the de-escalation of United States activity in Southeast Asia
got underway, Seabee strength was once again reduced. By September
1970, the naval mobile construction battalions were down to the
planned post-Vietnam level of ten full-sized battalions. Because
of the reduction of the Naval Construction Force in Vietnam, on
8 December 1969, the headquarters of the 30th Naval Construction
Regiment was moved from Vietnam to Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands,
and on 1 May 1971 the headquarters of the 32nd Naval Construction
Regiment was moved from Vietnam to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.
By the end of 1971 most Seabees were employed outside of Southeast
Asia. Thus, on 9 November 1971, the 3rd Naval Construction Brigade
As the Seabees entered
the post-Vietnam era, they found themselves employed on major
peacetime projects which had been deferred or neglected because
of wartime priorities. Alert battalions were reestablished in
the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico;
and on Okinawa, in the Ryukyu Islands. The men of the Naval Construction
Force found themselves employed outside their home port fleet
areas. No geographical limitations existed as battalions and details
were deployed to satisfy the current and ever-increasing demand
for Seabee expertise. For example, after the reestablishment of
the alert battalions, one battalion, Naval Mobile Construction
Battalion Four, served first in 1970 as the Pacific alert battalion,
and then in 1972 as the Atlantic alert battalion.
The post-Vietnam Seabees were involved in new construction
frontiers: the Indian Ocean, the Trust Territory of the Pacific
Islands, Europe, on the ocean floor itself, and in most of the
oceans of the globe. Though younger and fewer in number than their
World War II predecessors, Seabees continued to demonstrate the
same old "Can Do" spirit.
One of the major projects for the Naval Facilities Engineering
Command and the major project for the Seabees in the 1970s and
early 1980s was the construction of a naval complex on the atoll
of Diego Garcia, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Diego
Garcia, one of the 52 coral atolls of the Chagos Archipelago,
was located in the Indian Ocean 960 miles south of India and 7
miles south of the equator. The 6,700 acre, heavily vegetated
atoll was horseshoe-shaped with a perimeter of approximately 40
miles and average elevations of 3 to 7 feet. The annual rainfall
was approximately 100 inches.
On 24 October 1972 the U.S. and British governments signed
an agreement concerning the construction of a U.S. Naval Communication
station on Diego Garcia. The purpose of the facility was to provide
a necessary link in the U.S. defense communications network and
furnish improved communications support in the Indian Ocean for
ships and aircraft of both governments. The U.S. was to build
the facility using Naval Construction Force personnel.
The Diego Garcia base was initially planned as an austere
communication station with all necessary supporting facilities,
including an airstrip. On 23 January 1971 a nine-man reconnaissance
party from landed on the atoll to confirm planning information
and carry out a preliminary survey of the beach landing areas.
In early March a 50-man party from the same battalion and from
Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 as well as other specialist
personnel arrived by LST, and was followed by an advance party
of 160 men from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40. These
men were to construct a temporary Seabee camp, water and electrical
distribution systems, a dining hall, laundry, refrigeration and
storage facilities. Finally, they were to build an interim 3,500-foot
In October and November, Detachment CHAGOS of NMCB 71 and
the whole of NMCB 1 arrived, marking the beginning of large-scale
construction. NMCB 1 built the transmitter and receiver buildings
and placed the base course for the permanent runway and parking
apron. In July 1972 NMCB 62 relieved NMCB-1 and took over the
departing battalion's projects. On 25 December the first C-141J
transport landed on the newly completed 6,000 foot runway with
the Bob Hope Christmas Troupe. The full 8,000 foot permanent runway
with adjoining taxiway and parking apron was completed by March
1973; and on 20 March, exactly two years after construction began,
the U.S. Naval Communication Station, Diego Garcia, was officially
Worked commenced on the second construction increment, a $6.1
million project which involved the construction of a ship channel
and turning basin in the lagoon. This project, however, was contracted
to a Taiwanese firm. Seabees, however, continued to work on support
and personnel facilities in the cantonment area at the northern
tip of the atoll. The second major area of construction was the
airfield and its supporting facilities. Revised requirements called
for the extension of the original 8,000-foot runway to 12,000
feet and additions were made to the parking apron and taxiways.
