One of the most unique and important units in the United States Navy is its U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalions, otherwise known as the Seabees. Below is a wonderful video about the Navy Construction Battalions and the men and women who serve in those units.
After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, then Rear Admiral Ben Moreel made a request of the Navy to create a unit of sailors made up of highly skilled craftsmen from the various skills of the construction industry. His concept was to create units that could support sailors and Marines in combat situations by bringing all the skills necessary for building all of the needs that combat units on the move would require. This meant that these construction workers would also have to be highly trained fighting units. The first units were formed and trained at Davisville, Rhode Island, in 1942.
At the beginning of the video, some current Seabees answer the question, “What is a Seabee?” Their answers are simple and very revealing. They compare the Seabees to things like “a fighting construction worker,” “a construction worker on steroids,” and “a construction worker with a rifle.”
And therein lies the truth. These construction workers are both skilled in the arts of construction and the arts of war. They were born in the context of war, and, since 1942, they have fulfilled their warfighting duties in Korea, in Vietnam, and in the Middle East. But they have also become a real force for peace and friendship building around the world in the humanitarian work that they have done.
There are seven ratings in the Construction Battalions. There are the Builders, who are skilled in carpentry, the Electrician rating, and the Construction Mechanic rating that is responsible for maintaining all of the equipment necessary for construction sites. There is the Engineering Aid, who can survey and design projects. There is the Equipment Operator rating, which involves the operation of all of the rolling equipment from the heavy equipment like cranes and graders on down. Another rating is the Steel Worker rating; these sailors are skilled in the iron worker’s arts, including welding. Finally, there is the Utilities rating.
Though these seven ratings require specific skills, every Seabee has to be able to do more than one skill. Unlike civilian construction projects, where the builders/carpenters build the frames, then the electricians come and do the wiring, etc., these CB units are small, and they work together, each rating pitching in on all of the elements from beginning to finish, working quickly and professionally. They all learn from each other and become skilled in more than their own ratings.
There is a great deal of history, from WWII to the present, about the Seabees and their building and their fighting skills. In wartime scenarios, they are advancing most often with the Marines. They fight their way in, build what is needed quickly and efficiently, and then defend it tooth-and-nail whenever necessary.
This history includes the story of Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin Glenn Shields, from Port Townsend, WA, who served in Vietnam with Mobile Construction Bn. 11. Shields fought courageously alongside his nine Seabees and a small unit of Green Berets of Special Forces Detachment A-342 at Dong Xoai, about 50 miles from Saigon on June 4, 1965.
They were building an airstrip at this place when they were attacked by a force of 1,500 to 2,000 uniformed soldiers from two Viet Cong regiments. In the first three hours of the battle, 400 mortar rounds fell on them, killing two Green Beret and one Seabee. Shields, already wounded, carried ammo to his comrades and returned fire with his own weapon on the fanatical VC troops who were coming wave after wave into the base.
Vastly outnumbered, the 20 Americans repulsed the repeated attacks. Shields was wounded a second time, this time in the face by a bullet, but he fought on for four more hours. He volunteered at one point to help a Green Beret soldier to try to take out a machine gun nest that was harassing them. He and the Green Beret took a 3.5-inch rocket launcher to a position about 165 yards from the enemy machine gun. The Green Beret fired the weapon, and Shields reloaded. Both men were again wounded, Shields for the third time. After 15 hours of this intense battle, all but one of the 15 survivors was wounded. Shields was dead. For his actions during this battle, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
But the Seabees have become known for bringing their skills to many humanitarian efforts around the world as well. You will hear some of the Seabees in this video describe the pleasure they get out of building schools and hospitals and water systems, etc. for people in need. They particularly mention what a pleasure it is to see the end results of that work: to see the smiles of the children attending a new school that they have built, for example.
The United States Navy Mobile Construction Battalions, the Seabees, are a truly exceptional and important unit in today’s Navy. The Veterans Site honors and thanks all the men and women who have served in the Seabees and those who are currently serving in these units. You truly “Can do!” The world knows that your motto, “We Build, We Fight,” is a matter of fact, not braggadocio. Thank you to all!Whizzco