Seabees in Somalia for Operation Restore Hope

Somalia map

Map of Somalia in Africa.

In 1992, the United States sent military support to provide relief to the war-torn nation of Somalia. That December, the Seabees deployed as one of the units forming the United Nations’ coalition force in support of Operation Restore Hope. The main objective under Operation Restore Hope was to create a protected environment to conduct humanitarian operations in the southern half of Somalia and bring food and water to starving Somalians.


Seabee and local people pumping water in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope

Seabees supported this effort through establishing and constructing base camps at humanitarian relief sites. To connect the camps, Seabees repaired and improved main supply routes by clearing debris from city streets including bridges. However, one of the largest projects was renovating and expanding the Baidoa airstrip. This project involved removing 300,000 square feet of asphalt surface, pulverizing and mixing it with cement, and then grading and compacting the mixture. More than 600,000 square feet of AM2 matting was also laid for aircraft turnarounds, parking aprons, and helipads. The airstrip enabled the coalition’s C-130 relief flights that brought food to local people.

Furthermore, Seabees provided humanitarian support by drilling and restoring water wells, and completing work on schools and orphanages. These daily humanitarian efforts nurtured connections with local people, their daily life, and art forms. Such is displayed through these Somali baskets, which Seabees brought home from their time in Africa during Operation Restore Hope. These baskets do exactly that, restore hope. Using their traditional artistry, local people gathered available grasses and wove these three baskets with lids. One of which is located in our 1990s gallery as part of “The History of the Seabees in 75 Objects,” temporary exhibit is open February 2018 through January 31, 2019.


Somali Baskets crafted in Somalia and brought back to the United States in 1993. NMCB 40 and 30th NCR transferred the baskets to the U.S.N. Seabee Museum.





Pop-up Museum at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum: Community Curation

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum will host a “Pop-Up Museum” on March 3rd, 2018 from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. Pop-Up Museums are an aspect of “Community Curation,” a community event where people bring in their personal artifacts for display. We are asking participants to bring artifacts directly related to the Seabee and CEC experience. Examples include war trophies, trench art created in a combat zone, personal pictures and letters, items collected in the field, specialized tools and other items of interest.

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Breaking Down Barriers: The 34th Naval Construction Battalion

While “African Americans have served in the U.S. Navy during every declared war in American history” 1, in June 1940, only 2.3% of Navy personnel were black, and rated primarily as stewards and messmen. The Selective Service Act of 1940 provided that in the selection and training of men “there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race or color.”2 In the summer of 1942, the Navy opened all general service ratings to African-Americans, with the caveat that they be segregated in training schools, quarters, and military units. An exception to this came with the establishment of Naval Construction Battalions.


34th Naval Construction Battalion logo.

The 34th Naval Construction Battalion (NCB), established on 23 October 1942 at Norfolk, Virginia, was the first battalion primarily comprised of African-American personnel who had previous construction experience in over 50 trades including electricians, carpenters, blacksmiths, riggers, painters, draftsmen, and steelworkers. The 34th NCB consisted of 880 black men and 280 white men, with all white officers, chief and first-class petty officers. These new enlistees began basic training with their battalions, and eventually were deployed together overseas.


1943: Construction of Ilu River bridge on Highway 50 at Guadalcanal, by men of the 34th NCB.

The 34th NCB served on Espiritu Santo, Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Okinawa. At one point, the 34th was split into small detachments and spread throughout the Northern and Central Solomon Islands, where they constructed airstrips, roads, warehouses, hospitals, and other military facilities. At the height of the war, there were more than 12,000 black Seabees, nine black battalions, and 15 predominately black stevedore construction battalions, or “specials”.

34th-divers (1)

November 1943: three 34th NCB divers working on the marine railway at Gavuta. Note the improvised diving gear made from gas mask. From left to right: H.M. Douglas, Slc (CB); T.A. Blair, CM2c (CB) and I. Philip, SF2c (CB).