New hangars and other support facilities were also built. In addition,
construction of extensive petroleum, oil and lubricant storage
facilities was initiated. The Navy required 480,000 barrels of
storage to support ship and aircraft needs and the Air Force required
an additional 160,000 barrels. During 1973 and 1974 Seabee units
worked on all these projects. Because the final mission of Diego
Garcia was still evolving, it was clear that still more construction
would take place in the years to come.
In 1975 and 1976 Congress authorized $28.6 million to expand
the Diego Garcia facilities to provide minimal logistics support
for U.S. task groups operating in the Indian Ocean. This mission
expansion called for construction of a fuel pier, airfield expansion,
and more petroleum, oil and lubricant storage, and personnel support
facilities. Additional projects were undertaken in 1978. Construction
was accomplished by both Seabees and private contractor personnel
and it was anticipated that the Diego Garcia project would finally
be completed in 1980. World events in 1979 and 1980, however,
forced a reevaluation of the U.S. defense posture in the Indian
Ocean Area which indicated the need for pre-positioned materials
to support a rapid deployment force and a more active U.S. presence
in the area. It was decided to further expand the facilities at
Diego Garcia in order to provide support for several pre-positioned
ships, loaded with critical supplies. By the end of 1980 the Naval
Facilities Engineering Command had advertised a $100 million contract
for initial dredging at Diego Garcia to expand the berthing facilities.
In the early 1980s the construction effort at Diego Garcia
rapidly shifted from Seabees to private contractors. The last
full Seabee battalion, NMCB 62, departed the atoll in July 1982.
While Seabees remained in detachments, contractor personnel took
over the projects yet to be accomplished on Diego Garcia. Thus,
what began as simply a communication station on a remote atoll
became a major fleet and U.S. armed forces support base by the
1980s. By 1983 the only Seabee unit remaining on Diego Garcia
was a detachment of NMCB 62. The departure of this detachment
in September 1983 ended twelve years of priority effort on the
island that included some 220 projects for the Navy and Air Force,
valued in excess of $200 million. The work the Seabees completed
on Diego Garcia since 1971 represented the largest peacetime construction
effort in their history. Diego Garcia was the major Seabee construction
effort of the 1970s and they acquitted themselves well under the
difficult and isolated conditions that exist there. When the Seabees
arrived they lived in tent camps, when they departed they left
a fully-developed, modern military facility, capable of supporting
thousands of U.S. personnel.
SEABEE ACTIVITY AROUND THE WORLD
Other projects on which Seabees worked in the early 1970s
included the upgrading of recreational and living facilities at
the Naval Communication Station, Makri, Greece. There they built
a radio facility; improved the base swimming pool; built tennis
courts, and a softball field; and an addition to the enlisted
men's club; and remodeled the barracks. At the Naval Facility,
Souda Bay, on the island of Crete, Seabees built an open storage
facility, a pipe and canvas enclosure, and a helicopter pad. In
Sigonella (Sicily), Italy, at the Naval Air Facility they installed
diesel units and "no break" generators, and remodeled
barracks and the general mess, built an air- frame repair shop,
power-check pad, ordnance magazine, enlisted man/chief petty officer
club, handball court and theater. At the Fleet Support Office,
La Maddalena, Italy, Seabees built a gymnasium and a playing field
In Spain Seabees worked on a number of projects at the Rota
Naval Station. These projects included remodeling barracks and
the enlisted men's club and building additions to the base telephone
exchange and warehouse. Seabees also installed a new fender system
on Pier #2 and built a causeway connection. They also reconstructed
the Rota Seabees Camp which had deteriorated because it had been
vacant from 1965 until 1971. In London, England, Seabees remodeled
a Marine barracks; in Greenock, Scotland, they built a bowling
alley; in Holy Loch, Scotland, they renovated the public works
department garage and the hobby shop facility; at the Naval Security
Group Activity, Todendorf, Germany, they built an addition to
an operations building and installed a new emergency generator.
