“Can Do” Around the World
The realignment of Navy expeditionary force headquarters has positioned the Seabees to even more effectively meet the challenges of the future and contribute to the nation’s security interests around the globe.
By Capt. Lou Cariello, P.E., CEC, M.SAME, USN
The Naval Construction Force has undergone significant organizational changes recently, along with the rest of the U.S. Navy and the other uniform services. Of particular significance, the integration of the former First Naval Construction Division (1NCD) into Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) Headquarters was made official during a ceremony on May 31, 2013. While 1NCD was in existence for just over 10 years, it was during the longest sustained period of combat operations for our nation. A deep sense of pride was shared by all Seabees and military engineers for the incredible contributions and sacrifices made by 1NCD.
The realignment of Navy expeditionary force headquarters has positioned our Seabees and all Navy Expeditionary Forces (NEFs) to even more effectively meet the demands of the future and contribute to our nation’s security interests around the globe.
NECC serves as the single functional command for NEFs and as central management for the readiness, resources, manning, training and equipping of these forces. NECC is a scalable force spanning the full range of military operations, from major combat operations to Theater Security Cooperation Program efforts. Its mission is to ensure that rapidly deployable expeditionary forces are available and ready to support warfare commanders’ requirements for maritime security operations around the globe. Our expeditionary forces extend traditional Navy capabilities from the blue water to brown and green water environments.
NECC is one of six type commands under U.S. Fleet Forces Command. Among the others type commands, it is unique. Rather than being organized around a particular type of platform, such as ships, submarines, or airplanes, NECC is a collection of different yet complimentary capabilities that fall into the general realm of expeditionary forces. Naval construction is by far the largest specialty under NECC, making up more than half of the force. NECC’s other capabilities are coastal riverine, explosive ordnance disposal, expeditionary logistics, expeditionary intelligence, combat camera, maritime civil affairs and security training, and expeditionary combat readiness.
As a major component within NECC, the role of the Naval Construction Force is to provide combat-ready engineer forces to conduct contingency engineering and a range of construction planning and operational support to expeditionary forces.
With the disestablishment of the global Seabee headquarters last year, the functions of 1NCD were transferred to NECC and two newly-created Naval Construction Groups (NCG), one for each coast. An active Naval Construction Regiment (NCR) is embedded within each NCG.
The NCGs oversee the Seabee units of action, which are our traditional Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCBs), comprised of about 580 Seabees who deploy regularly around the globe performing military construction, including roads, bridges, bunkers and airfields. There also are two important specialized units: Underwater Construction Teams (UCTs), which build and repair underwater structures such as piers, wharves, underwater pipelines and boat ramps; and Construction Battalion Maintenance Units (CBMUs), which serve to maintain fleet hospitals in support of contingency operations and perform base maintenance and construction as needed.
The new organization was designed to improve headquarters alignment and consolidate the direct, formal relationship between the expeditionary forces and Fleet Forces Command/Pacific Fleet. The 1NCD staff was integrated into NECC, and the 1NCD Commander was reassigned as Deputy Commander for NECC. The position will remain a Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) billet. By merging 1NCD with NECC and standing up the NCGs, we formed a more comprehensive Type Commander, which is now the single point of contact for training and operations in the NCGs and the expeditionary force overall.
The Seabees are now fully integrated into the Navy’s Expeditionary Combat Force. This structure ensures we will maintain our core capabilities while allowing for critical presence throughout the globe.
(Right) Seabees assigned to NMCB 3, Construction Civic Action Detail Cambodia, operate a water well machine. Seabees conduct Construction Civic Action Detail operations to demonstrate U.S. commitment, develop enduring relationships, improve public infrastructure for the delivery of essential services, and strengthen local institutions with host and partner nations around the world. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY EQUIPMENT OPERATOR 3RD CLASS T.J. MELTESEN
SCALABLE AND ADAPTABLE
One of the benefits of this organizational structure is the ability to assemble Adaptive Force Packages (AFPs) on a moment’s notice, particularly in response to combat actions or natural disasters. The intent is to maintain posture for immediate response with impactful capabilities that leverage the unique mobility of naval forces to project response efforts ashore.
The Navy’s operational Fleet Commands (particularly 5th and 6th Fleets) have established subordinate Task Forces (CTFs) to command and control these disparate NEFs. CTF-56 in 5th Fleet and CTF-68 in 6th Fleet oversee the planning and mission execution of NECC forces in their areas of operation. These forces are manned, trained and equipped by NECC. With the Chief of Naval Operation’s emphasis on the shift to the Pacific, we also are now well on our way toward establishing a NEF Task Force in the 7th Fleet area of operations. We have CEC officers and enlisted Seabees on these CTF staffs, providing valuable leadership and engineering expertise in support of critical operational missions.