Despite the progressive nature and success of the 34th NCB, they struggled to gain equitable treatment from their superiors. In October 1944, after a 20 month overseas deployment, the 34th NCB returned to Camp Rousseau in Port Hueneme, California. Their Commanding Officer instituted such policies as separate quarters, mess lines and mess huts for white and black enlisted personnel.He also refused to rate blacks as chief petty officers, and black petty officers were used to perform unskilled, manual labor, and were never placed in charge of base working details, unlike their white counterparts. In response, over 1000 black Seabees staged a hunger strike from March 2-3, 1945, refusing to eat, yet continuing to perform their assigned duties. A subsequent investigation by the Chief of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, stated that “if the present commanding officer persists in his policy regarding the non-rating of Negro chief petty officers, the filling of all vacancies in the grade of petty officer first class will cause virtual stagnation in the advancement of negro petty officers of a lower rating and will have the effect of suppressing all ambition within the Negro personnel.”3 The Bureau determined that “although there may be some degree of natural segregation in a mixed group, under no circumstances should there be segregation or discrimination forced by reason of quartering, messing, and assignment to duty.”4 As a result of the investigation, the CO, his executive officer, and twenty percent of the officers and petty officers were relieved of their duties.


February 1944: Joseph E. Vaughn, MM3c, Harry E. Lash, CM3c, and William A. Shields, GM3c, members of the 34th NCB. Awarded Purple Heart medals for wounds received during enemy bombing on 22 February 1943, Kukum, Guadalcanal.

The new commanding officer instituted a training program designed to allow for enlisted personnel to be rerated, and provide greater opportunities for qualified black Seabees of this groundbreaking battalion to receive the promotions that were previously denied to them. All but three Seabee battalions were deactivated following the end of WWII. The 34th NCB was deactivated in October 1945.


1. NAVFAC Historian’s Office (1988). Black Americans in the U.S. Navy 1776-1946.
2. NAVFAC Historian’s Office (1988) . Black Americans in the U.S. Navy 1776-1946.
3. Naval Inspector General letter (1945). Conditions at Camp Rousseau, Port Hueneme, California, Investigation of.
4. Chief of Naval Personnel letter (1945). Conditions at Camp Rousseau, Port Hueneme, Calif., Investigation of.



Seabees Lend a Helping Hand in Bosnia

While Seabees lent a helping hand in war-torn Bosnia during the mid-to-late 1990s, rebuilding schoolhouses, homes, and bridges for transportation, there was also the duty of protection and prevention. As their construction uniform includes flak vests and Kevlar helmets, protecting civilians in combat zones have always been a part of their humanitarian efforts.

Bosnia map

Between 1992 and 1999, approximately 200,000 military and civilians were killed as a result of the Bosnia civil war. To minimize their vulnerability in the face of war and genocide, the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Defense joined together to help Bosnian civilians in the mid-1990s. One program they jointly developed and instituted was a campaign to protect children against landmines. The campaign appealed to children’s superhero pop-culture sensibility with the Superman: Deadly Legacy comic book. The U.S. military, including the Seabees, gave these comic books to children teaching them to stay away from explosives and hidden landmines. Whether they were in fields or buildings—shiny objects should not always be played with.


Superman: Deadly Legacy comic book, circa mid 1990s (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum archives)

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNCEF) organization noted that as of 1996, “about 800 people [were] killed by landmines every month, 30-40 percent of them children,” in the world where “68 countries… an estimated 110 million landmines are lodged in the ground.” Humanitarian protection efforts using comic books in native languages against landmines continued in Bosnia as well as in other countries during the 1990s and included the joint forces of Superman and Wonder Woman.



Archivist Attic – A Rocky Road

Heroes continue to inspire others long after their deeds are done. Even their name can mobilize and motivate men, units or even camps to produce, achieve and succeed in order to honor the hero they were named after. Such is the case with Camp DeShurley, a rock production facility pioneered, developed and operated by Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 9 Detail Echo. Camp DeShurley became a vital part road construction during the Vietnam Conflict and stood as a working testament to the Seabee hero and his fellow Seabees that gave their lives for their country.

NMCB 9 Detail Echo rock quarry - Camp DeShurley

Rock quarry where Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 9 Detail Echo was stationed that would later become Camp DeShurley, Republic of Vietnam 1968.

The year of 1968 was an important year during Vietnam and a peak period of Seabee deployment. One of the most important actions that occurred that year was the Tet Offensive. This required more Seabee units to deploy to Vietnam in order to build buildings, power supplies, and roads to expand the infrastructure and keep the war effort going.

Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 9 Detail Echo moved in to a quarry and camp near Phu Loc in early 1968. By March the Tet Offensive had degenerated from bad to desperate. On March 1st the Viet Cong began strikes against the Seabees in Phu Loc. The strikes continued throughout March wounding several men, the heaviest blow on March 31st.

