In June 1962, the first of the Seabee Teams stationed at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme began training for their new assignment. The mission of these State Department sponsored 13-man teams was to deploy to underdeveloped and emerging nations in Southeast Asia, and provide on-the-job training in construction projects to benefit the community, and medical assistance. Seabee Teams began their work in Thailand in May of 1963, and until June 1966 they worked under the Accelerated Rural Development (ARD) program, teaching Thai nationals construction equipment operations and maintenance, dam and bridge construction, and road surveying.
In the fall of 1966, this mission changed to unite these Seabee Teams with their new counterparts, the Border Patrol Police (BPP) officers of the Royal Thai Government. The focus of this program was to develop remote border areas in Thailand, as these areas represented the first line of defense against the political unrest and hostile forces from Communist agitators and terrorists. The program also had the aim of extending the lines of Thai government presence, and establishing more of a connection and greater support between the remote villages that otherwise had little to no contact with the government.
The 13-man structure of the Seabee Teams remained the same, while the BPP teams consisted of 15 men organized into a BPP Construction Platoon. These platoons preferred to be called Thai Seabees, and were broken down into 5 basic construction trades and the medical profession. Seabee Teams instructed their counterparts according to their assigned trades, to include working with construction materials, maintenance and repair of small engines, operations and maintenance of generators, plumbing, sanitation and other water related trades, and surveying. Two of the BPP men were assigned as medics and were trained by their Seabee counterparts on how to conduct sick calls, treatment of ailments, and establishing preventative health programs within the villages.
The Seabee-BPP program was considered “for and with the villagers”, and centered around active cooperation and participation of the local population in completing projects to benefit their village.
Thais were trained by the Seabee-BPP Teams to construct things they needed and wanted, using tools and materials that were available to them in their remote environments. The medical portion of the team provided sick call visits to the villages, but only with the support of the village Chiefs, who were required to be present in the village to show their active support of the BPP team. Medics provided basic first aid training to the villagers and education about simple illnesses and the availability of free care provided by Government facilities in nearby cities, to support more serious ailments.
The first Seabee-BPP teams, 0405, 0806, and 0909 arrived at the Bangkok headquarters of COMCBPAC Detachment RVN/THAI in early November 1966. Among the projects they completed were water purification and well construction, building of sanitary latrines, and construction of suspension bridges. They helped the villages to identify and put together long range plans for community development, along with providing instruction on practical application of those goals. Seabee Teams also built new schools, provided playground equipment, established dispensaries, constructed dams, and built airstrips.
The BPP program was phased out starting in 1970 as a new program in support of the Royal Thai Marines under the sponsorship of the U.S. Military Assistance command, Thailand (MACTHAI) was instituted.
Learn more about Seabee Teams on our Online Reading Room: https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/museums/seabee/explore/online-reading-room/Publications/commander-construction-battalion-pacific-reports.html