Operation Iraqi Freedom at Twenty

By CAPT Bill Rudich, CEC, USN (Ret.), Commander of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment (NCR) which was designated as Task Force Mike. Task Force Mike was the lead element and main effort for the Seabees in OIF-I.

2023 is the twentieth anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as the continuation of Seabee efforts in Afghanistan.  Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) officially began on March 20, 2003.  The Seabees arrived in Kuwait as early as September 2002 and completed major construction projects to bed down Marine forces and were ready to go when the execute order came. 

Seabees were organized into three regimental sized task forces tailored to specific capabilities, Task Forces Mobility (Mike), Construction (Charlie) and Enduring (Echo).  They were under the Marine Engineer Group (MEG) which reported to the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF).  MEG forces which augmented the Marines’ organic engineers, totaled approximately 5000 troops and were primarily Seabees but did include Army engineers.  The MEG command concept was conceived in the mid-1990s to organize and provide command and control of I MEF’s augment engineer forces for potential Korean contingencies.  The concept was updated, and a composite staff deployed to Kuwait in late 2002. 

Task Force Mike was the lead element and consisted of the 30th NCR(-) and elements from NMCBs 4 and 74 and Underwater Construction Team 2. It was designated the main effort in support of 1st Marine Division’s (1 MARDIV) mobility.  The primary obstacles to 1 MARDIV’s mobility were crossing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the Saddam canal among other obstacles. There were seven wet gap bridges on Route 7 between Al Nasiriyah and Al Kut that had no viable bypass and, should they be destroyed, I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) would expend all their float bridging just to reach Al Kut. Those emplaced bridges would have to be recovered and reused to cross the Tigris to move onto Baghdad.  Task Force Mike was organized primarily to construct and emplace Mabey-Johnson sustainment bridges (MJB) to replace the Marine Corps assault bridging.

Task Force Charlie which consisted of the 22nd NCR(-) and elements from NMCBs 7 and 133 was assigned to construct I MEF enemy prisoner of war (EPW) holding areas, line haul support for MEG units, repair and maintenance of main supply routes (MSR) and equipment decontamination in the event of a chemical attack. 

Task Force Echo was organized around the 265th Army Engineer Group with elements from NMCBs 5, 15, 15 and 25, NCFSU 2 along with the Army’s 1092nd Engineer Battalion (C) (W) and 478th Engineer Battalion (C) (M).  It was tasked to push logistical support to all MEG units, plan for and conduct post hostilities civil military operations as well as receiving and integrating follow-on MEG forces as they arrived in theater. 

OIF marked a major change in how the Seabees built, lived and sustained themselves.  In past operations, Seabees normally based in a rear area and moved forward to perform construction.  With the need for smaller forces able to respond quickly to emergent requirements, the Seabee role was critical to support maneuver during the attack requiring them to operate forward.  For the first time in their history the Seabees were a maneuver element with Task Forces Mike and Charlie following closely in echelon behind the 1st Marine Division.  This meant building on the move as opposed to traveling to projects from a base camp. No camps were established meaning no showers, galley or berthing tents.  Everyone lived in two-person tents with only what they had in their packs. And it also meant that Seabees would defend themselves, unable to rely on or tie into other friendly units while on the move.

OIF also saw the creation of Seabee Engineer Reconnaissance Teams (SERT) from within each battalion.  The squad sized units were emplaced with Marine and Army units.  They operated ahead of the MEG forces to evaluate critical facilities such as roads, bridges and airfields to pass information to the staffs to determine where to focus the engineer effort and to tailor engineer unit capabilities to the specific mission. 

Task Force Mike crossed into Iraq late on 20 March 2003 carrying two 60-meter Mabey-Johnson bridges.  After weathering the Mother of All Sandstorms (MOASS) on 22-23 March, their first task was to emplace an MJB on MSR Maui. MSR Maui was a partially completed expressway that was transferred to I MEF in a last minute boundary shift with the Army. In addition to the bridge, Task Force Mike was also challenged with keeping the expressway trafficable. Due to heavy use, it quickly turned into powdery dust and maintaining it ultimately became an enduring effort for both Task Force Mike and Charlie.  Continuing behind 1 MARDIV, during the push to Baghdad TF Mike emplaced three additional bridges to facilitate the MEF’s push to Baghdad. 

All the key bridges of concern remained intact as did those over the Tigris which negated the need for the Marines to reuse their tactical bridging.  However, the Marines encountered another problem that required Seabee support.  They outran their supply lines during the final push into Baghdad. The solution was to fly ammunition and rations from Kuwait to Salman Pak airfield.  What became one of the more memorable tasks for Task Force Mike was to move these critical supplies from the airfield to the forward resupply points. The Seabees downloaded bridges, supplies and equipment from their trucks to provide the need line haul assist. 

TF Charlie crossed into Iraq with materials to construct the EPW holding areas.  They built a 300 x 1000 meter holding area with the capacity for 14,400 EPWs.  Although it was completed in near record time it went unused as most EPWs were captured further north away from the site.  Their efforts then focused on keeping MSRs, especially MSR Maui open along with line haul support.  They ran convoys to haul critical earth-moving, construction, weight and material handling equipment, construction materials, food and water deep into Iraq from the Seabee Camp (Camp 93) in Kuwait a distance that eventually stretched to 400+ miles.  This included the additional bridges needed by Task Force Mike to sustain their mobility mission.  Their effort involved 45 separate convoys that moved over 500 tons of materials and supplies. 

TF Echo’s role expanded to maintaining an alternate supply route (ASR) from Kuwait that was key to supporting TF Tarawa’s (2nd Marine Brigade) assault towards Jalibah and An Nasiriyah. As the operation progressed, their mission further evolved to provide rear area construction and security.  While hostilities continued toward Baghdad, TF Echo personnel assessed the damage to Umm Qasr port and completed projects to reopen the port and allow ships carrying needed supplies including humanitarian assistance to dock and unload. Their efforts expanded beyond the port to restore electrical power and water purification/distribution systems in the city. 

When hostilities ended, the Seabees had advanced over 400 miles from Kuwait to Baghdad in 22 days.  The focus changed to civil military projects to improve conditions for the general populace.  MEG personnel worked with Civil Affairs Teams and local officials to assess schools, electricity, water, sanitation, roads, medical facilities and other public buildings.  Projects were identified and prioritized for funding and execution by both the Seabees and contractors which enabled members of the local populace to go to work and restore their country.  In addition to infrastructure the Seabees constructed playgrounds, worked at orphanages and built items such as school desks, chairs and chalk boards to replace items looted from schools. 