Meanwhile, in the Pacific, the major efforts of the Seabees
were centered on Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands, and on Guam in
the Mariana Islands. On Okinawa they performed many different
and challenging assignments. The jobs included new structures
at Camp Kinser, a new water pipeline, a modern underground electrical
distribution system and a major land grading project at the Marine
Corps Air Facility at Futema. On Guam Seabees built a Seabees
Camp. The camp, dedicated to William Lee Covington, a young Civil
Engineer Corps officer killed in Vietnam, included approximately
39 pre-engineered buildings, housing facilities, offices, shops,
a galley, living quarters, a chapel, and utilities. Other projects
completed during the 1970s included a major swimming pool complex
at the Naval Hospital, a culvert and earthmoving project at the
Naval Magazine, a chief petty officer club, community center and
teen center at the Naval Communication Station, and four steel
buildings at the Polaris Point submarine facility.
In 1972 the Chief of Naval Operations announced that female
naval personnel would be granted entry into all Navy ratings.
That same year the a woman sailor had her request to cross-rate
approved and subsequently became the first female Seabee. Many
more would follow her, and by the 1990s women had become common
in the ranks of the Seabees.
Seabees in Taiwan worked on the rehabilitation of barracks
and on the construction of duplex cabins; at Iwakuni, Japan they
worked on a Marine Corps confinement facility, an exchange warehouse,
and a water line. In the Philippines they constructed an aircraft
rinse rack and runway support facilities.
In Puerto Rico Seabees renovated roads during the 1970s, built
a commissary and new buildings at Camp Moscrip, and carried out
numerous civic action projects. During 1977 Seabees carried out
a beach-erosion preventive project in Argentia, Newfoundland;
and rehabilitated housing
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Seabees were also active in Antarctica, both during and
after the Vietnamese War. As part of Operation "Deepfreeze,"
they provided logistic support for the scientific research programs
that were conducted by seventy American universities, government
agencies, and industrial firms. The return of Naval Mobile Construction
Battalion 71 from Antarctica in 1974 marked the end of Seabee
participation in Operation "Deepfreeze." The National
Science Foundation, which oversaw the program, accomplished all
remaining construction by contract.
In addition to the work performed by the mobile construction
battalions, the amphibious construction battalions were extensively
employed. Both amphibious battalions engaged primarily in fleet
exercises and other training operations. Additionally, amphibious
Seabees in the Pacific Fleet found time to accomplish earthwork
for a canoe lagoon and a camping area at Imperial Beach, California,
to place and remove concrete obstacles in South Bay for underwater
demolition teams and Sealab training, and to complete the first
increment of a sheet pile bulkhead project. Meanwhile, Seabees
of the Atlantic Fleet constructed a boat marina at the Little
Creek Amphibious Base.
Detachments of the amphibious Seabees also served in the Mediterranean
and Caribbean. These were detachments of the amphibious ready
groups that were prepared for amphibious assaults whenever necessary.
In June 1969 the first Seabee Team to be employed in the Trust
Territory of the Pacific Islands landed at Moen Island in the
Truk District. While the concept of civic action was not new to
the Seabees, the Micronesian environment was totally different
from that of Thailand and Vietnam, where the thirteen-man Seabee
teams had proven so successful. The Trust Territory was a United
Nations strategic trust administered by the United States under
a 1947 agreement. While the area was not war torn or threatened
as were Vietnam and Thailand, the Trust Territory was in an embryonic
stage of political and economic development.