This AFP organizational concept was first put into action stateside following Superstorm Sandy in support of Defense Security Cooperation Agency operations for relief efforts in New York and New Jersey. The dynamic nature of disaster response requires proactive planning and a mission framework of pre-designed force capability packages. In the wake of the catastrophic destruction caused by Sandy, U.S. Fleet Forces Command supported NORTHCOM tasking by assembling NECC forces into CTF-86—an AFP comprised of more than 400 personnel from Seabee units including NMCB 11, NMCB 5, UCT-1, and CBMU-202, along with other NECC units such as Coastal Riverine Group 2, Coastal Riverine Squadron 2, Coastal Riverine Squadron 8, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, Expeditionary Combat Camera and Maritime Civil Affairs. These elements responded by sea, air and land while CTF-86 provided command and control of a variety of relief operations throughout the region.
The AFP response to Sandy will serve as a model for future responses. CTF-86 forces removed 338-T of debris, including 97 vehicles and 127 trees. Navy divers performed hydrographic surveys and pier assessments. The force also provided floating piers, operated electric generators for 140 hours of emergency lighting, and pumped 210,000-gal of water during dewatering operations. While this particular operation employed flag-level command and control, AFPs can be organized with smaller units at lower echelons as the response requirements dictate. AFP command and control is now incorporated into Seabee training during the unit certification process.
Like most Department of Defense communities, the size and structure of the Naval Construction Force has been affected by new fiscal realities, along with reduced demand due to the conclusion of combat operations in Iraq and drawdown of efforts in Afghanistan.
The current force structure reductions we are undergoing, involving several active and reserve units being decommissioned, is consistent with history. Since the original Seabee battalions were commissioned in 1942, the force has grown in times of conflict and downsized afterward—each time maintaining minimum capacity and a consistent base of core competencies to grow and surge when needed. There were approximately 250,000 Seabees at the high point of World War II. Throughout the years, our numbers have fluctuated to meet demand.
The Seabee force began to see the impacts of the recent reductions in 2012 when we decommissioned two active battalions. In 2013, we disestablished one active and one reserve regiment and four reserve battalions. In 2014, we will decommission two more reserve battalions and another active battalion. Our resulting force structure will be six active and six reserve battalions; two active and three reserve regiments; and two active NCGs. They will be complimented by two UCTs and two CBMUs.
The overall manning of the Naval Construction Force currently stands at approximately 11,300. By FY2015, we will reduce further to about 9,550. This is substantially smaller than our force a few years ago. During Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, the number of Seabees stood at about 16,600. Last year, there were three active and four reserve regiments and nine active and 12 reserve battalions.
SHAPING THE FUTURE
Seabees are now fully integrated into the NECC force and are positioned to help further shape the role of the Navy’s expeditionary force of the future. Our goal during this time of transition is to maintain our core capabilities as we adjust to today’s fiscal environment while allowing for a critical presence throughout the dynamic world.
We will focus on three major priorities. First, Seabees will maintain primary support to the Navy’s maritime objectives. Second, we will further enhance our traditional relationship with the U.S. Marine Corps. And third, we will continue our engagement in irregular warfare through support for Special Operations Forces.
We also see the future shifting to preventing wars. Building goodwill and establishing cooperative relationships with countries around the world through humanitarian and civic action efforts and Theater Security Cooperation projects is a crucial element of U.S. strategy. Seabees are uniquely suited to this mission and we have a long track record of success.
Seabees are well-known for their humanitarian work, including building and repairing schools and medical clinics and drilling water wells. These efforts continue to pay huge dividends by demonstrating U.S. goodwill and improving regional stability. As many of these engagements are low cost, high return events, and to the extent that they support geographic combatant commander theater objectives, Seabee participation in Phase 0 operations (while maintaining full readiness to support major combat operations) will remain key to America’s security.
Amidst all of the organizational change we endure today, there is one constant that remains the cornerstone to our value as a building and fighting force for the Navy and our nation: the Seabee “Can Do” culture. It is a standard imbued in every Seabee going through “A” School and CEC Officer attending Civil Engineer Corps Officer School, and is reinforced daily throughout Naval Construction Force chains of command. This long-standing Seabee culture is serving to directly improve the effectiveness of all Navy expeditionary forces.
As the Navy changes, the Naval Construction Force has changed along with it, yielding a fighting force that is ever more capable of serving the nation’s interests around the globe.