Some significant projects included emplacing twin Mabey-Johnson bridges over the Diyalah River to replace a damaged span.  This permitted two-way traffic into Baghdad from the outlying neighborhoods.  Another Mabey-Johnson bridge was installed by TF Charlie to span damaged sections of bridge over the Sarabadi River near Hillah.  TF Charlie also worked with the Army, Marines and UCT 2 to complete a 200-meter Mabey-Johnson Pontoon Bridge over the Tigris River at Az Zubaydiyah, a feat that Mabey-Johnson tech reps said had not been done before.  Task Force Charlie also undertook major repairs to the airfield at Al Kut.  Thirty large bomb craters were repaired on two runways and the taxiway requiring over 1000 cubic yards of concrete.  When finished the project was certified for use by C-141 aircraft as the airfield became the primary landing strip for I MEF fixed wing aircraft.   

The MEG also supported the MEF with quality-of-life projects for the Marines remaining in Iraq.  They constructed the traditional facilities that included field showers, burn out heads, shaving tables and other similar items to improve habitability. 

The MEG’s accomplishments in the opening drive of Operation Iraqi Freedom wrote new chapters in the Seabees’ legacy and further cemented their relationship with the Marines which continued throughout subsequent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Vietnam Builders: A Joint Venture

The Officer in Charge of Construction (OICC) are officers of the Civil Engineer Corps designated as the direct representative initially for the Bureau of Yards and Docks (BuDocks), now Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), in the administration of specific Navy contracts. OICC authority includes supervision and general direction of contract work, including the preparation of drawings and specifications. In many cases they are also the base Public Works Office.

Cold War Build-up in Southeast Asia

In 1955, the Secretary of Defense geographically assigned responsibility for all defense design and construction to BuDocks in specific areas of the Pacific including Southeast Asia. In December, the Officer in Charge of Construction (OICC) Thailand was established to administer $18M work of contracts for airfields, bases, and other military assistance in Thailand. The OICC Thailand also managed Military Assistance Programs in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia for the State Department. The office was a new blend of civilian and military construction talent.

In May 1958, as the operations of OICC Thailand significantly expanded into Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, it was decided to change the name to OICC Southeast Asia (OICC SEA) to more accurately reflect the range of responsibilities.

OICC Republic of Vietnam Stands Up

In April 1961, after the Republic of Vietnam requested upgrades to their airports and infrastructure, OICC Southeast Asia (OICC SEA) opened an office in Saigon to administer the construction contracts in Vietnam that had grown exponentially over the prior several years. On 8 December 1961, BuDocks held a selection board to choose a construction contractor capable of handling a large military assistance program in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). The joint venture of Raymond International and Morrison-Knudsen (RMK) was selected. This was the first time a civilian contractor had supported combat troops in a war zone. The initial contract was for $15.4 million.

In January 1962, the position was upgraded to Deputy OICC SEA to oversee all architecture and engineering. With the creation of OICC Republic of Vietnam (OICC RVN) on 1 July 1965, the OICC SEA name was changed back to OICC Thailand. In August, with the magnitude of the program growing daily, RMK took two additional partners – Brown and Root and J.A. Jones – to create RMK-BRJ.

With increased “Vietnamization” of the war effort, OICC RVN helped to build up the Vietnamese construction industry from 1969 through 1972 by awarding fixed-price contracts to Vietnamese construction contractors. RMK-BRJ had trained over 200,000 Vietnamese employees over the 10-year life of its contract in construction and administrative trades and many of these workers became the backbone of the Vietnamese construction industry.

The OICC RVN staff included more than 100 CEC officers at a time serving at 47 sites on 782 separate projects. By the time the contract closed in 1972, RMK-BRJ had been awarded over $1.9 billion. The contract officially closed on 3 July 1972 with a simple closeout ceremony held at Saigon Island depot. RMK-BRJ operated at more than 100 sites over throughout the Republic of Vietnam during the 10-year contract.

The US Navy and RMK-BRJ joint venture partners turned over all sites and equipment to the Vietnamese Engineering and Construction Company (VECCO) under an USAID program to stimulate the Vietnamese construction industry.

The completion of the RMK-BRJ construction program in Vietnam marked one of the most unusual achievements in the field of engineering and construction to that time. A few statistics to highlight the magnitude of the project into perspective:

  • 91 million cubic yards of earth moved
  • 48 million tons of rock products produced
  • 10.8 million tons of asphalt placed on 780 miles of highways, 110 miles of city streets and airfields
  • 3.7 million cubic yards of concrete placed
  • 11.5 million concrete blocks produced and used
  • 33 million square feet of buildings constructed
  • 97 million cubic yards of material dredged
  • Average fuel per month – 475,633 gallons of gasoline and 2.3 million gallons of diesel

To the Seabees

By Captain John Estabrook, USMC

Written shortly after the Battle of Iwo Jima, 1945

Up from the beach the long road winds,

Over the distant hill-

Born of the sweat and toil of men,

Born of a dauntless will.

Swept by the rains of tropic skies;

Scorched by the burning sun;

Bearing its burden the long road lies

‘Til the work of war be done.


So we’ll sing the song

Of the brave and strong –

Of Hunkies and Swedes and Micks –

Of hammers and nails

And girders and rails,

Of shovels and blades and picks.

We’ll sing a song

Of the brave and strong –

Battalions, proud and great –

That paved the way

To the Glory Day

And dared the hand of fate.


Up from the beach the long road bears

The panoply of war –

Up from the beach where dust clouds hide

The shattered palms and shore.

The fighting men may live and fight

The road must wind away

And builders build where the long road ends

And death has had its day.


Here’s to the men who builded well –

Sweated and bled and died –

Who fought the jungle, swamp and Hell,

Their fighting men beside.

Here’s to the docks and camps and dumps;

Here’s to the roaring strips;

Here’s to the men who turn to war

The treasure trove of ships.

Down the beach some day will wind

The road that led to war

And men will turn the long way back

As men have turned before

And ships that wait will sail away

And eyes will brim with tears

For roads of war lead back again

From out the bitter years.


So we’ll sing the song

Of the brave and strong –

Of Hunkies and Swedes and Micks –

Of hammers and nails

And girders and rails,

Of shovels and blades and picks.

We’ll sing a song

Of the brave and strong –

Battalions, proud and great –

That paved the way

To the Glory Day

And dared the hand of fate.

