By Rear Adm. Paula Brown
“May you live in interesting times.” And we are! This saying is believed to be the English translation of an ancient Chinese proverb and curse, and the expression is always used ironically. It can just as well be a blessing, if we change our lens a little.
May 2013 was a busy month. We bade farewell to Rear Adm. Mark Handley after 3½ years as Commander of the First Naval Construction Division (1NCD), and we disestablished the division and merged the majority of the headquarters staff functions into the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC). We also reorganized the leadership and command of our Naval Construction Forces (NCF) into two fully capable Naval Construction Groups (NCGs), leading Seabees and working directly for NECC. Change happens.
As Seabees, we are extremely proud of our traditions and legacy – and we should be – but not to the detriment of our future. We need to remember what legacy means and not let ourselves dwell only on the past. Legacy is defined as something passed from a predecessor, something left behind or in the past, a result or something outdated. However, we must not dwell in the past. What will our future bring? How will we influence what is yet to come? We must now focus on our future and our way forward.
U.S. Fleet Forces Commander Adm. Bill Gortney emphasized once again that our Navy will always have Seabees. The Navy needs the Seabee “Can Do” spirit. Our active and reserve Seabee forces will be called upon to execute a range of very crucial missions for the Navy, from conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery, to supporting our forward forces with base camp construction, runways and transportation networks which assist in winning our nation’s wars. We are fully integrated into the CNO’s Tenants: Warfighting First, Operate Forward, Be Ready – and we need to ensure that we remain incorporated.
As previously mentioned, our Seabee operating forces are now organized under two NCG Commands: NCG 1 in Port Hueneme, Calif., and NCG 2 in Gulfport, Miss. Both active and reserve forces will be aligned under and trained at these two Seabee centers of excellence utilizing the same standards and the same training equipment and assets. We have already decommissioned two active battalions and one active duty regiment, and will decommission the first four reserve battalions and a reserve regiment this September. Yet, we remain a nation at war in Afghanistan, and must remain ready to support potential future natural or man-made disasters.
Change is something that we all face. This force reduction means fewer accessions, fewer promotions and a different set of opportunities for those who remain. For the reserve force there are some key differences that I will quickly highlight.
Our reserve Seabees are further reorganizing to better meet the needs of both the individual and the Navy. Reducing the number of reserve battalions will ultimately reduce the overall number of Seabees; however, for now we are only reducing the number of Seabee billets. The remaining six battalions will be organized across the nation to best accept the geographic diversity of our force and help reduce the number of cross assignments.
Each battalion will be structured to have one headquarters detachment and seven structured detachments to better support both the battalion and Navy Operational Support Command (NOSC) requirements. There will be individual Seabees who will not be placed in a “hard” billet with a Seabee battalion; rather, they may be in billets in other expeditionary units or other operational units that need Seabee ratings. Some Seabees will be cross-assigned into billets, especially officers and those Seabees living in more geographically remote areas.
All NCF units will have projected rotation dates (PRDs), initially at 2-5 years so that all Seabee billets will have the potential to rotate. All will be able to compete for billets through Career Management System Interactive Detailing (CMSID). The initial “all hands” billet fills will be conducted this summer. Some individuals will not get hard billets initially. There will be opportunities to fill Seabee billets (using CMSID) over the next one to two years and there will be opportunities to cross rate to a more open and competitive rating to meet both individual desires and the needs of the Navy. Those not placed in a billet will be in an IAP (In Assignment Processing) status and can drill at their local NOSC, likely with the Operational Support Unit (OSU). Every opportunity will be explored to make training available for those Seabees in an IAP status. One thing is for sure: the Navy needs qualified and dedicated Sailors. Seabee ingenuity and “Can Do” spirit definitely fits the Navy’s future.
Another change for reserve Seabees is the training program. Battalion personnel will perform Seabee training for four days once a quarter at the respective Readiness Training Platform (RTP) in either Port Hueneme or Gulfport. Training will be structured based on the FRTP and focused on skills that the individual and battalion needs to “Be Ready.” Individuals will then complete two days per quarter at their NOSC to ensure all administrative requirements are completed (including PRT, medical, GMT, etc.), and will then have one month per quarter for family or civilian job requirements.
This 4-2-0 schedule will be known well ahead of time so that individuals (and commands) can best plan for upcoming training events, as well as plan around those dates for NOSC and family needs. We are in the process of solidifying the training events to ensure that the four days at the RTP in Port Hueneme and Gulfport maximize skills attainment and best serve the individual’s time commitment. The 1st NCR will remain located in Port Hueneme and, ultimately, 7th NCR will move to Gulfport. At this time, the 9th NCR will remain in Texas.
As we continue to move forward, we will undoubtedly continue to change and mold our forces and our training focus to meet the needs of the Navy. Each of you will play an important role in executing and assisting to make these changes beneficial to all of us. There will always be Seabees and with the changes we are embarking upon, we will not only have a strong legacy, but a bright and fulfilling future.