Seabees gear up for "war"
Following a seemingly endless dirt road in the deep woods of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the roar of diesel engines, hammers and chainsaws echo is muted by the thick growth of elm and beech trees.
Around a bend in the road, an encampment surrounded by miles of Concertina wire is well guarded - keeping an unseen enemy at bay. Dozens of Sailors outfitted in body armor and helmets, with M16s across their chests, keep a watchful eye.
This is the Seabee's field training exercise, better known as FTX.
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 have been in the field for the better part of two weeks, almost three, building up a base complete with a communications station, combat operations center, guard shacks and much more. Sailors rest when they can, sleeping in one-man tents that dot the area like ant hills, eating MREs (meals ready to eat) and taking "baby wipe" showers to try to stay clean.
A Quick History Lesson
Seabees were born from the ashes of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941. With the need for bases throughout the Pacific to fight the rising sun of the Empire of Japan, the Navy drafted men from their civilian construction jobs to both build and fight.
More than 325,000 men served in 151 Seabee construction battalions during World War II - nearly the size of today's entire Navy.
From island hopping in the Pacific Theater of World War II to Korea to the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of the Gulf War and the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Seabees have been ever present.
Today's Seabee force is much smaller, but still boasts nearly 14,000 active duty and reserve personnel, serving in 11 construction battalions, four construction regiments, two underwater construction teams, two battalion maintenance units and two construction groups.
So what exactly is FTX?
This is more than your family camping trip.
"This is our marquee certification event," said Cmdr. Miguel Dieguez, commanding officer of NMCB 133. "We come out of this event certified for major combat operations around the world, and we become the alert battalion on the East Coast in the event of a contingency or humanitarian crisis."
His eyes shadowed by the rim of his Kevlar helmet, Dieguez forges a path through thick mud churned up from heavy vehicles and the boots of hundreds of Seabees. He stops every so often to engage with his Sailors. Although the Seabees' only identification comes from patches on vests that list last names and blood types, Dieguez knows each and every one by name, rate and rank.