battalions, six deployable Regiments, two Seabee Readiness Groups, one Naval Construction Force Support Unit, two Construction Battalion Maintenance Units, two Underwater Construction Teams, and two Amphibious Construction Battalions.
Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, Mississippi
Land for the installation was acquired on a plot a mile northwest of the Port of Gulfport in April 1942, and an Advanced Base Depot was established June 2, 1942, in Gulfport .
An Armed Guard School and a Cooks and Bakers School were added in October 1942, followed by an Advanced Base Receiving Barracks in November, at which time some of the first Seabees were stationed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The mission of the Center changed from a receiving organization to a U.S. Naval Training Center in March 1944, and provided for training in basic engineering, diesel, radioman, quartermaster and electrician’s ratings.
Continuing realignments occurred creating a single command of the Naval Training Center and the Advanced Base Depot. The Depot became the U.S. Naval Storehouse in 1945 and the Training Center was decommissioned in 1946. In 1948, the station became custodian of certain national stockpile materials. Bauxite, tin, copper, sisal and abaca have been stored here in varying quantities since that time. Huge piles of bauxite, the imported ore from which aluminum is extracted covered an estimated 24 of the Center’s 1,098 acres. The last of the red dirt was shipped off base at the end of 2003 to be made into aluminum. The low-grade ore was given to the United States in 1948 as a war debt payment by the Netherlands East Indies, now known as Indonesia. Alcoa bought the ore in 2000 for $1 million. Hauling it away costs about $6 million.
People who have been on the Coast for some time report that there were times when some 25,000 Naval personnel were stationed at the Center. They lived in wooden barracks, tents and Quonset huts. Population between the late 1940s and early 1960s dropped to about 10 officers and enlisted personnel. Civilian employees fluctuated with the amount of strategic supplies and construction equipment being received, stored and trans-shipped.
Some important organizational changes were made early in 1952 when the Naval Storehouse was disestablished and the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion Center was established.
The Navy’s mushrooming commitments for construction forces in Southeast Asia led the way to an increased mission for the Center in February 1966. The first group of 509 Seabees arrived unannounced from Davisville, Rhode Island, in March 1966. The galley, barracks and other personnel support facilities were still closed and locked. A base fireman, with a knack for cooking, was hastily recruited to prepare fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Other civilian employees opened the barracks, turned on gas and electricity, installed bunks and served as mess cooks.
The 20th Naval Construction Regiment (NCR) was recommissioned April 17, 1966, nearly two decades after its decommissioning following World War II. Located at Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, 20NCR was reestablished to support the buildup of the Naval Construction Force (NCF) during the United States’ involvement in Vietnam.
Eight months later, the Center had expanded to include new functions such as Seabee Team Training and a new tenant, Construction Training Unit. The staff for the Naval Construction Battalion Center had expanded to 183 military and 523 civilian personnel to support approximately 4,200 Seabees. A personnel training facility, inactive for 20 years, was effectively forming, staging, training and home porting Naval Mobile Construction Battalions.
After the terrorists attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq called for more Seabees to be added to the force. 20NCR became the 20th Seabee Readiness Group (SRG) Jan. 9, 2003 in order to more effectively function as the training arm of the Atlantic Fleet Seabees.
On Sept. 14, 2007, in an attempt to meet the overwhelming demand for Naval Construction Forces (NCF) throughout the world, NMCB 11 which was decommissioned Dec. 15, 1969, and 25 NCR, which was deactivated Nov. 30, 1945, were recommissioned in Gulfport.
In addition, the Naval Mobilization Processing Site was also established. They have processed thousands of active duty and Reservists through Gulfport. The Expeditionary Combat Skills site was also stood up. Since 2008, ECS has trained thousands of Navy personnel in essential life-saving battlefield skills.
Contributing to the local community is a Seabee norm. Before, during and after Hurricane Katrina made landfall here in August 2005, Seabees worked long and hard. Seabee volunteers have contributed hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours assisting in the local community since Hurricane Katrina, they continue to be a good neighbor answering various requests for help from the local community on a daily basis.
In the midst of the Gulf Coast recovery process, the Seabee Center built more than $450 million worth in new facilities as a result of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Permanent repairs, which include the Military Construction Program Recapitalization Plan, were completed in 2009.
Some of the projects included a Naval Construction Training Center Complex, Consolidated Professional Development Center Complex, Armory, Consolidated Security Complex, Training Hall, 22NCR Command and Control Facility, Bachelor Enlisted Quarters, Consolidated Public Works Facility, Housing Welcome Center, Pass Road/Broad Avenue Security Improvements and several operational buildings.
Like the landscape of the base, NCBC Gulfport’s tenants are changing. With the drawdown in Afghanistan and tighter budgets, force reductions and restructuring needed to occur. On Sept. 5, 2012, NMCB 7 was decommissioned. Six months later, on Feb. 26, 2013, a significant realignment/decommissioning ceremony took place. Prior to the ceremony, the base and 20th SRG were governed by one commanding officer. The ceremony saw the two separated under two commanding officers and the decommissioning of 25NCR. 20SRG was renamed Naval Construction Group (NCG) 2 as part of the massive NCF restructuring. Included in the transformation, the 22NCR became an embedded yet independent Command capable of the forward deployment of an integrated Battle Staff that is able to execute combat service support missions across the spectrum of joint and combined military operations while providing command and control over Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) units as part of a robust Adaptive Force Package (AFP).