#LestWeForget – Iwo Jima

On D-Day, February 19, 1945, the 31st, 62nd, and 133rd Naval Construction Battalions received orders to send Company B ashore to unload and resupply entrenched Marines on the beach. Through a series of miscommunications from the beachmaster to the ship’s radio receiver, the 133rd NCB was ordered to send the entire unit ashore and was the only Seabee unit to land in its entirety on D-Day. Forty-two Seabees with the 133 NCB were killed in action during the battle and 156 were wounded. This is the largest number of casualties suffered by a Seabee unit during a single battle in the entire history of the Naval Construction Force.

Steadfastly spending the first few days of the Iwo Jima invasion on the beaches under heavy fire, the Seabees were often in as precarious a position as the Marines in the first few hundred yards inland. The Seabees first job was to remain where they landed, take what the enemy’s fire dished out, and unload and move ammunition and supplies to the front.

In an effort to clear the beach of supplies and assist the Marines, the Seabees quickly developed a plan of action. Demolition crews blasted beach obstructions to clear unloading point. Bulldozers cleared debris and smoothed access to roads. A vehicle maintenance group kept trucks, jeeps, and tractors running. Another detail established ammo, food, water, and fuel dumps. Corpsmen worked with evacuation station personnel. Surveyors and draftsmen were assigned to Intelligence work, keeping maps and reports up to minute. Some men were assigned to security duty went up on the line and fought beside the Marines until their specialties were required on the beach.

Read more about the Seabees on Iwo Jima at:

We pause reverently, with remembering hearts, to pay honor to those Seabees who fought the good fight side by side with their mates. Words are indeed empty things with which to attempt to fill their vacant places. They secured a niche in the hearts of those who knew and lived beside them. And they are not forgotten by their loved ones whom they left behind. In Requiem and Mass and Memorials services, in laboriously prepared headstones and stone arches, in pictures and letters, we have a devotion to their memory.

The men who fought and died on Iwo Jima possessed a deep sense of their devotion to duty, a sympathetic understand of the difficulties which we all face, and an abiding resolve to be worthy of the best that was in the influence of each of them. It is with full hearts that we dedicate this to those who laid down their lives for their friends and for their country.

CM1c Edward Anderson
S2c John Anthony
CA3c John Baertschi
BM1c Edward Barenkamp
S1c William Beales
CM2c Joseph Benson
PHM3c Lawrence Betz
S2c Richard Black
ChCarp Edwin Blythe
MMS3c Norman Bondurant
MM2c John Brady
Ens William Brown
Seabee Clifford Bruce
SF3c John Butts
SF3c Ralph Carey
S2c Lincoln Clement
CM3c Walter Coleman
S1c Ace Cox
CM3c Francis Craig
MM2c Paul Davidich
MM2c Neldon Day
EM1c J.D. DeMoney
MM2c Grover Dodson
COX Edmund Duehring
SC1c Norman Dupuis
SF3c William Erickson
MM1c Elze Evans
CM2c Glenn Floe
EM1c Hans Gatterer
S1c Robert Geer
MMS1c Thomas Gilbert
EM1c Edgar Gillham
CM3c Billy Grim
MMS1c Thomas Grove
S1c John Grudzina
S1c Arthur Hafflilng
SF3c Marvin Haynes
CM3c Thomas Herman
S2c Arthur Herron
SF3c Francisco Jaramillo
PTR3c Fred Kettering
CSFA David Klausner
CM3c Oscar Leaser
SC2c Ralph MacDonald
PTR3c Robert Martin
MM3c Thodore Martin
MM3c Blair McCann
ChCarp Thomas McKinney
S2c Orie Millard
S1c George Mitchell
CM2c Herbrt Moxey
S1c Leon Newsome
CM1c Harry Noll
MM2c Henry Olson
S2c RobertOlson
MoMM2c Jseph Peck
CM1c Robert Pirie
S1c Philander Pittser
EM2c Clyde Reaves
Lt Francis Robinson
F1c Malcolm Rose
S1c Marvin Rosin
S1c Leonard Sale
MM3c Larry Schueler
MM3c Joseph Sells
SF1c Jess Simpson
CM2c Houston Smith
CM3c Earl Smull
SF3c Casper Tomasetti
CM3c Clair Van Eps
CCSP Unus Webb

The Seabee Construction of the Ahmad Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait, Nov 2002 – Jan 2003

By CAPT Clifford Maurer, CEC, USN (ret), Commanding Officer of NMCB 74 from June 2002 – July 2004

In the history of warfare, even with all the technology advancements, armed conflicts are ultimately settled on the ground.  That said, in the era of modern warfare, the decided advantage to win the ground war resides with the combatant that controls the air space.  A year into the wake of the 911 attacks, with Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in the kinetic phase in Afghanistan, an American armed response in Iraq appeared all but inevitable.  As U.S. Forces staged for an attack, primarily from neighboring Kuwait, there was a shortage of airfield apron space to ‘bed-down’ close-in air support aircraft.  The Marines’ THIRD Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW), part of First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), had 64 F/A-18’s with ‘no room at the inn.’  Their solution, turn to the FIRST Naval Construction Division (1 NCD) Seabees to build them a base of operations capability at Ahmad Al Jaber Air Base.  The 30th Naval Construction Regiment (30th NCR) was the operational Regiment tasked with execution of the project.  The 30th NCR, in turn, sent a warning order to the Fearless Battalion, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion SEVENTY-FOUR, NMCB 74; who at the time was preparing to deploy to Guam as the United States Pacific Command, PACOM, Ready Battalion.

The scheduled NMCB 74 October 2002 deployment from their homeport in Gulfport, MS to Guam included over-the-horizon details in: Camp Moscrip, Puerto Rico; San Diego; NAS Lemoore, CA; Hawaii; Bahrain; Palau (Civic Action Team (CAT)). The battalion deployed per plan in October, but by early November, Dets San Diego, Lemoore and Hawaii had been recalled to the mainbody in Guam and the AirDet was dispatched to Kuwait as the newly formed Southwest Asia (SWA) Det.  Prior to Thanksgiving, the command flag shifted to Ahmad Al Jaber Airbase, Kuwait, with a future operations planning cell co-located with the 30th NCR at Ali Al Salem Airbase, Kuwait.

