“Providing fuel to a combat outpost [in Afghanistan] takes a lot of effort. You have
to convoy fuel out there. So we came up with a strategy to incorporate solar
lighting into those combat outposts. It eliminated the need for refueling for generators to support that. That’s probably been one that has helped save a number
of lives, and also provided an economical and clean way to provide that mission.”
We also have a detachment of Seabees going into
Vietnam. This is our first military presence back into
Vietnam in many, many years and we’re really looking to
build a foundation of trust and partnership with them.
We’re aligned very much with our fleet commanders. For example, Seabees aboard the [amphibious
transport dock ship] USS Cleveland participated in
Pacific Partnership, where a ship will visit several ports
and provide some medical assistance, do some positive
engagement with the local government there — and
the Seabees will renovate schools and clinics and do
some small community service projects.
We’ve gone to places like Papua-New Guinea,
Micronesia and Tonga. We’ve done that in South
America in Continuing Promise ’ 10 on the [amphibious assault ship] USS Iwo Jima. They continue to do
humanitarian projects in places including Haiti,
Suriname, Colombia and Costa Rica. They make short
visits, but they have a huge impact.
We’re doing the same thing with Africa Partnership
Stations. In one of the best examples, we sent Seabees
out about a month ahead of time to actually build a
new school from the ground up, and we timed that for
when the ship does its engagement as part of that partnership station. It really leaves a lasting impression of
what partnership with the United States provides to
those countries and how they can improve security
within the region with cooperation.
We had a small, but important, role in the tsunami and
earthquake [relief] in Japan, mostly in port clearing, where
we had an underwater construction team help survey and
help the Japanese people in preparing to clear their ports.
If you think of the Port of Prince [Haiti] Airport and
the amount of materials that you get in there in a day,
you get another order of magnitude of capability when
a port is opened. It took some pretty complex construction to essentially rebuild the pilings under an
existing pier while it was damaged. They were able to
take that on and make that an effective port again.
One of the things most people don’t know about
[Hurricane] Katrina is we had about 3,000 Seabees
help in the recovery effort. They cleared about 750
miles of road, moved tons of debris and repaired about
85 schools in that [Gulf Coast] region.
Bulldozers were symbolic of the Seabees in World
War II. What new technologies are you embracing?
HANDLEY: We’re using bulldozers and the same types of
earth-moving equipment that we’ve had in the past to
build roads and do the heavy up-and-down lifting. The
biggest difference is that in the equipment we have in
Afghanistan and Iraq now, we’ve incorporated armor. An
operator “outside the wire,” working in that combat environment, has some protection between him and any insurgent who might decide to fire rounds in his direction.
Many years ago, the equipment would have lots of
levers and complex hydraulics. Today, it looks a little
bit more like a Playstation. It’s got a joystick. Our
young Seabees really enjoy it. They’re able to train with
that joystick before they actually get on a piece of
We’re looking at alternative energy. We’ve built a
number of combat outposts out and around the city of
Kandahar and a number of them included security
checkpoints with lighting. Providing fuel to a combat
outpost takes a lot of effort. You have to convoy fuel
out there. So we came up with a strategy to incorporate
solar lighting into those combat outposts. It eliminated
the need for refueling for generators to support that.
That’s probably been one that has helped save a number of lives, and also provided an economical and clean
way to provide that mission.
The satellite communications that we use today give
us full-spectrum capability. It has given us great technical reachback capability. We will send Seabees out to
look at a bridge and take digital photographs of it,
make drawings of it and take measurements. We will
send that in a package back to engineers here in
Norfolk at Naval Facilities Engineering Command
Atlantic. They have experts who will work on it and
then send us back answers and solutions within 24
hours. We get a reachback to a huge suite of technical
expertise that we didn’t have access to before. That’s
been a huge force multiplier for us.
What challenges do you see the Seabees facing
in today’s environment?
HANDLEY: The No. 1 challenge for us is continued
operations in Afghanistan. We’re seeing lots of