‘We Build, We Fight’
Seabees build bases in war zones and partnerships worldwide
Rear Adm. Mark A. Handley, a Civil Engineer Corps officer, assumed command of the 1st Naval
Construction Division (1NCD) and Naval Construction Forces Command on Oct. 23, 2009. He commands
approximately 16,500 Seabees — named for the “CB” abbreviation of the naval construction battalions —
that deploy worldwide in support of combat operations and humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. 1NCD
is in the forefront of theater security cooperation operations with the nation’s partners and allies. Handley
manages an annual operational budget of approximately $150 million.
Handley has served in a wide range of assignments with the Seabees and activities of the Naval Facilities
Engineering Command (NAVFAC). He has commanded Naval Construction Battalion Three and the 22nd Naval
Construction Regiment, deploying with the latter to Fallujah, Iraq, in support of I Marine Expeditionary Force.
He also served as commander of NAVFAC Mid-Atlantic, Norfolk, Va.; vice commander, Navy Installations
Command; and director of Shore Readiness for the deputy chief of naval operations (Logistics) in Washington.
Handley discussed Seabee operations in Afghanistan and other regions with Managing Editor Richard R.
Burgess. Excerpts follow:
What is the scope of the 1st Naval Construction Division?
HANDLEY: We have three active and four Reserve regiments, the ones that exercise command and control of
Seabee operations in places like Afghanistan, where we
have major operations. We have two Seabee readiness
groups, one in Port Hueneme, Calif., and one in
Gulfport, Miss. Those are the groups that do most of
the training for our Seabee battalions and our other
units. At the battalion level, we have nine active and 12
Reserve naval mobile construction battalions. Along
with those, we have two underwater construction
teams, one here in Virginia Beach, Va., at Little Creek
and one in Port Hueneme. Two construction battalion
maintenance units are headquartered in San Diego and
Little Creek and they have detachments at the various
naval stations on the East and West coasts.
What capabilities do your forces offer to a combatant commander, in Afghanistan, for example?
HANDLEY: What we do is construct base facilities. …
What would commonly happen is Seabees would go in to
a new location where a maneuver commander requires a
combat outpost. We push up dirt berms with bulldozers,
build a perimeter, entry control points, command-and-control facilities, berthing, messing — all the essential
facilities to allow a maneuver force to operate in a certain
location. We also do a lot of maneuver support, freedom
of movement, so you’ll see us erecting and maintaining
bridges, constructing roads. We also [build] airfields and
helo pads, whatever is required.
We say, “We build, we fight.” Most of our operations
are for mobility, so we do convoy operations in a combat
environment and defensive operations. We, essentially,
defend what we build. The majority of it in Afghanistan
has been new and existing combat outposts [and] forward operating bases, either building from scratch or
improving upon them as we go into theater.
We also do what we call Phase Zero operations, or
Theater Security Cooperation, on the humanitarian side
in places like Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal, Philippines,
Cambodia, Timor-Leste. We’ll build and renovate clinics
and schools [and do] water well drilling, for example.
But what we really do there is build relationships. We’re