Rear Adm. Mark Handley meets with Seabees stationed in Afghanistan during
a January visit.
Doesn’t the Marine Corps have
its own equivalent to Seabees?
HANDLEY: The Marines have combat engineers that do some of the
more kinetic engineering — mine
clearing, obstacle breaching, those
types of things. They have limited
construction capability. When the
Marines get into building an infrastructure like a base or the airfield,
they rely on Seabees. As we were
preparing for maneuvers for [Opera-tion Iraqi Freedom] OIF- 1 and we
were in Kuwait, the 3rd Marine
Aircraft Wing needed to bed down
all of their aircraft, so, in about a 90-
day period, the Seabees built a 21-
acre concrete apron for all the wing’s
fighter aircraft. That was a massive
project, 24/7 operations.
in December 2009, it was very clear they needed engineers first to build the infrastructure to support the operations, so we surged two more battalions in and they did
phenomenal work building new bases from scratch.
Probably the best example was up in Regional
Command North, right outside of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Pretty much out of a farmer’s field, they built a 300-
acre logistics base in about six months, probably one
of the largest earth-moving projects we’ve done since
World War II. As the troops come down, we’re still
trying to support the maneuver units that are going
into new locations with new combat outposts. We
have fewer engineers to spread across those requirements. It makes for some tough choices, but that’s
probably the main challenge we have operating in
Have the Afghanistan and Iraq
wars overly stressed the
HANDLEY: First of all, a day doesn’t go by that I’m not
amazed by the strength and resiliency of our force, but
there is no doubt that we’re seeing the signs of the stress of
being at war for 10 years. When we surged in Afghanistan,
we doubled our force and we had to lengthen our deployments from six to eight months. Their homeport time was
shortened by about two months to 10 months. That
enabled us to do great things. In our Reserve component,
we mobilized Reserve battalions on a faster cycle, essentially a 3-to- 1 turn instead of the normal 5-to- 1 for Reserve
forces. We’re now resetting our Reserve component.
What is the function of a Naval Construction
Regiment in Afghanistan?
HANDLEY: It’s a command-and-control organization
that we use for major combat operations and other
tasking. As it is a joint fight over there, that regiment is
now commanding the task force, which includes sometimes up to as many as six Army engineer battalions
and two Air Force engineering squadrons as well as the
Naval Mobile Construction battalions. So they command the full spectrum of engineering operations in
the south, southwest and west of Afghanistan. We’ve
had a regiment there since 2009. I’ve had both active
and Reserve regiments in that role.
Now that the Seabees are part of Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), how did
that affect the way Seabees do their job?
HANDLEY: Because we were associated more closely
with the other expeditionary forces, like Maritime Civil
Affairs and Maritime Expeditionary Security Forces, now
we’re finding more opportunities to work closer together.
Also, that has really helped us align with the fleet with
respect to our training and our readiness. We certify all
of our units ready for tasking and NECC has been integral in helping us align there.
Can you give some examples of Seabees in
action in humanitarian relief?
HANDLEY: It’s really about building partnerships. We
have a water well team in Cambodia. It makes a difference
for every village that they touch. It really helps build the
camaraderie and enhances the image of the United States.