Under an agreement between the Secretaries of the Interior
and Defense, and at the specific request of the native people
at each location, Seabee teams were provided to assist the Micronesians
in constructing facilities, roads, and utilities needed to enhance
the economic development and improve the health of the people
of the Trust Territory. While construction of such facilities
provided tangible evidence of Seabee accomplishments in Micronesia,
the major emphasis and greatest potential benefit was the valuable
training in construction skills that was made available to the
people of Micronesia. This training enabled them to accomplish
essential construction themselves.
Seabee Teams in the Trust Territory served on the islands
of Ponape, Truk, Palau, Kusaie, and Yap. The teams built roads,
dispensaries, water tanks, bridges, and public buildings. The
response of the Micronesian people to the civic action program
was highly favorable in all districts. The tangible benefits were
readily apparent in the improved roads, utilities and new facilities.
In the summer of 1972 a Seabee Team, with assistance from
an amphibious construction battalion, assembled an Ammi pontoon
hospital barge on Lake Titicaca high in the central plateau of
Bolivia. The project was sponsored by the Bolivian Navy with assistance
from the United States government. The barge was a 90 by 28-foot
Ammi pontoon with a prefabricated Lewis building superstructure
that served as a dispensary. It was powered by two diesel outboard
motors and contained all the basic medical and dental facilities
of a small hospital.
In the mid-1960s increased interest in exploiting the ocean
for defense purposes spotlighted a need to establish an underwater
construction capability within the Navy. A team of Seabee divers
was formed during 1968 to launch, implant, and recover the Tektite
I habitat in the Caribbean. The success of this operation led
to additional Seabee underwater construction assignments. It also
led to the establishment of two Seabee underwater construction
teams: Underwater Construction Team One under the cognizance of
the Twenty- first Naval Construction Regiment at Davisville, Rhode
Island; and Underwater Construction Team Two under the cognizance
of the Thirty-first Naval Construction Regiment at Port Hueneme,
California. After their formation, both teams performed successfully
in numerous operations, including the installation, maintenance,
and repair of submarine cables and pipelines; the implanting and
recovery of moorings and acoustic and magnetic systems; underwater
surveys; and harbor and dry dock inspections. The teams demonstrated
a capability to perform, and they added dimension to Naval Construction
Force capabilities, previously generally restricted to efforts
In 1970 the Chief of Naval Operations, in his concern for
improving the quality of life ashore for Navy personnel and their
families, established a new program for improving shore establishment
habitability. He committed the Seabees to lead and direct his
Self-Help and Shore Establishment Habitability Improvement Programs.
Under this program active and reserve fleet Seabees and construction
battalion units participated in improvements to personnel support
facilities. The construction battalion units consisted of approximately
forty or fifty men and were established to provide more effective
and worthwhile duty for Seabees while stationed ashore. In addition
to training on construction projects and continuing the Seabees'
combat and disaster recovery readiness, the units guided and supervised
the efforts of other Navy ratings in improving the sailor's living
conditions ashore under the self-help concept.
Examples of the projects to improve living conditions ashore
range from very simple bus shelters to large hobby shop complexes.
Other typical examples included improvements to living facilities,
temporary lodgings, parking garages, on-base parking, mobile home
parks, and locker and recreation clubs. In 1981 sixteen construction
battalion units were actively engaged in executing such projects
in the United States.
In addition to performing their regular construction functions,
Seabees participated in humanitarian and disaster recovery assignments
in the wake of several natural disasters and political upheavals.
One such political upheaval was the collapse of the Republic of
Vietnam in 1975. Following this event, Seabees provided support
to the Vietnamese refugee program, Operation "New Life."
OPERATION "NEW LIFE"
On 29 April 1975 the government of the Republic of Vietnam
surrendered to the North Vietnamese as North Vietnamese regulars
and Viet Cong closed in on Saigon. Before the surrender, President
Gerald Ford ordered a mass evacuation of Americans and Vietnamese
from the capital. For the latter who were political refugees,
it meant the beginning of a long journey to a "new life"
in the United States. In addition to the evacuation by air, many
thousands of Vietnamese chose to flee the country in ships, and
even small boats. The first stop for many on this journey was
Grande Island, located at the entrance of Subic Bay, Republic
of the Philippines. Here, Seabees, assisted by Marines and civilian
employees from the Navy Public Works Center built a tent camp
for the refugees. From Grande these refugees moved to the larger
camps which had been built on Guam in the Marianas.
