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Training and Education

Mississippi Mud:

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.
Three photo collage of Seabees during FTX: on patrol during convoy; in defensive position; in pit.

As our All Hands Magazine crew trudged through the Mississippi mud after him, Dieguez explained each company's mission, from defensive combat operations to the construction of a forward operating base and work convoy operations. The FTX reflects everything Seabees will need to do in a real-life situation.

In the weeks leading up to FTX, NMCB 133 spent hours conducting rehearsals and formal classes.

"But nothing replicates the operational stress and resiliency that people maintain to do this," said Dieguez.

For those Seabees that have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan or have done this for six months, you really gotta ask, 'How do you generate that readiness and get people to do that?' This is the closest we can come to it." - Cmdr. Miguel Dieguez

All around the camp, Seabees are busy with their tasks; from a bird's eye view, it would look like a well-choreographed dance as vehicles are maneuvered with precision and wooden planks are cut to size in a cloud of sawdust.

In one section, Seabees haul lumber to construct a timber tower that will serve as a lookout station, while in another, large heavy duty vehicles idle, ready for an upcoming mission.
Three photo collage of Seabees during FTX: building timber tower; behind vehicle during patrol; on patrol during convoy

Every so often through the thick smell of diesel fuel, exhaust, mud and sweat, you can catch the faint aroma of hamburgers and hotdogs on a grill. Tonight will be 133's first hot meal that hasn't come out of a heavy-duty olive green plastic bag.

A backhoe roars and digs deep into the moist red earth, and a cloud of black exhaust plumes in the blue sky above. Then, suddenly, with no warning, gun fire pierces the air and muzzle flashes light up the tree line bordering the camp.

Dozens of Seabees exit vehicles, exchanging their tools for rifles. A group of Seabees hunker in a freshly dug pit, scanning the horizon, ready to retaliate with an M240 machine gun.

More gunfire erupts in another sector and the roar of "Ma Deuce," a Humvee-mounted .50 cal machine gun, responds in kind and fights back.

Today, the bullets are blanks and the "enemy" soldiers firing on them are actors - made up of Sailors from other commands and even veterans - but when these Seabees deploy, the enemy and threat will be very real.

Seabees have a saying: "We do the difficult immediately. The impossible takes a little longer." Every Seabee will tell you that no matter the task given, it will get done. That is the Seabee "Can Do" spirit.

"I get to see the fruits of my labor every day," said Chief Builder Brian Cornwall. "Maybe sitting behind a desk you don't get to see it, but for a Seabee you get to see something go from the ground to a huge base camp like this in a matter of days - or hours sometimes."

Seabee ratings include builders (BU), construction electricians (CE), construction mechanics (CM), engineering aides (EA), equipment operators (EO), steelworkers (SW) and utilitiesmen (UT). Ask Seabees about their jobs and you can see the glimmer of pride in their eyes for what they do - whether its building barracks for Marines in Afghanistan to building a school in some distant land, Seabees are full of honor.

"We pride ourselves in being the best at civil engineering when it comes to the military," said Utilitiesman 2nd Class Joshua Ledestich.

Everyone [military] calls the Seabees when they want something done. They need a SWA [Southwest Asia] hut, an air strip, anything - we do it - every single war, ever since World War II." - UT2 Joshua Ledestich

When FTX wrapped up, NMCB 133 was certified and fit to fight, set to deploy at a moment's notice anywhere around the globe.

For more information on the 75th anniversary on the Seabees, click here.
Navy Photo