The Navy Department Library
Seabee History: After Vietnam
When 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 was disestablished.
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 airstrip.
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 established.
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 unit.
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 on land.
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 wind down.
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 programs.
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 the mid-1970s.
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 January 1975.
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 2.
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 Pine II."
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 battalions.
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 construction equipment.
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."