The short planning window for this massive concrete project dictated that the concrete would be sourced through Kuwaiti ready-mix suppliers, as opposed to Seabees establishing batch plant operations.  The latter was preferable, as it would have reduced the manpower intensive security requirements of escorting and inspecting between 80 – 150 transit mixer trucks and drivers per day. Unfortunately, as military combat equipment from all Services competed for every means of military and commercial lift available, the timing to move the large footprint and volume demanding mineral operations equipment into Kuwait would not support the project’s mission tasking requirement for initial operational capability of late January 2003.  Concrete construction is the norm in Kuwait, but this project put a huge strain on their supply chain, causing local development projects to be waylaid for several months.

During peace-time deployments a scheduled concrete pour was always an exciting time.  It represented the execution of a core Seabee skill that wasn’t exercised near as often as all would have liked.  The week prior, forms and rebar placements were checked and rechecked, the quantity of concrete ordered was calculated and then the numbers crunched again.  If it was a multiple transit-mixer pour, especially, if it was more than 30 cubic yards, Charlie Company reinforcements were called off other projects to assist.  The day of the pour evoked jokes from the Acey-Deucey Seabees that temporary bleachers were required at the jobsite for all the ‘White Hats’ that would find their way to the project to observe the activities.  Successfully placing and finishing ‘the mud’ was always good cause for celebrating with a few cold ones at day’s end.  With that visual in mind, Fearless Seabees placed concrete across 84 consecutive days, with the smallest volume day greater than 700 cyds and the largest at 1,580 cyds.  Each day the first flight of transit mixers arrived (between 20 – 30 trucks), hydrated their mix and started spinning their drums at 5 AM.  The last of the day’s concrete was typically pumped at 3 PM.  Floating and finishing operations usually completed by 7:30 PM, but on some occasions as late as 10 PM.  Simultaneously, dozers, scrapers, graders and rollers were raising two thirds of the 21 acre site by as much as six feet with compacted fill; Steelworkers were cutting, shaping, setting, and tying the rebar and aircraft tie-down pad-eyes for the next two days’ concrete pours.  These operations went through the night.  The project was never at rest. 

A typical day for a Seabee on the concrete crew:

0500  Reveille, use the head, gear-up (Seabees on security were already at the jobsite)

0530  Board transport vehicle, proceed to job site.

0545  Break-out tools & equipment, coordinate with concrete pumpers (Kuwait nationals)

0630  Breakfast (on the job site)

0700  First concrete of the day starts pouring

               – Wrestle tremie tube; rake, shovel & vibrate concrete through the rebar;

– Operate the power screed; float the wet concrete, finish the curing concrete

– Clear the tie-downs, cut the expansion joints in yesterday’s pours

– Apply curing compound and sheets of burlap over the freshly finished concrete

– Strip forms from previous pours and set new forms for the future pours

1130  Lunch (on the job site)

               (activities: see above)

1730  Dinner (on the job site)

            (activities: see above with the exception of placing new concrete)

 – Clean tools and equipment

1900 (to as late as 2200) board transport back to berthing area. 

– Personal time (laundry, shower, study for advancement exams, professional qualifications (Seabee Combat Warfare (SCW)))

 2200  Taps

All the crews on the project worked seven days a week.  Chiefs cared for their troops intently, ensuring each Seabee was afforded a half day, during daylight hours, each week, to take care of personal affairs, including getting a haircut; study for exams and SCWs; write a letter; or make a call home, which was a risky gamble of one’s precious time off, as phone lines out of the AOR were few, with wait times exceedingly long.  All knew the mission critical importance of this project, but that didn’t mollify the challenges of physically exhausting, long, arduous days for the 135 Seabees knee-deep in concrete day-after-day.  What did make a difference were the three meals the crews ate everyday on the project site.  The U.S. Air Force was responsible for base operations at Al Jaber Airbase.  This translated to a dining facility (DFAC) with menus and cuisine options that far exceeded anything Seabees were used to receiving on deployment.  The battaion’s Mess Specialists (now reclassified as Culinary Specialists), led by MS1 (SCW) Steven Cheaney, were responsible for ‘drawing’ food from the DFAC, transporting it to the project site, and then serving it to the crews.  Just completing these tasks would have sufficed, with on-site Seabees receiving ‘three squares’ of high-quality meals.  But, MS1 (SCW) Cheaney recognized he was the one variable that could truly make a morale impact on this grueling project.  At every opportunity he scoured Kuwait for ‘logistics opportunities’ to supplemental the onsite meals.  He cut ‘special’ deals with Airmen working the DFAC; traveled to other U.S. logistics hubs throughout Kuwait, landing specialty food stores that weren’t intended for large dining facilities; and delivered culinary spreads day-after-day that were simply amazing.  To a Seabee, all attested that the onsite meals were the highlights of their days, a true force-multiplier.  With a project of this size, complexity and importance, any Seabee involved could have been nominated for special recognition; and typically, such a nomination would have been one of the Seabee ratings; all of whom excelled.  When MS1 (SCW) Cheaney was announced in June 2003 as the Navy Times 2002 Sailor of the Year there was nothing but pride and admiration from the Battalion’s ranks for his exceptional contribution to the project.  When attending the recognition ceremony in Washington, D.C., Senator John McCain, a bona fide Navy hero, was effusive in his compliments of MS1 (SCW) Cheaney, lamenting he was sorry that he couldn’t have Cheaney join the Senate’s dining room staff and complimenting him for his creativeness to work around the myriad of rules to get the mission done and take care of the Troops. 

There were many notable moments in the fast and furiousness of this colossal project, but possibly a first for the Seabees was the simultaneous presence of seven Marine Stars on a project site: LtGen James Conway, I MEF; MGen James Mattis, 1st MARDIV; MGen James Amos, 3rd MAW. Prioritizing their time to witness, in person, the Seabees’ progress affirmed the importance of this project to the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) concept of operations.  With MGen Amos’ headquarters at Al Jaber and his status as the operational commander ‘client’ for this project, he was a frequent visitor to the site.  Prior to his USMC career, as a young man, he worked concrete projects in Alaska.  Eager to show his experience and contribute to the project MGen Amos put on a pair of hip waders, gloves and goggles, and stood should-to-shoulder with the Seabees knee-deep in concrete, delivering a couple hours of good, hard work.

The project schedule had zero float.  Any day with production issues had to be made up the next day in addition to the regularly scheduled output of that day.  As the crews honed their skills and mastered the complicated orchestration of the three to five ‘flights’ of concrete deliveries per day; they amazingly were able to get ahead of their schedule; a feat that is almost unheard of for any construction project.  As Christmas 2002 approached, an extra surge was made to get a day ahead of schedule to be able to have the holiday as an off day.  They were able to accomplish this, but it meant Seabees were working on the project site until almost midnight on Christmas Eve.  It was a cold and damp night.  Then something magical occurred at 2230; snow flurries started falling from the sky; a true rarity in the desert of Kuwait.  Illuminated by the multiple light plants, the gentle falling snow was the best Christmas gift Fearless Seabees were going to receive that year.