On 23 April 1975 the 30th Naval Construction Regiment directed
all Seabees on Guam to halt their normal construction projects
and mount an around-the-clock effort to prepare facilities to
house the approximately 50,000 refugees who were even then fleeing
South Vietnam. Seabees first rehabilitated the abandoned Naval
Hospital Annex at Asan Point. The Seabees worked around the clock
and by Friday, 25 April, the camp received the first arriving
refugees and quickly filled to its 10,000-person capacity. On
24 April Seabees began construction of a huge, 50,000 person tent
camp at Orote Point. This was a monumental undertaking as it involved
clearing the jungle from more than 50 acres of land. Once again,
the Seabees worked 24-hours a day and the camp received its first
refugees on 26 April. Not only did construction ratings work,
but the battalions also pressed their support personnel into action.
Supply clerks, mess cooks, and yeoman all pitched in and worked
around the clock to get the job done. Construction continued and
in about a week, Seabees erected 2,000 tents with no end in sight.
Support utilities were also provided: messing facilities and kitchens,
thousands of feet of water mains to supply showers and washing
facilities, as well as the necessary sanitary facilities.
As refugees were processed and flown to the U.S., the camp
population gradually dropped. Then, the first ships carrying refugees
arrived and the camp population swelled once again. A peak camp
population of 50,233 was reached on 14 May, after that the pace
gradually slackened as the flow of refugees to the states outran
the influx of new refugees. By 26 June the camp population had
dropped to 10,138 and Operation "New Life" began to
In January 1975 a Seabee salvage team was sent to Managua,
Nicaragua, following a major earthquake which heavily damaged
that city. After completing its primary mission of salvage at
the U.S. Embassy, the team then salvaged badly-needed hospital
equipment for the El Ritiro Hospital in Managua.
In December 1975 Seabees of Construction Battalion Unit 417
engaged in flood control operations at Mt. Vernon, Washington,
when the Skagit River overflowed and threatened the town. In February
1976 Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40 sent a detachment
to Guatemala City to provide disaster relief following an earthquake
which caused extensive damage to that city. In May 1977 Naval
Mobile Construction Battalion 3 performed recovery and reconstruction
work of all types on Guam in the wake of Typhoon "Pamela."
In February 1980 Seabees from the 31st Naval Construction Regiment
at the Naval Construction Battalion Center, Port Hueneme, California,
battled a devastating flood at the nearby Pacific Missile Test
Center, Point Mugu. Finally, Seabees went to the islands of Jamaica
and Dominica in 1980 to help repair the extensive damage caused
by Hurricane "David" in December 1979.
SEABEES KILLED IN ACTION IN WAR AND PEACE
Since the outbreak of World War II, 22 Civil Engineer
Corps officers and 353 Seabees have been killed in action during
wartime. During the last few decades, however, a new peacetime
threat has emerged. Various disaffected groups in the world have
increasingly made use of terrorism as a weapon. Three Civil Engineer
Corps officers and one Seabee are numbered among their victims.
At mid-morning on 3 February 1974 on the northeastern edge
of the U.S. Naval Base at Subic Bay in the Philippines, Captain
Thomas J. Mitchell, CEC, USN, Commander of the 30th Naval Construction
Regiment, Commander Leland R. Dobler, CEC, USN, Commanding Officer
of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, and Lieutenant Charles
H. Jeffries, CEC, USN, Officer in Charge of Detachment WALLABY
of that battalion, were riding in a jeep on an inspection tour
of a section of perimeter road which was being worked on by Lieutenant
Jeffries's detachment. The three officers were driving in an isolated
area approximately seven miles from base headquarters in deep
jungle along the boundary between the base and Bataan Province
when unidentified terrorists ambushed them, cutting the three
men down in a hail of fire. Seabees from Detachment WALLABY, who
were working about half a mile away, heard the shooting, rushed
to the ambush scene, and notified base headquarters. Medical personnel
were immediately flown to the scene, but the three men were dead
when they arrived. U.S. Marines and Philippine Constables immediately
moved into area to locate the attackers, but they were unsuccessful
and the attackers were never positively identified. To this day,
the three officers remain the victims of anonymous terrorists.
