Earning the Title
Becoming a Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist
A Petty Officer 3rd Class is seated before a group of seniors. His hands clasped together and his brow furrowed as he strains to remember the answer to a question he has been asked.
The young petty officer who is the convoy commander, strains to provide the answer, but he is overwhelmed. He has no answer for his troops.
"These are things you have to take into consideration," cautions Chief Steelworker Christina Greenwood. "You are in charge of this convoy. You are the one who has to have the answers. Your people are going to look to you for leadership!"
Greenwood looks at the petty officer and asks him to think harder, but his blank expression says it all: he is in over his head.
Greenwood asks the young man to take a break and leave the room. As he does, she begins to furiously scribble notes. There is no actual convoy. Instead, she is chairing a board for a candidate seeking to earn his Seabee Combat Warfare (SCW) qualification in Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 15.
The SCW program serves as the cornerstone for combat training in the Seabees. Completing the program recognizes the training and qualifications of those who serve in Construction Battalions of the Naval Construction Forces (NCF). To earn the pin, service members must complete Personal Qualification Standards, which include Seabee Combat Warfare volume I and II, Naval Construction Force 1&C, and Navy Safety Supervisor from the Navy's Non-Resident Training Course (NRTC) website.
In addition, service members must be within physical standards, qualified with the M-16 rifle or M-4 carbine, and currently assigned to a unit of the NCF in any rating capacity. The lengthy prerequisites make it one of the more challenging warfare devices to earn.
After consulting with other members of the board, they conclude unanimously that the board can go no further. They have only combed over the first part of the board and see problems.
"I think he still doesn't understand how a Final Protective Line and a Primary Direction of Fire work," says one petty officer. "It's not a good spot, and he's using the wrong symbol for it."
"His sectors of fire are too wide," says another petty officer. "They need to be narrower."
"His landing zone to medically evacuate casualties is too close to his communication's tent," says a third.
Fixing small errors like these might be assigned after the board finishes and are known as taskers, but the consensus of the board is that the candidate needs additional time to understand the basic fundamentals.
After calling him back in, Greenwood explains that the board will cease and he will have to begin again in a few days. The candidate looks disappointed, but Greenwood tells him to relax, breathe, and to go over his basics. She explains that he now has a better idea of what to expect. She also reminds him that he now understands the expectation.
Greenwood understands his disappointment, but has no intention of passing people who do not qualify, nor does she seek to fail people. That would defeat the purpose of a board. She explains that earning a SCW pin is no easy task, and it is not awarded lightly. Boards are meant to be as much of a learning experience as they are a measure of knowledge. Instead she says that she is giving him a second opportunity.
"I look for the rate and pay grade to get an idea of exactly what they should know," Green says. "They should have the knowledge of at least one pay grade above their own."
The young petty officer, still a bit daunted after the board, walks down the hall. Greenwood stops him to impart one final bit of information.
"Remember, this isn't just about earning a pin. What you learn may save the life of one of your shipmates," she says.
The SCW program dates back to 1992, after a master chief's conference concluded that the Seabee community should have a warfare designation to recognize their past accomplishments to the Navy. Seabees have placed themselves into harm's way since their creation in 1942, often following the Marines ashore to construct runways and field hospitals.
Adopting the motto, "We build, we fight," they would consistently find themselves acting as de facto infantrymen to defend their projects from the Japanese. Since then, Seabees have placed heavy emphasis on tactical field training and basic combat skills.
"Tactical training is essential for us to function in an expeditionary environment," said Chief Steelworker Willis Bowman, the SCW program coordinator for NMCB 15. "If we can't survive in a tactical environment, we can't do our job."
Bowman sits behind his desk in a small tent, working continuously. He reviews and completes the packets of candidates before he submits them to the command master chief for approval. Next to his computer is a mountain of packets. He points to them and notes the sheer volume.
"End of deployment rush," he says.
As the end of deployment looms, more and more people who started the program at the beginning are completing it. For a reserve battalion especially, there is no better time to become SCW qualified than on a deployment. Access to materials, subject matter experts and hands-on training is available. It will be far more difficult at home on drill weekends.
"Earning your SCW pin demonstrates motivation and a desire to learn the basic skills of our warfare specialty," said Bowman. "For many, it earns you respect because you've been through the process and you can relate to your juniors."
Other Seabees echo Bowman's statement.
"Getting your SCW pin means you are stepping up. Going through the program gives you a better understanding of the basics," said Builder 2nd Class Jarrod Powell. "It also gives you a better understanding of our heritage and where we came from."
That same day, another board is convening. A petty officer second class has just completed her package and has presented it to a board for review. If the board finds the packet to be satisfactory, they will begin the second phase and ask a battery of questions to assess the fluency of her knowledge.
After she turns it in, the board asks her to step outside and wait. As soon as she steps out, the board pours over the contents of her package and begins to evaluate it. Geometries of fire are calculated, camp layouts are measured. No detail is left unchecked.
After careful review and only finding a few minor issues, they conclude the packet demonstrates competent knowledge. The candidate is brought back in.
The candidate finds herself sitting before a board of several petty officers and one chief. They begin to immediately ask her questions on everything from naval history to contingency operations.
"Who was the father of the Seabees? What is the maximum effective range of the M-240B machine gun? What are the 10 classes of supply?
The candidate answers the questions in rapid succession, but stumbles on a few. When pressed on how many pressure points are on the human body, she hesitates.
Rolling her eyes upward, she searches her memory to remember the answer.
"Twenty?" she asks nervously. "Eighteen?"
She is guessing and the board does not approve. They know the answer is in there somewhere.
"Forget that," says one of her inquisitors. "How many rings are on a 463L pallet?"
"It's twenty-two. Didn't you already ask me that?" she replies in a confused tone.
The two lock eyes and he gives her an intentional look. A smile stretches across her face as she gets the hint.
"There are twenty-two!" She says excitedly.
Her inquisitor and the rest of the board members nod approvingly.
"Confidence is what we look for," said Equipment Operator 1st Class Sergio Zamora. "If they say things like 'I guess that's it,' or 'I think so,' that's going to open up more questions. If they know it, we'll help them a little to see if we can pull it out."
After more than three hours of grueling questions, the board ends. The candidate is asked to step outside and wait. Afterward, board members discuss among themselves and decide the results. After a few more minutes, they ask the candidate to re-enter.
The chief petty officer chairing the board asks her how she thinks she performed.
"I've learned so much, but I feel like I missed a lot," she says.
"That's normal," he replies.
At that moment, all members on the board stand up in unison. The chief walks over to the seated candidate, his eyes casting a doubtful glance. After a terse moment, he sticks out his hand, a smile stretching across his face.
"Congratulations," he says.
A visible burden is lifted off of the candidate's shoulders, and she smiles in relief. She reaches out and shakes the chief's hand.
Soon, the board surrounds her and a frenzy of congratulations and back-slapping ensues. The board members begin recalling their own experiences.
Through the buzz of activity in the background, the chief takes the candidate aside and quietly tells her a phrase that has been uttered numerous times at the conclusion of countless boards.
"Remember, this isn't just about earning a pin. What you learned in this course may save the life of one of your shipmates."