As the project entered its final weeks of full-on production, with successful, on-time, completion all but guaranteed, the crews were able to occasionally eat their evening meal in the DFAC.  The Air Force Base Commander, seeing the condition of the Seabee crews arriving in the DFAC after their day’s work, summoned the Battalion Commanding Officer.  He offered his support to have the project tasking deadline extended so the Troops wouldn’t have to work so hard.  If he only knew, these were by comparison, the easy days.

In this effort, NMCB 74 had an important role in opening a new chapter in the long and distinguished legacy of the U.S. Navy Seabees.  The battalion reaffirmed that construction projects of a grand scale, with exceptionally aggressive completion times, were still within the Seabees’ repertoire.  The patch of sand on the east side of the south end of  Runway One at Al Jaber Airbase was transformed into a 21 acre, reinforced concrete, operationally capable, fighter/attack aircraft parking apron in less than 90 days.

By the numbers:

  • Project duration: 87 days (Nov 2002 – Jan 2003)
  • 21 Acres
  • 210,000 cyds of fill moved and compacted
  • 38,500 cyds of concrete placed and finished
  • 55,000 ft of reinforcing steel cut, positioned, tied
  • 23 miles of expansion joints cut
  • 10,430 direct mandays of construction
  • 64 parking spaces, with tiedowns, for F/A-18 Aircraft
  • MS1 (SCW) Steven Cheaney – Navy Times Sailor of the Year 2002

Clifford Maurer Bio

CAPT Clifford Maurer, CEC, USN, (Ret.) is the Director of Public Works for the City of Santa Barbara, California. He has held this position since August 2021. Over the previous seven years, he served as Director of Public Services and Engineering for the City of Coronado, California. Prior to joining the City of Coronado, he served as a Naval Officer in the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps for more than 29 years. During that career he had three operational tours with Naval Mobile Construction Battalions: THREE, FORTY and command of SEVENTY-FOUR. His Seabee deployments included participation in Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina and two combat deployments in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. He commanded Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Hawaii and Southwest and served as Naval Facilities Engineering Command Headquarters Operations Officer, Strategic Business Officer and Energy Officer, supporting a global organization of over 16,000 persons. Other Naval tours included: Public Works Officer, Naval Base San Diego; Executive Officer, Civil Engineer Corps Officers School; Director for Base Realignment and Closure Environmental Policy. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, holds a masters degree in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and completed the Advanced Management Program at the Wharton School of Business, Univ. of Pennsylvania. He is a registered Professional Engineer in the Commonwealth of Virginia and a Certified Energy Manager.

Ill-Prepared for Conflict: Reconstituting the Shore Establishment in the Wake of Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War (April-July 1898) was a brief, intense conflict that secured several new territories for the United States in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Preceded by a naval tragedy – the destruction of USS Maine at Havana, Cuba – the Spanish-American War featured two major naval battles, one in the Philippines and the other off Cuba, plus several smaller naval clashes. While brief in duration, the war highlighted the sever deficiencies at key navy yards.

On the precipice of the war, the naval shore establishment was woefully unprepared for any conflict that lay ahead. Congress and Navy leadership neglected the shore establishment for decades leaving it struggling to support the fleet. For decades, the Navy had failed to invest sufficiently in infrastructure, equipment, personnel, and basic maintenance at most yards, leaving them either incapable of supporting the fleet due to outmoded equipment or shuttered, incapable of assisting when most needed. This became a pattern for lack of US investment into military personnel, equipment and infrastructure until after a major conflict.

What is the Naval Shore Establishment?

The naval shore establishment encompasses hundreds of separate and varied facilities, ranging from early small radio-compass stations to today’s large air stations, shipyards, and bases. For most of the 19th century, the Bureau of Yards and Docks (BuDocks) managed the public works of the Navy which comprised all construction, utilities, and maintenance at each facility. Public works remain as essential to the operation of the Navy as they are to the resident of any town.

Building the Navy’s Bases

In 1842, the burgeoning Navy Department vested BuDocks with the construction and maintenance of the docks, wharves, and buildings within the navy yards. The period between the creation of BuDocks and the Civil War comprised tremendous growth as the Navy augmented bases and modernized key yards with gas works, railroads, and steam driven tools.

Despite losing two major navy yards during the Civil War, the Navy expanded the northern yards which served as depots, manufacturing workshops, and repair centers. Facilities improved and the workforce quadrupled. The New York Navy Yard became the Union’s most important facility because of its access to artisans, laborers, and commodities. During the war, the yard built sixteen ships, outfitted over four hundred merchant ships as armed cruisers, and repaired several hundred fighting ships.  

The Civil War revolutionized methods of shipbuilding and the encounters between the ironclads demonstrated the superiority of steam driven iron vessels over wooden sailing ships. This new breed of ship required construction at a new type of facility with the foundries, shops, and docks adapted to the growing needs of the Navy. The Navy spent the decade after the war investing in yards and coaling stations to build, maintain, and supply the new generation of naval vessels.


Naval leadership tends to think of the Navy in terms of ships, blue water, and open sea engagements, often overlooking the infrastructure necessary to maintain readiness and keep the fleet afloat. During the 1880s, although Congress had appropriated additional funds for ironclads, Secretary of the Navy William Chandler focused all available funding on ship design and construction, significantly reducing the budget spent to maintain and staff the navy yards. In 1883, Chandler closed the Pensacola, Philadelphia, and New London yards; discontinued the construction and repair of ships in Boston; and substantially reduced the size of the Portsmouth yard. This shortsighted policy of neglect, and shuttering of essential bases and functions remained in effect until the Spanish-American War and significantly contributed to the Navy being ill-prepared for war.

Throughout this time, the Navy approved very limited appropriations for the care and maintenance of installations, which resulted in decaying buildings, docks, and wharves. The shore establishment in 1890, consisted of thirteen navy yards and stations covering 2605 acres, with 439 workshops, stores, and ship-houses; 7.18 miles of wharf line, 10 dry docks, 19 marine railways and launching ways, 150 horses and oxen, and 96 houses for officers’ quarters. In the early 1890s, BuDocks routinely requested a budget of approximately $800,000 to maintain the necessary installation improvements. Despite the deterioration of the shore establishment, Congress and Navy leadership appropriated on average $62,500 for maintenance of the vast bi-coastal naval facilities resulting in severe disrepair and deterioration.

