While construction equipment and the people who operate them are not the most oft considered implements in the modern military, they nonetheless play a crucial role. The U.S. Armed Forces is comprised of more than 2.3 million military and 700,000 civilian personnel, so keeping them all housed, connected by roads, and with fresh running water is a gargantuan task. Enter the Navy’s Construction Battalions, known as the Seabees, a large contingent of which are based nearby at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme. The base is home to the 30th Naval Construction Regiment, which consists of Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCB) 3, 4, 5, and 40, and Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 2. Established during World War II to build the many roads, runways, and other infrastructure elements needed by the Navy and Marine Corps, the Seabees continue to serve in forward combat areas, including Iraq and Afghanistan. A few of the construction units housed at Port Hueneme will deploy sometime this year, most likely to the Middle East. Even with troops deployed, the base will stay busy. It houses some of the “A” schools-or occupational specialty schools-for the Navy’s construction personnel.
Seabee Days are held every year in an effort to reach out to the public and show them what the Naval Construction Battalions do, said Terri Reid, the base public affairs officer. “It’s an opportunity for the public to come and learn about the Navy and learn about the things we do here,” she said. “Naval Base Ventura County isn’t normally open to the public like this.” This weekend, the main parade deck was filled with displays of some of the equipment used by the units in the field. Rows of olive-drab dump trucks, cranes, and other equipment lined one end of the square, while examples of what they build-bridges, security towers, medical buildings, and the like-were clustered at another. Some of the displays were interactive, such as a large tank of water where people could watch UCT sailors in full camouflage battle dress swimming in their diving gear. Above all the proceedings was suspended an American flag-supported from either end by a large crane. A parade Saturday morning was complete with 500 uniformed Seabees marching down Channel Islands Boulevard, and sailors in humvees bringing up the rear, firing blanks from vehicle-mounted M2 and M240G machine guns. A car show with everything from Fiats to Fords rounded out the scene, with numerous vendors offering snacks and trinkets to passersby.
Chief Petty Officer Shane Montgomery, who deployed to Iraq with one of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment’s units, returned home a couple of months ago. He said that keeping soldiers and marines up to date with livable camps and forward operating bases enables them to fight wars better, but that Seabees do humanitarian work as well. Installing water wells in the Horn of Africa and building schools in South America are just some of the things on their list of achievements. “The three most important things we have [in the military] are civil affairs, medical personnel, and construction elements, because they’re out there winning hearts and minds,” he said. “Seabees are dedicated to making peoples’ lives better, and that’s what the U.S. is all about.” The people who work in these units seem immensely proud of the contribution they make. As CM-2 Steve Anderson (that means he’s a junior enlisted construction mechanic) stood next to a large dump truck, explaining its mechanical capabilities, one of the members of his platoon who was not on duty lovingly patted some of the load-securing rings on the dump bed, checking to make sure they were straight.