The latest incident of a Seabee falling victim to terrorist
activity took place on 15 June 1985. Following completion of a
routine repair project at a base in Greece, Steelworker 2nd Class
Robert D. Stethem, USN, and four other members of Underwater Construction
Team 2 were returning to the United States aboard TWA Flight 847
when Shiite Muslim terrorists hijacked the flight and diverted
it to Beirut, Lebanon. The terrorists singled out Stethem and
another Seabee for physical abuse. While the aircraft sat at the
Beirut airport, the terrorists beat Stethem over a prolonged period,
and finally killed him with a bullet to the head. After lengthy
negotiations, the remaining passengers were finally freed. The
four terrorists made good their escape into Beirut, but one was
later apprehended in Germany and convicted of air piracy and murder.
THE SEABEE ORGANIZATION IN THE 1970'S AND 1980'S
Following the Vietnam War, the pressure to reduce the size
of the Armed Forces made it necessary for the Seabees to rely
more on the reserve force to offset the reductions in the active
force. During the 1970s reserve Seabees experienced a closer association
with their active counterparts than in the past.
Efforts were made to elevate the readiness posture of the
reserve Seabee force through a variety of programs. One such program
involved the establishment of Permanent Drill Sites for the reserve
battalions at military installations within their respective geographical
areas. Readiness Support Allowances were positioned At these sites.
These allowances consisted of essentially a ten percent cross-section
of the Advanced Base Functional Component for a Seabee battalion.
This allowed the reserve battalions to develop year-round training
To effectively care for and utilize this readiness allowance,
active-duty support personnel were assigned to each reserve battalion.
Because of such measures, the mobilization readiness level of
the Reserve Naval Construction Force substantially improved by
In late 1973, as part of the Navy's effort to realign the
naval shore establishment, the mission of the Naval Construction
Battalion Center, Davisville, Rhode Island, was revised. The center
was reduced to providing storage and preservation facilities for
advance base and mobilization stocks, and mobilization facilities
to support the Naval Construction Force.
At the peak of the Vietnam War, the Davisville Center had
supported six full- strength battalions. However, by 1973, the
center was home port for only three battalions of peacetime strength
and one underwater construction team. In addition, the 21st Naval
Construction Regiment was located there. On 30 June 1974, Naval
Mobile Construction Battalion 71 was transferred to the Naval
Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, Mississippi; Naval Mobile
Construction Battalion 40 was transferred to the Naval Construction
Battalion Center, Port Hueneme, California; and Underwater Construction
Team 1 was transferred to the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek,
Virginia. Later in the year, on 27 November 1973, Naval Mobile
Construction Battalion 1 was also transferred to the Gulfport
Center. The last unit of the Naval Construction Force at Davisville,
the 21st Naval Construction Regiment, was disestablished on 15
At the beginning of 1975 there were three regiments, ten mobile
construction battalions, two amphibious construction battalions,
two underwater construction teams, and one construction battalion
maintenance unit on active duty.
The 31st Naval Construction Regiment at Port Hueneme, California,
was responsible for the operational control of the battalions
that made Port Hueneme their home port. These battalions were
Naval Mobile Construction Battalions 3, 4, 5, 10, and 40. The
regiment was also responsible for Underwater Construction Team
The 20th Naval Construction Regiment at Gulfport, Mississippi,
was responsible for the operational control of the battalions
that made their home port in Gulfport. These battalions were Naval
Mobile Construction Battalions 1, 62, 71, 74, and 133.
Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 and Underwater Construction
Team 1 were located at the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek,
Virginia; and Amphibious Construction Battalion 1 had its home
port at the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, California.
Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 302 was permanently
assigned to the Public Works Department of the Naval Base at Subic
Bay, the Philippine.
Finally, the 30th Naval Construction Regiment had its headquarters
on Guam in the Mariana Islands. This regiment was responsible
for the operations of construction battalions while they were
employed in the Western Pacific Ocean area, and the Seabee Teams
employed in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
Before the end of 1975 a change in the planned peacetime strength
of the Seabees led to a further reduction in the number of construction
battalions. On 30 June 1975 Naval Mobile Construction Battalion
71 was disestablished. The following year saw the demise of yet
another battalion when Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 10
was disestablished on 30 June 1976. The number of Naval Mobile
Construction Battalions remained at eight during the remainder
of the 1970s.
SECURITY ACTIVITY IN THE 1980'S AND 1990'S
Because the United States was faced with continuing threats
to its national security during the 1970s and early 1980s, the
nation had to make the most efficient use of its defense resources.
In this context, the Seabees faced imposing challenges.
In the early 1980s political upheavals in the Caribbean and
Central America resulted in U.S. military action which included
participation by the Seabees. Detachments from Amphibious Construction
Battalion 1 and 2 participated in Operation "Urgent Fury,"
the U.S. invasion of Grenada. Later, a handpicked detail of 100
Seabees from NMCB 74 sailed from CBC Gulfport for Central America
and participated in the joint-services exercise, Operation "Big
During 1981 Seabees based at the Naval Construction Center,
Port Hueneme, performed a construction task of some interest when
they built military and Secret Service support facilities at then
President Ronald Reagan's ranch near Santa Barbara, California.
During a subsequent "thank you" barbecue for the men
involved, President Reagan was made an honorary Seabee.
On 11 November 1983, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1,
then deployed at Rota, Spain, was alerted of a potential tasking
in support of the U.S. Marines who were part of the Multinational
Peacekeeping Force in Beirut, Lebanon. The tasking consisted of
improving the living conditions of the Marines located at the
Beirut International Airport. On 14 November NMCB 1 sent a survey
team to Beirut; and on 24 November, Thanksgiving Day, Detail Bravo
Lima, consisting of 1 CEC officer and 38 Seabees departed the
battalion main body for Beirut. In January 1984 the tasking was
expanded; and on 5 January a second increment, consisting of an
additional CEC officer and 39 Seabees departed for Beirut. The
battalion also shipped 61 pieces of equipment to Beirut in support
of Detail Bravo Lima. The tasking was completed and the first
increment returned on 17 February 1984; the second increment and
the 61 pieces of equipment returned on 1 March 1984. This was
the first involvement of Seabees under combat conditions since
the Vietnam conflict.
On 15 August 1984 the 30th Naval Construction Regiment was
disestablished on Guam. From this date, the Commander, Construction
Battalions, Pacific Fleet, at Pearl Harbor, assumed responsibility
for operational control of Naval Construction Force units in the
Western Pacific Ocean Area.
On 1 July 1985, as part of the military expansion during the
first term of the Reagan presidency, a new active-duty Seabee
battalion, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7, was established
at the Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, Mississippi.
There were now a total of nine active-duty mobile construction
During the 1980s the Seabees provided support for the Fleet
Hospital program. These Fleet Hospitals were rapidly deployable
systems of expandable shelters, pre- positioned worldwide, and
assembled/erected by Seabees. Of the 23 hospitals required, 8
would be built and supported by active-duty Seabees, 8 by Reserve
Seabees, and the remainder programmed for future years. The Reserve
Naval Construction Force participated in a field test of a partial
hospital in Operation "Golden Shield" during 1986. Active-duty
Seabees supported a follow-on test and evaluation of a complete
200-bed hospital in April and May 1987.
Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 became the first Seabee
unit ever awarded the Joint Meritorious Unit Service Award. Secretary
of Defense Caspar Weinberger signed the award on 2 October 1986.
The award recognized ACB 2's unsurpassed operational tempo, including
support of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon, and
Operation "Urgent Fury" in Grenada, Teamwork 84 in Northern
Europe, Ocean Venture 84 in the Caribbean, and Joint Logistics
Over the Shore Test II. Over 100 members of Amphibious Construction
Battalion 1 were also eligible for the award, since they were
assigned to Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 on temporary duty
during Joint Logistics Over the Shore Test II.
During 1987 and 1988 Seabees participated in the West African
Training Cruise. Civic action detachments were embarked on the
USS SUMPTER which made port calls in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Accra,
Ghana; and Lome, Togo. These detachments received high praise
from all concerned for their numerous civic action projects. In
1989 civic action detachments were embarked on the USS HARLAN
COUNTY which made port calls in Guinea, Sierra Leon, Liberia,
and Gabon. The same high praise was received.
As part of a reduction in forces, Naval Mobile Construction
Battalion 62 was disestablished at the Naval Construction Battalion
Center, Gulfport, Mississippi, on 31 July 1989.
On 22 September 1989 Hurricane "Hugo" struck the
Charleston, South Carolina, area, killing 26 people and causing
$5.9 billion of damage. Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction
Battalion 5 and 133, home-ported at the Naval Construction Battalion
Center, Gulfport, Mississippi; and Construction Battalion Unit
412 at Charleston immediately moved to provide disaster relief
to both the military and civilian communities.
At 5:00 pm on 17 October 1989 an earthquake of 7.1 magnitude
shook the San Francisco Bay Area. Both civilian communities and
Navy facilities in the area suffered heavy damage. Seabees from
Construction Battalion Unit 416 at the Naval Air Station, Alameda;
and Construction Battalion Unit 421 from Mare Island began providing
immediate disaster relief. The following day Naval Mobile Construction
Battalion 3's Air Detachment arrived on the scene, and convoys
of men and equipment from Construction Battalion Unit 406 at the
Naval Air Station, Lemoore; and Amphibious Construction Battalion
1 in San Diego, set out to bring relief to the bay area. Disaster
relief was provided to both damaged naval and civilian facilities
in the area. The latter effort included helping to outfit Federal
Emergency Management Administration offices and bringing warehouses
in San Francisco up to habitable standards for those left homeless
by the earthquake.
A Seabee Mobile Training Team (MTT) was deployed to Madagascar
during 1989. The team consisted of a chief petty officer and 6
enlisted personnel. An MTT's primary function is to provide training
for U.S. or local military or civilian personnel on specific equipment
or trades. This team provided training for the Malagasy Army on
the repair/maintenance/operation of $3.5 million worth of heavy
In 1990 the Seabees participated in two SOUTH PAC cruises.
Both Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7 and Underwater Construction
Team 2 embarked civic action detachments on the USS SCHENECTADY
and USS FLORIKAN. Port calls were made in the Marshall, Gilbert,
Solomon, and Cook islands, and at Papua, New Guinea; Tuvalu, and
Tonga. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 participated in the
West African Training Cruise (WATC). The battalion embarked civic
action detachments on the USS BARNSTABLE COUNTY which made port
calls at Cape Verde, Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. High
praise was received from all recipients.
When Hurricane "Ofa" struck American Samoa in February
1990, Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40 and
133 were quickly on the job providing disaster relief and clean-up
on the island of Tutuila.
Devastating floods struck central Tunisia in late January
1990, displacing families and destroying railroad lines and bridges.
As part of Exercise "Atlas Rail," Naval Mobile Construction
Battalion 3's Air Detachment worked jointly with Tunisian army
engineers to repair flood-damaged rail lines. Later, this battalion's
Sigonella detail performed civic action work in Morocco as part
of Exercise "African Hammer."