By MC3(SW/AW) Jonathan Pankau, PHIBCB 2 Public Affairs
Seaman Recruit Joshua Williams, PHIBCB 2, climbs off a utility boat onto Maritime Prepositioning Force ship USNS PFC Eugene A. Obregon (T-AK-3006) to assist with the set up and operation of the Amphibious Bulk Liquid Transfer System (ABLTS) during Exercise Bold Alligator 2012. Bold Alligator, the largest naval amphibious exercise in the past 10 years, took place afloat and ashore in and around Virginia and North Carolina during January and February. Photo by MC3(SW/AW) Jonathan Pankau
Seabees attached to Amphibious Construction Battalion (PHIBCB) 2 stood watch on an Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) Intermediate Module 13,000 feet away from the shore of Onslow Bay, N.C., Feb. 23. A jet black bay stretched out to meet an equally dark sky, slightly illuminated by the lights from the Maritime Prepositioning Force ship USNS PFC Eugene A. Obregon (T-AK-3006). Loud reports from the engines of the Riverine squadron boats patrolling the waters, sometimes accompanied by spotlights slicing through the distant night sky or automatic gunfire from their mounted machine guns, were the only signs of a presence patrolling the bay. Despite the conditions, PHIBCB 2 Seabees still stood the watch on their Amphibious Bulk Liquid Transfer System (ABLTS) pumping water to the forces ashore.
This was the scene at Exercise Bold Alligator 2012 off the coast of Camp Lejeune, N.C. Seabees from PHIBCB 2 were training for an all-out amphibious assault, and though it was only water being pumped through the ABLTS for the exercise, it could just as easily pump fuel in a real-world combat scenario. Once fuel is thrown into the equation, PHIBCB 2’s status as a key component in a training exercise becomes an essential and vital service in a combat situation…and a high priority target for enemy forces.
“ABLTS is directly related to our ability to sustain forces ashore,” said Rear Adm. Dennis E. FitzPatrick, Commander, Strike Force Training Atlantic. “So as we look at Bold Alligator, we begin to reacquaint ourselves with the amphibious mission and our partnership with our Marine Corps brethren.”
Command Master Chief (SCW) Johnny J. DeSarro said that supporting the amphibious forces by moving resources and supplies from ship to shore is PHIBCB 2’s main mission.
“We supply the Marine Corps and other ground pounders with the fuel and equipment they need to do their mission,” CMDCM DeSarro said. “PHIBCB 2 is a part of Naval Beach Group 2, which reports to Expeditionary Strike Group 2. The Seabees here are very much a part of the surface Navy but we provide support for our forces ashore just like every Seabee at a Naval Mobile Construction Battalion [NMCB], Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit [CBMU] and so on.”
Every Seabee’s legacy begins in World War II when the Fighter Builders stormed beaches alongside ground forces. Amphibious transportation carried these Seabees to do their mission. But as the times changed so did our military and so did the military’s methods of getting their troops to the fight.
“If I had to come up with a difference between PHIBCB 2 and the other Seabee battalions, the only major difference I can really think of is our method of transportation to the mission…to the fight,” DeSarro said. “The things we build are different but we’re still building. We fight from seabase positions on the beach, but we’re still fighting.”
Alfa Company, Charlie Company and Hotel Company perform the same basic functions at PHIBCB 2 as they would anywhere else. Alfa operates and maintains the vehicles and construction equipment with their equipment operators and construction mechanics. Charlie is home to the builders, steelworkers, utilitiesmen, engineering aides and construction electricians who provide a valuable support role for every operation. Hotel, or Headquarters, Company provides the necessary administrative functions as well as staff training, medical and supply personnel.
There are a few different capabilities that make PHIBCB 2 a unique command. Once a year, Seabees from active duty and reserve components from PHIBCB 1 in Coronado, Calif., and PHIBCB 2 get together to build the Elevated Causeway System-Modular (ELCAS-M). ELCAS-M is the only expeditionary pier system in the world and can be constructed to support ship-to-shore cargo movement where a useable seaport may be damaged or unavailable.
Equipment Operator 1st Class (SCW) Lance Miller, PHIBCB 2 Alfa Company, said the battalion boasts the largest crane program in the Naval Construction Force (NCF) to assemble ELCAS-M.
“Our Crawler cranes and hydraulic cranes are the largest in the NCF, and we maintain more [of them] than any other Seabee battalion,” EO1 Miller said.
Charlie Company also participates in the ELCAS-M build from their engineering aides who provide valuable survey data, to the steelworkers who weld together the piles.
Builder 2nd Class (SCW) Andrew Kraus, PHIBCB 2 Charlie Company, said that Charlie also establishes and maintains all the necessary camp functions. Charlie Company personnel set up showers, operation tents and the tent camp itself where the Seabees rest for the night.
“We’re the behind-the-scenes guys who make everyday living and working conditions bearable out in the field,” BU2 Kraus said.
PHIBCB 2 is Kraus’s fifth duty station after serving with NMCB 4, Public Works Hawaii, and the 1st and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Forces. He is also the highest-ranking builder in PHIBCB 2’s Charlie Company builder shop. Kraus said he’s able to flex his leadership abilities more at PHIBCB 2 than at any other command.
“We’re not a large command and this makes it possible for me to lead the training of younger troops,” Kraus said. “I’m taking full advantage of the opportunity.”
Bravo Company at PHIBCB 2 is the anomaly compared to other Seabee battalions. It is comprised mainly of boatswain’s mates, electrician’s mates and enginemen. These are not Navy rates associated with the OF-7 construction ratings.
“Whether we’re deploying and operating ABLTS or pre-staging gear and equipment for the ELCAS-M, Bravo Company is essential to everything PHIBCB 2 does,” said Chief Boatswain’s Mate (EXW/SW) Scott Hinnant, PHIBCB 2 Bravo Company training chief. “My guys train with everyone else at the field training exercises and sleep in the same tents next to the equipment operators and builders during operations. I’d say we’re just as much Seabees as everyone else at the command.”
Boatswain’s mates at PHIBCB 2 are provided unique leadership opportunities related to maintaining and operating INLS craft. Chiefs, commissioned officers and limited duty officers are normally called upon to be Craft Masters at other commands. At PHIBCB 2, junior enlisted are able to step up and take charge of the craft by earning their Craft Master qualification.
“As a second class petty officer we can be in charge of a whole crew onboard an INLS vessel,” said Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class (SW) Jesse Gazur. “Especially during operations it’s just you and your boat crew out there, so we’re held to a higher standard of responsibility.”
DeSarro stressed that, no matter the differences, Seabees are everywhere and do everything.
“I’ve been stationed at a lot of commands and I don’t see the difference between a PHIBCB Seabee, an NMCB Seabee or any other battalion Seabee,” DeSarro said. “Every Seabee I’ve ever worked with has that ‘Can Do’ attitude necessary to accomplish any mission. Seabees support just about every command in the Navy. We call ourselves ‘Gator-Bees’ here at PHIBCB 2, but that same Gator-Bee can go to an NMCB and get it done there, too. We’ll build and fight wherever our country asks us to.”