In 1897, all public works in the then existing yards and stations was valued at $53 million dollars ($1.6 billion today). The dry docks and buildings were small, old, and more suited to repairing the 1860s era wooden hulled ships than the White Squadron of the 1880s. The buildings lacked sufficient heat and lighting, were almost devoid of cranes, and lacked adequate power facilities. The waterfronts also afforded insufficient space for vessel repairing, outfitting, or the discharging of stores. As red lights blared indicating the severe deficiencies at all Navy installations, Secretary of the Navy John Davis Long organized the Bunce Board to document the dry dock inadequacies and create plans to expand and repair them. Naval leadership ignored the board’s recommendations until after the shortfalls during the Spanish-American War were publicly obvious to all.

Overtaxed and Underfunded

The war with Spain severely taxed the Navy’s shore facilities – particularly Key West and the coaling station in Dry Tortugas, Florida. The New York, Norfolk, and Mare Island yards, best fitted for immediate ship repair and maintenance necessary during the brief conflict, strained beyond their limits due to inadequate facilities and personnel at the other naval installations.

It became readily apparent that US Navy bases were inadequate in comparison to the great naval powers of Europe. Japan’s naval strength grew rapidly, surpassing the U.S. by the turn of the 19th century. The US desperately needed to invest in modernizing equipment, and building additional repair and docking facilities with fortifications along both coasts and island stations. 

Repairing Deficiencies

The Navy recognized its inadequacies and launched steps to create modern shops, improve waterfronts, build superior dry docks, and construct advanced coaling facilities. Four timber graving docks were authorized by Congress to be built at Portsmouth, Boston, Philadelphia, and Mare Island on May 4, 1898. Facilities expanded and construction budgets flowed for several years following the war, which greatly assisted the long neglected and overlooked bases. However, these desperately needed funds did not last long.

The necessity for modern coaling facilities gurgled to the surface during the war when leadership realized that not one CONUS yard had the proper provisions for storing a large supply of coal or the modern machinery for loading it on board ships. The war revealed the Navy needed sufficient fuel stores to unshackle it from the lapses and shortcomings in private source coal supply.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the Belknap Board recommended the establishment of modern coaling stations equipped with mechanized equipmen which were eventually built at all main navy yards and stations along both coasts. This occurred just as the Navy modernized all new ships to use petroleum instead of coal.

While the first electric power plant was built at the Washington Navy Yard in 1890 to light all streets and gun-shops, the Mare Island, Boston, New York, Port Royal, Norfolk, and Pensacola didn’t have electrical plants until after the Spanish-American War. Before this, the bases used steam and gas works to power machinery and light office spaces and workshops. This seemingly simplistic example illustrates how archaic the Navy yards remained compared to its global counterparts.

The efforts to provide modern shops and mechanized equipment on the waterfront areas as well as extensive dry docks and improved coaling facilities resulted in a large number of power plants at the yards. It soon became apparent there was significant duplication in generating equipment and distribution systems due to each Bureau building and maintaining its own power sources. The Naval Act of 1904 provided for centralizing all power plants and distribution systems at the facilities under the cognizance of the Bureau of Yards and Docks. In accordance with this law, BuDocks established a central power plant, serving all activities, at each Navy yard and naval station.

The savings earned from centralizing power at each naval installation persuaded Congress and the Navy Department to look for further savings in other areas. One area suggested was the consolidation of the naval construction projects. At this time, each Bureau designed and erected its own facilities. By placing the construction function under the civil engineers of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, the Navy could avoid duplication, consolidate resources, and best utilize labor.

As a result of the Spanish-American War, the 1898 Treaty of Paris allowed temporary American control of Cuba and, following their purchase from Spain, unspecified colonial authority over Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. The existing coaling stations at Samoa and Hawaii needed to be maintained and modernized to support the Pacific and Asiatic Squadrons, later combined to become the Pacific Fleet. In 1902, the first Civil Engineer Corps officers arrived in the Philippines, and later, Guam, and Cuba to establish the first Public Works office and begin constructing essential base infrastructure to support the fleet.

By 1913, Navy public works had quadrupled in value to $191 million dollars. While naval public works and infrastructure had modernized and expanded since the beginning of the Spanish-American War, its growth was not commensurate with that of the fleet. In 1914, after war broke out in Europe, the Navy surveyed the fleet and shore facilities, realizing that, if the country were drawn into war, a wide ranging modernization to the fleet and shore establishment would be essential to basic defense. Once again, the Navy faced the possibility of war with an insufficient fleet and inadequate shore establishment to support it.

#LestWeForget – Tet

Their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honored.

Daniel Webster

The Tet Offensive was a “Go For Broke” effort from the North Vietnamese command view­point, North Vietnamese Army (NVA) divisions which had infiltrated via Laos, Cambodia and the DMZ were thought to be strong enough to overthrow the Thieu ­Ky government and throw out the US and Allied forces. But in this offensive eventually backfired.

The US casualty toll was heavy. From January 28th through February 1st, 1968 (the period of the initial offensive) 416 Americans were killed in action and 2,575 wounded.  Attacks on the Seabees happened at various locations across the country.

A trench with Seabees from NMCBs 3 and 8 was hit by a 122mm rocket on January 31st, 1968, at their base near Phu Bai, nine miles south of Hue, at Camp Wilkinson, Gia Le. Seven men were wounded, and one killed, EOCN Lawrence N. Stangel.

At 12:20 p.m. on February 1st the enemy launched another rocket attack on Phu Bai, with short rounds falling on Camp Wilkinson. One projectile landed near the mess hall and wounded eight Seabees of NMCB-8, killing SN Richard L. Blevins of NMCB-3. NMCB-8 was in the process of relieving NMCB-3.

When the fourth planeload of NMCB-3 Seabees was taking off from Phu Bai airbase, they came under mortar fire. It looked as if the VC and NVA were really after the Seabees of Three. But no one was hit this time.

Farther south, at Camp Hoover, Da Nang, a check-point crew from NMCB-9 on Route 3 had small arms fire from east of the highway (early on February 1st). The Seabees fired and saw two “secondary” explosions-meaning perhaps they had hit into fuel or explosives. At dawn, they sent out a patrol to investigate. The patrol was properly aggressive. They were hit by automatic weapons fire. BUl B. R. LeMaster and BU3 G. T. Lagrone were wounded. At Tam Ky, 40 miles south of Da Nang on Route 1, close to Chu Lai, NMCB-6’s detachment came under night attack January 31st. .