On that day the Viet Cong opened with 82mm mortar fire on various locations in the Seabee camp. The Seabees, along with their Marine brothers, fired back almost immediately. Unfortunately the enemy mortar rounds scored direct hits, immediately killing several Seabees including BUL3 George DeShurley, BULCN Mark E. Hodel, CMHCN James Galati, BUL3 Allan Mair, BUL3 John Peek and BUHCN James Rezloff, Jr. But before this catastrophe, the crew, including DeShurley, scored several direct hits on the enemy mortar position, killing at least nine members of the Viet Cong, preventing further attacks and potentially saving additional lives.

Monthly operations report NMCB 9 Camp DeShurley BUL3 George DeShurley

Monthly operation report from March 1968, item 6 shows that April 6 on Camp DeShurley was officially designated in honor of BUL3 George DeShurley.

The heroic actions of DeShurley, and his fellow Seabees, insured that the Viet Cong did not take the camp and stopped them from killing even more American men. Because of those actions the quarry and camp were officially named Camp DeShurley in his honor.

Camp DeShurley NMCB 9 Detail Echo

Photo of sign designating Camp DeShurley.

Camp DeShurley itself took after its namesake in heroism by becoming instrumental in rebuilding and reconstructing the critically important Route 1 in the Republic of Vietnam. The high-quality rock that came from Camp DeShurley was so important that Rear Admiral James V. Bartlett, then Commander of the Third Naval Construction Brigade said that the rock and camp “Represents one of the most significant achievements of the entire Seabee effort in Vietnam.” This was due to the outstanding engineering and construction skills that were used to produce the rock in order to create various roads including the much needed and used Route 1.

NMCB 9 Detail Echo Camp DeShurley

Portions of the rock quarry inside Camp DeShurley being worked on.

The actions of BUL3 George DeShurley and Detail Echo inspired and motivated Seabees that deployed after them. They in turn honored his sacrifice by making it one of the most significant Seabee camps during Vietnam.

Heroes influence and galvanize us long after their heroic actions are done. Inspiring us to find the best in ourselves and giving us the courage to go after what we believe in. Sometimes the best way to honor those we admire most is to inspire others and become a hero ourselves!

Ingi Face

Meet the Archivist: Ingi House


Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from the University of Kansas and M.L.S. from Emporia State University. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast. In Washington D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Administration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history led her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.


Curator’s Corner- Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist Insignia

Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist Insignias; the gold insignia is worn by an officer and the silver is worn by enlisted Seabee (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist Insignias; the gold insignia is worn by an officer and the silver is worn by enlisted Seabee (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Becoming a Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist (SCW) is earned and is not a privilege. Earning a SCW pin is an amazing achievement in a Seabee’s career and is important to gaining access to other opportunities within the Naval Construction Force (NCF).

The SCW program dates to a Master Chief’s conference in 1992, which concluded that the Seabee community should have a warfare designation to recognize the Seabees’ past accomplishments to the Navy.

The SCW insignia pin features an armed Seabee over a crossed sword and rifle atop oak leaves. The silver insignia is for enlisted personnel and gold is for officers.

To qualify to become a Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist is no easy task. To earn this pin the service member must complete Personal Qualification Standards (PQS) which include Seabee Combat Warfare volume I & II, Naval Construction Force 1&C, and Navy Safety Supervisor from the Navy’s Non-Resident Training Course (NRTC) website. In addition, the Seabee must be within physical standards, qualified with the M-16 rifle or M-4 carbine, and must be currently assigned to a unit of the Naval Construction Force. The Seabee must also take a written exam and a field exercise. Upon completion of all prescribed training, a “murder board,” committee of questioners who help someone prepare for a difficult oral examination, is usually held. Upon completion of the murder board, the final board which lasts about two hours is given. The boards are a way to measure confidence and gauge potential leadership within the Naval Construction Force. If nominees pass the board, they are given the title of a Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist.

Seabees place heavy emphasis on tactical field training and basic combat skills. The Seabee Combat Warfare insignia expresses the motto of the Seabees, “We build, We fight.” Come see the SWC Insignia pins and many other Seabee related memorabilia at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum.

Robyn King, curator

Robyn King, curator

Meet the Curator: Robyn King Robyn King earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at State Museums, Historic Sites, the National Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.