SEABEES IN VIETNAM
In South Vietnam, the Seabees built and fought and established a new reputation for their deeds of construction while under fire. From the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the north to the delta region in the south, they supported combat operations and sometimes fought side-by-side with the United States Marines and Army troops in guerrilla-infested areas.
The first full Seabee battalion arrived in Vietnam on 7 May 1965 to build an expeditionary airfield for the Marines at Chu Lai. Others soon followed. From 1965 until 1969, the Seabee commitment in Southeast Asia rapidly increased. This necessitated, first, the transfer of Atlantic Fleet battalions to the Pacific through a change of home port; then, the deployment to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) of Atlantic Fleet NMCBs; and later the reactivation of nine additional battalions. This was culminated by the call to active duty of two Reserve NMCBs in May of 1968, bringing to 21 the number of battalions deploying to RVN. In addition, there were two amphibious construction battalions lending support to the RVN effort. In the same time period, a requirement for Seabees to support in-country activities, such as naval support activities at Da Nang and Saigon, two construction battalion maintenance units, two deployed naval construction regiments, and the deployed Third Naval Construction Brigade rapidly increased. To support these various requirements, the total Seabee community grew from 9,400 in mid-1965; to 14,000 in mid-1966; to 20,000 in mid-1967; to more than 29,000 in 1968 and 1969.
Seabee accomplishments in Vietnam were
impressive, just as they were in World War II, Korea, and during peacetime. All 21 active battalions deployed to Vietnam-some several times-to build the roads, airfields, cantonments, warehouses, hospitals, storage facilities, bunkers, and other facilities needed to continue the struggle. In accordance with the "mobile" concept of the Naval Construction Force, Seabee units supported Marine, Navy, Army, and Air Force operations at camps and landing zones throughout RVN and at such outposts as Con Thien, Khe Sanh, and Gio Linh.
For their efforts in Vietnam, Seabee units and individual Seabees received formal recognition in the form of numerous commendations and medals. In Vietnam, a Seabee, CM3 Marvin E. Shields, a member of Seabee Team 1104, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. This nation's highest recognition was awarded to CM3 Shields for his heroic efforts in the defense of a Special Forces camp and Vietnamese District Headquarters at Dong Xoai. When de-escalation of U.S. activity in Southeast Asia got under way, Seabee strength was once more reduced. By September 1970, NMCBs were down to the planned post-RVN level of 10 full-size battalions. Once more, Seabees were being called upon to undertake major peacetime projects that had been deferred or neglected because of wartime priorities.
Today's Seabees are involved in new and far-reaching construction frontiers, the Indian Ocean, the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands, and on the ocean floor.
One of the major peacetime projects ever undertaken by the Seabees is the complete development, construction, and operation of the United States communications station on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Construction was started in early 1971.
Prior to 1971, Diego Garcia was a jungle-covered atoll devoid of activity except for a small meteorological station and a copra plantation. Today, it is a busy naval support activity, all due to the largest peacetime construction effort ever accomplished by the Seabees. This tremendous effort ultimately involved some 14 naval construction force (NCF) commands, 17 battalion deployments, and over 60 individual detachment deployments. The Seabees completed over 200 Navy and Air Force projects, valued at over $200 million. NMCB 40, the first detachment of Seabees involved in this effort, was deployed by amphibious ship to Diego Garcia in March 1971. They landed on the beach and quickly cleared temporary camp areas. Next, they cleared 15 acres of jungle, which was later used for more permanent structures. They also completed a 3,500-foot-long, C-130 capable airstrip and carved a 4-mile road network out of the jungle.
Those early years presented many challenges- remote location, difficult on-site conditions, adverse weather, extreme heat, material delivery delays, numerous design changes, and problems establishing a 13,000-mile logistic pipeline. Despite these hardships Seabees completed 85 percent of construction on nine major industrial and support buildings. They cleared 210 acres; and during the preparation of a permanent runway base, they removed 200,000 cubic yards of unsuitable material and placed 300,000 cubic yards of coral. All tested the Seabee "Can Do" motto.
Priorities and world situations changed however, and what had originally been a 3-year mission for the Seabees was extended. After building an austere communications station, the Seabees were now tasked with building Diego Garcia to provide broader support for U.S. ships and aircraft in the Indian Ocean.
By mid-1975, the Seabees completed an entire Naval Construction Force camp that included berthing, messing, shops, storage, utilities, and recreation facilities. Diego Garcia had become a minor naval activity with a permanent airfield; air operations buildings; navigational aides; additional com-munications facilities; harbor operation facilities; a large port with petroleum, oil, and lubricating (POL) facilities; telephone systems; water distribution; power and electrical distribution; sewage systems; five BEQs, three BOQs, public works facilities, administrative, and other support facilities.
Today, Diego Garcia encompasses a busy support facility with a communications station, a naval air facility, a major fuel storage facility, a permanent pier, and other support structures. Naval Support Facility, Diego Garcia, hosts over 15 tenant activities, including a weather service unit, a Navy broadcasting unit, and fleet air reconnaissance and patrol squadrons. The runway at Diego Garcia has been lengthened from 8,000 feet to 12,000 feet. The extension permits operation of larger cargo aircraft as well as high-performance, tactical aircraft under a variety of circumstances in the tropical climate. Other airfield improvements include additional parking aprons and arresting gear for emergency use and limited aircraft maintenance facilities.
At the time Chief of Civil Engineers and Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Rear Admiral William M. Zobel praised the Seabee
Figure 1-2.-Chain of command for LANTFLT NCF units.
efforts on Diego Garcia and said, "With the departure of NMCB 62 from Diego Garcia on July 14, 1982, we closed another illustrious chapter in our Seabee history."