At Chu Lai, 18 miles farther south on Route 1, the coast road, the Seabee Camp Shields was hit twice by VC-NVA rockets in the initial Tet assault. There were no casualties among the Seabees of NMCB-40 there, but the same assault set off an A.S.P. (Ammunition Supplv Point) near the airbase and the blast of the explosions flattened two hangers and an engine repair shop. The Seabees turned to immediately to fix up the damage.

At the Quang Tri military base-built by the “Ghost Battalion” -the Viet Cong were aided by troops of the six NVA divisions committed to the Northern provinces by GEN Giap. Casualties among the garrisoning Marines, however, were moderate and so were the Seabee (NMCB-10) casualties: 10 Seabees were wounded.

At Camp Faulkner, Da Nang, (NMCB-128) on January 31st, the VC and NVA made mortar and rocket attacks, then ground assaults on installations along the river west of the camp. The enemy made their assaults from sampans, or with swimmer-sapper raiders wearing harnesses of plastic explosive and detonator cord.

At the remote aluminum landing strip at Khe Sanh, ten miles from the Laotian border and athwart one of the main branches of the many-pronged Ho Chi Minh Trail, the encircling force of NVA troops had been increasing to between 10,000 and 20,000. In the first 24 hours of the Tet Offensive, the Communists threw a nerve­ shattering 740 rounds of artillery. But that night and day, no Seabees of the Khe Sanh CBMU-301 detachment were injured.

With the Tet Offensive the Seabee casualties shot upwards. During heavy fighting started by the Tet Offensive, 17 Seabees were killed in action and 57 wounded.

The VC and NVA went after the old Route 1 highway, the French north-and-south main blacktop, with a vengeance. On February 4th, two Seabees of NMCB-128 were killed by a land mine on a side road off Route 1, six miles north of Da Nang. They were LT (JG) Michael D. Hollingsworth and Builder First Class Paul T. Hallman.

Read more about the Seabees during TET at: Southeast Asia: Building the Navy’s Bases

Fair winds and following Seas, Seabees…

SWF2 Edward Adams
SN Richard Blevins
BUL2 John Borders, Jr.
BUL3 George DeShurley
BU1 Robert Fisher
CMH3 James Galati
BU1 Paul Hallman
CEW2 John Hartlage, III
BULCN Mark Hodel
LT (jg) Michael Hollingsworth
BUL3 Allan Mair
EO3 Amon Moore, Jr.
CEW2 Eldon Nevins
BUL3 John Peek
BUHCN James Retzloff, Jr.
BU1 Charles Spillman
CN Lawrence Stangel

Final Seabee Team Journey to the Republic of Vietnam

In 1969, the US began to take its first steps toward departing Vietnam. While we now know this marked the halfway point in the conflict, the exit strategy had begun. As funding toward humanitarian efforts depleted and state department foreign aid projects, which funded significant portions of Seabee Team deployments, diminished in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), the Seabee Team mission did as well. On 18 April 1972, Seabee Team 0321 closed out its camp facilities and loaded its equipment onto YFU 59 in Ham Tan , Binh Tuy Province becoming the last Seabee Team to operate in the Republic of Vietnam.

Origins of the Seabee Teams

The primary mission of the Seabee Teams was to provide technical assistance to agencies of the U.S. Government abroad and to foreign governments participating in the U.S. Technical and Economic Foreign Aid Programs in both socio-economic and military construction areas. Limited construction support is also provided these agencies concurrent with “on-the-job” training of foreign nationals in modern construction techniques.

The original Seabee Team concept was conceived in March 1961 to meet President Kennedy’s call to action by finding ways prevent war. In response, four CEC officers designed Seabee Technical Assistance Teams, later shortened to Seabee Teams, in response to Kennedy’s call to create small military forces to aid foreign governments. They believed Seabees could be used as a military version of the Peace Corps to respond to foreign humanitarian requests for assistance in dangerous or war-torn areas.

They laid out the framework for small, mobile and cross-trained units consisting of one junior Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officer-in-charge, a hospital corpsman, and eleven Seabees cross rated to maximize skillsets in remote areas. The teams normally received eighteen weeks of intensive language, technical, and military unit training prior to deploying. Each team was assigned an extensive allowance of tools and equipment, which enable it to perform as an independent, self-supporting unit, with a well-rounded construction capability.

The Navy’s Peace Corps

The first two Seabee Teams, 0501 and 0502 deployed to Vietnam in January 1963 to support the U.S. Army Special Forces in camp construction, civic action and military engineering under the Civil Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) Program.

During the early years, twelve teams supported Special Forces who were advising and training Vietnamese Strike Forces and the CIDG in anti-guerrilla fighting and defense tactics, often in remote forward areas. Seabees constructed camps complete with utilities systems, bunkers, and earthen parapets, access roads, and tactical airstrips to deliver supplies.

The successful performance of the first teams in the villages where they acted as teacher-builders, working alongside the local people, speaking their language, and providing a measure of elementary medical care the people had never known before, prompted the State Department to request more and more Seabee Teams.

On 6 November 1969, at a meeting in Saigon, representatives met to discuss cutbacks in aid budgets and Seabee Team operations in light of priorities in the Pacification Campaign. The imminent roll up in Vietnam was on the horizon and early preparations were made to downsize all Seabee deployments.

In 1970, the Seabee Team effort began a coordinated phasedown with U. S. troop withdrawals. By the end of 1971 only six teams remained in the Republic of Vietnam. All command units overseeing the Seabee Team projects were disestablished on 9 November 1971.

The Final Journey

In October 1971, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the final Seabees Teams to deploy in support of US Agency for International Development (USAID) programs in RVN. The final two Seabee Teams to deploy, 0321 and 7411, deployed to Binh Tuy Province and Long An Province respectively to support US/RVN pacification programs within their area of deployment.

On 5 January 1972, Seabee Team 0321 arrived in Saigon and shortly thereafter left for Ham Tan, Binh Tuy Province to relieve Seabee Team 6206. A seven man detail was established to start upgrading 28 kilometers of inter-district roads. The job included shaping, ditching and capping the existing roadbed along with replacing or extending necessary culverts. Every day, the team had to clear the roads for possible land mines and ambushes before beginning work.

The Team compound was mortared five times with the majority of the rounds impacted from 30 to 100 meters from the site. One did land in the compound perimeter fence spraying shrapnel on the Team hooch. On the morning of 5 April 1972, two Viet Cong squads infiltrated the village and set satchel charges. Team members returned fire after the local force was ambushed. That same morning the Viet Cong blew a bridge in Ham Tan District that the Team had just completed.

