By Annalisa Underwood, Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division
“We build, we fight.” These four simple words could not describe the role of the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalion, or “Seabees,” any better. Once the United States entered World War II, the Chief of the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks and Civil Engineer Corps Adm. Ben Moreell recognized the need for a militarized construction force of skilled men who could build advance bases in war zones and defend themselves. During the war, men were recruited from the construction trades and in 1942
they formed the Naval Construction Regiment composed of three Naval Construction Battalions. Thus, the Seabees were “born.” As we celebrate their 74th birthday on March 5, let’s take a closer look at the different Seabee rates and how their “Can do!” attitude contributed to success in many of America’s major conflicts.
Construction Mechanic (CM)
Construction Mechanics maintain and repair heavy construction and automotive equipment from bulldozers and cranes to buses, dump trucks, and tactical vehicles. CMs are an important aspect of the battalion because without the proper care and repair of their equipment, many missions could not be completed. The CM rating did not take effect until 1948, so during WWII they were given a rating equivalent to that in the Regular Navy, which included Machinist’s Mate Construction Battalion Equipment Operator (MMCBE) and Motor Machinist’s Mate (MOMM). For example, when the Marines invaded Guadalcanal in 1942 the men of the 6th Naval Construction Battalion followed them ashore and became the first Seabees to build under combat conditions. They began repairing the airfield that they actually helped destroy during the invasion. Because CMs kept the equipment running, the Seabees managed to repair Henderson Field, keeping this vital airfield in continuous operation despite being under constant enemy attack.
Builders make up the largest segment of the Naval Construction Force. In addition to other construction skills, most Bus work in carpentry, plastering, roofing, masonry, and painting. They help build bridges, wharves, hangars, and buildings—structures that are extremely important when planning an invasion or establishing a base camp. The BU rating did not take effect until 1948, so during WWII they were given a rating equivalent to that in the Regular Navy, which included Carpenter’s Mate Construction Battalion Builder (CMCBB) and Carpenter’s Mate Construction Battalion Excavation Foreman (CMCBE). A great example of the importance Seabee skills took place on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when more than 10,000 Seabees from various units that made up the 25th Naval Construction Regiment assisted 160,000 Allied troops that landed along the beaches of Normandy, France. BUs helped construct and maintain pontoon causeways that served as artificial harbors along the beaches and allowed for supply transport during and after D-Day. They also laid down Marston Matting on the sand that allowed for machine operation on the beaches, a vital tool that led to the Allied victory.
Equipment Operator (EO)
Equipment Operators use and manage heavy transportation and construction equipment like bulldozers, cranes, forklifts, and asphalt equipment. They use their heavy-duty machinery to help construct things like buildings, roadways, and piers. EOs are also responsible for excavation, crane assembly, pile-driving, drilling, and blasting. The EO rating did not take effect until 1948, so during WWII they were given a rating equivalent to that in the Regular Navy, which included Machinist’s Mate Construction Battalion Equipment Operator (MMCBE). They were also classified as Carpenter’s Mate, Boatswain’s Mate, and Gunner’s Mate. When the Marines initiated the assault on Iwo Jima in 1945, the Seabees were right there with them and started clearing the land to construct airstrips and a base camp at the earliest possible moment.
Construction Electrician (CE)
Construction Electricians build and maintain power production facilities and electrical distribution systems for naval installations in both permanent and expeditionary capacities. They establish telephone communications, install transformers, and make sure that many of the things we don’t think about—like street lights and fire alarms—are working. When buildup began in Southeast Asia and requirements for the conflict in Vietnam reached its peak in 1968, the Seabees stepped up to build roads, airfields, cantonments, warehouses, hospitals, storage facilities, bunkers and other facilities which were critically needed to support the combatant forces. CEs were a major player in this build-up as they provided the power and communications systems necessary to keep the camps running.
Steelworkers fabricate structural metal with materials such as steel, concrete, and rebar necessary for constructing things like bridges, buildings, hangars and piers. They forge the backbones of buildings and also do the cutting and welding for repairing pipes and heavy equipment. In 2003, SWs of Amphibious Construction Battalion Two (ACB-2) played an important role in the construction of the Elevated Causeway System (ELCAS) at Camp Patriot, Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This expeditionary pier allowed for the offload of supplies, equipment and ordnance from Army and Navy prepositioning ships to reach the troops in a timelier manner.
Engineering Aid (EA)
Engineering Aides are often the enlisted leaders for construction projects, assisting the construction engineers in developing final phase plans. They assess and document project sites where roads, buildings, airfields, and wharfs are set to be built by conducting land surveys, preparing maps, and testing construction material, soil, and asphalt. In 2009, EAs deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom were a major part of the buildup and establishment of the base at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Utilitiesmen work with internal systems including plumbing, heating and air, fuel storage, and distribution. They also manage some of the most important systems that are vital to quality of life such as water treatment and sewage collection and disposal. In addition to the huge role they’ve played in supporting combat missions, Seabees also provide humanitarian assistance around the world. One such mission included drilling deepwater wells in Africa that provided clean water to the 3,400 locals and their livestock.
The “Can Do!” mentality of the U.S. Navy Seabees is what makes them a strong asset in our nation’s military. Each rating has an important role in itself, but they all work together in order to complete a mission. Whether it’s building an airstrip, or a camp under enemy fire, or creating a schoolhouse, the Seabees literally “make” the lives of the people around them easier!
Check out the infographic below for the places your Seabees have served. We scoured our Seabee data, but comment below and tell us where YOU served.