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Their simple motto tells the story: "We build, we fight". As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Navy's construction force, discover the significant role the Seabees play in protecting our nation.
As the Seabees celebrate their 75th anniversary, much of their work toward providing national security, alleviating humanitarian crises and responding to natural disasters goes unnoticed by a large percentage of the American public.
However, "There is not a military person who's been around the Seabees who cannot tell a story about what the Seabees did for them to make their lives better," said Bill Hilderbrand, president of the CEC/Seabees Historical Foundation. "Anybody who has been in the military knows the value that comes with them everywhere they go."
Hilderbrand is a retired captain who worked with the Seabees during his second tour of Vietnam and was later the commanding officer of the Seabees unit in Gulfport, Miss. The Seabees he worked with built countless barracks for the Marine Corps and Army, created aircraft protection barriers, installed security fences, put in culverts and more.
"The story of the Seabees is an amazing one," Hilderbrand said. "Everybody thinks of the military primarily as of people fighting. The Seabees primary tool is not a gun. They are not an offensive unit. One of the things they take pride in is that when they leave a place, it is better than when they arrived. And that’s their job. They are not doing it for themselves. They are doing it for everybody else. If they go into a war zone and there is nothing there, they have to clear the jungle, or the beaches, to build runways."
Adm. Ben Moreell conceived and received approval to start the Seabees in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack. Their primary mission was to build bases for airfields and ports all across the ocean.
"Our leadership determined that it could not be done with civilian engineers and construction men," said Rear Adm. Bret Muilenburg, commander of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and Chief of Civil Engineers. "We needed people who could not only engineer, but could fight, if necessary for these projects. We armed our construction men, gave them military training, and then formed them into units called construction battalions."
And that's how the name arose — construction battalions, CBs for short, or the phonetic, Seabees.
The Seabees have played a role in every U.S. conflict since World War II, from getting equipment and supplies ashore during the Normandy landings to providing support during the Inchon landing during the Korean War to building and defending bridges and encampments during Vietnam and contributing to the war efforts and humanitarian missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Seabees have these kinds of skills," Muilenburg said. "They are problem-solvers and have the equipment to make them efficient. In addition, our Seabees are forward deployed and timing is of the essence. People need help so you want to get there as fast as you can, often faster than local authorities."
For 75 years, the Seabees have been building and fighting, carrying out America's missions across the world. "It's something we should be proud of," Muilenburg said. "We should honor them, remember what they did and why they did it and how they did it. The book of the Seabees hasn't been fully written yet. For us to know how to write the next chapters, it is important for us to understand our history and how we got to where we are."
(Content edited from a longer article courtesy of The American Legion.)