On 18 April 1972, Seabee Team 0321, closed its work site at Tam Tan and make its way to Saigon before their return to Port Hueneme. Their departure on 29 April marked the end to the final Seabee Team journey to the Republic of Vietnam. On 30 May 1972, Commander, Construction Battalions Pacific, Detachment Republic of Vietnam (CBPACDET RVN) was officially disestablished, signifying an end of the oldest and last Seabee unit deployed to Vietnam.

Although the war did not end for three years, a key indicator to the possible end of a conflict is to follow Seabee movements. Once the Seabees were no longer deploying to Vietnam and the RMK-BRJ contract was set to end in June 1972, US withdrawal was imminent as investing in Vietnamese infrastructure was terminating. While the date had not yet been set, the Vietnam conflict was ending.

Operation Sea Signal

Camp Delta, Cuba during Operation Sea Signal
Migrant camp built for Operation Sea Signal

Operation Sea Signal was a multiyear operation put on by the Department of Defense to respond to a critical influx of migrants seeking asylum from the islands of Cuba and Haiti during the political crises of the early 1990s.  This resulted in a mass exodus not seen since the Mariel Boat Lift of 1980. 

Initially the migrants were being transported to Key West Florida, but that soon proved inadequate to address the enormity of people coming into the country. 

The Guantanamo Bay Naval Base was soon utilized to accommodate the overflow, housing more than 20,000 migrants.  The Chief Atlantic Command (ACOM) and Joint Task Force 160 assigned Seabees from the 2nd Naval Construction Brigade and Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Four with the initial design planning efforts on 2 December 1994. 

The 22nd Naval Construction Regiment was assigned with executing a $20 million construction project to improve the quality of life for the tens of thousands of migrants housed in Guantanamo Bay. 

The initial plan consisted of building 37 migrant villages arranged in 11 village clusters in two locations, Radio Range and McCalla Field, which were about 7 miles apart.  Each village had 50 strong back tents, one tension fabric recreation building, and concrete masonry unit buildings that included toilet, shower and laundry facilities. 

Within the village clusters (which had two to four villages within them) there was a fabric chapel, messing facility, and a community services building.  Electricity was provided to each individual tent and distributed through the site as a whole.  Additionally the Seabees had to install water systems, sewage, roads, sidewalks and recreation facilities.  Mobile Utilities Support Equipment (MUSE) was used along with package sewage treatment plants to address power and water treatment needs at Radio Range and McCalla.  Each of these sites also had a galley complex for food storage and preparation, a school complex and a tension fabric government building. 

In addition to the immense technical challenge of constructing a fully functional, self-sufficient city from scratch, the 450 Seabees initially onsite also had to face the human political factors of the situation.  This was soon manifested when the government spontaneously decided to send an additional 7,000 Cuban migrants from Panama to Guantanamo Bay.  On top of the unexpected and unplanned sudden influx in population, some of these migrants had rioted while in Panama and measures needed to be taken to avoid a repeat of any potentially violent scenarios.  Since this operation was a high-profile humanitarian mission, traditional military riot suppression methods were forbidden, and a less aggressive, preventive approach would be required. 

The Seabees’ solution to this was to create 27 guard towers and five miles of eight-foot chain link fence to be installed around Radio Range for containment.   Despite these unexpected elaborate security projects being added to their tasks, the Seabees still finished their workload by the original 1 Feb 1995 deadline.   

As construction and maintenance efforts progressed, the U.S. and Cuba reached an agreement in May that resolved the immigration issue.  It was decided that all the migrants housed at Guantanamo Bay would be allowed into the U.S. As a result of this policy change, it was decided that the work at the Radio Range site would be completed, while operations at McCalla Field would cease.   

At the end of a seven month deployment that began with a small contingent of NMCB Four and Seven and rapidly expanded into a $20 million construction colossus, they left behind a full blown city that seemingly sprung up from nowhere. 

#LestWeForget – On the Waterway

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them.” –John F. Kennedy

Detail Charlie Memorial at Cho Moi

Beginning in November 1968, the US Navy began the Accelerated Turnover to the Vietnamese (ACTOV) program to turn over a larger burden of the river and coastal warfare to the Vietnamese. This included training the Vietnamese Navy (VNN) in coastal and riverine naval warfare in preparation for a significant number of surface craft to be turned over.

In the summer of 1970, the US Navy began transferring more than 200 patrol craft to the Vietnamese Navy (VNN). While a normal Seabee deployment to Vietnam consisted of centralized construction with a few detachment sites, NMCB-74s 1970-71 deployment was widely dispersed to areas of the Mekong Delta.

All construction assigned to NMCB-74 during their deployment was in support of the VNN. The Navy focused on turning over waterborne transportation assets to the Vietnamese, and moving air assets out of Vietnam. Seabees used their Can-do spirit to tackle almost insurmountable barriers to move construction materiel, foodstuff, equipment and personnel between work sites along the waterways. The use of good will and cumshaw to obtain helicopter, fixed wing and waterborne transportation support allowed the Seabees to accomplish the assigned mission.

Transporting men, materiel, and equipment via barge.

Detail CHARLIE, composed of 125 men under the direction of LT(jg) Richard F. Cowan, deployed to Cho Moi at the junction of the Song Cuu Long (Mekong) and Rach Ong Cuong river. Part of President Nixon’s Accelerated Turnover to the Vietnamese (ACTOV) program, Detail Charlie’s task was to build a Navy base to support and operate Vietnamese River Patrol Boats and Swift Boats. This crossroads served as a perfect location for materiel, equipment and personnel to traverse the Delta.

During the course of their tour Detail CHARLIE used skimmer boats to move men and materiel between construction sites often receiving rounds of automatic rifle fire from the Viet Cong along the banks.

Increased enemy activity in late December 1970 brought morale to its lowest point as five Detail CHARLIE personnel were killed in action on 31 December, while travelling by skimmer boat from Cho Moi to Binh Thuy, RVN.

BU2 Jerry B. Edmonds, Jr.

CE3 Harold E. Asher

EOCN Edger Peter Beck

CN Wayne Sterling Rushton

CN Frank Neubauer

A memorial service was held at Cho Moi for all five Seabees killed in action. All were awarded the Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, and Combat Action Ribbon to honor their sacrifice in the line of duty.

Fair Winds and Following Seas, Seabees.