Read LCDR Greg Philips, NR NAVFAC CEU
NMCB 21 Command Master Chief Proctor (second from left), NMCB 21 Commanding Officer, William R. Mock, Jr., (second from right) and Commander 7th NCR, Captain Gary L. Rouse, (far right) casing the Battalion’s colors for the second time in its 71 year history. Photos by LCDR Greg Philips
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion TWENTY ONE (NMCB 21) cased its colors for the 2nd time in its 72 year history at a decommissioning ceremony held at Joint Base Dix McGuire Lakehurst on September 21, 2013. Speaking to RADM Scott Weikert, the men and women of NMCB 21, their family and friends, former Commanding Officers and alumni of NMCB 21, Captain Gary L. Rouse, Commander of the Seventh Naval Construction Regiment (7th NCR) told those gathered, “that it was very appropriate that NMCB 21 should be decommissioning on September 21, because this was their day.”
Initially commissioned in the spring of 1942 in Norfolk, VA as a reserve battalion, NMCB 21, known as the “Black Jack” Battalion served with distinction in the Aleutian Islands, Dutch Harbor Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands, Saipan and Okinawa. At the end of World War II, NMCB 21 was decommissioned as part of the general draw down of military forces after the war.
In 1962, at the height of the cold war, NMCB 21 was recommissioned as a reserve battalion and located at Naval Air Station Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. The Battalion was created by the merger of various reserve Seabee units under the command of the Fourth Naval District. The Black Jacks trained at NAS Willow Grove until 1972, when the Battalion moved to a newly built readiness support site (RSS) at NAS Lakehurst, NJ. The RSS has the unusual distinction of having been built on top of the wreckage of the infamous German passenger airship Hindenburg that caught fire and was destroyed trying to dock with its mooring mast at NAS Lakehurst in 1937.
RADM Scott Weikert, Deputy Commander, NAVFAC HQ giving the Keynote speech
Guest speaker RADM Scott Weikert, Deputy Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command and an alumnae of NMCB 21, said, “[s]tanding before you are some of the best Seabees and finest Seabees that this Nation has ever seen. I know that many of you are here with sad hearts and disappointment that our Seabee force is shrinking and that the Battalion is being decommissioned, I share that disappointment, it’s unfortunate, but it’s not the first time, as was mentioned in the Battalion History.”
“Force structure is a dynamic thing,” he added. “The size, the make up, the mission of our force must remain flexible if we are going to remain relevant. Our demonstrated ability as a force, throughout our history, to rapidly grow to meet and satisfy our continuous urgent needs coupled with the ability to reduce our size and structure, when demand is low or fiscal constraints exist, is one of our strengths.”
Master Chief Proctor holding the Cased Colors
NMCB 21 Commanding Officer, William R. Mock, Jr. told the Black Jacks, “We have two choices this morning; we can either mourn the casing of NMCB 21’s colors or we can choose to celebrate her achievements. Since I’ve had command of NMCB 21, we made a conscious decision to ensure that this great Battalion would be defined by her rich history and not the force restructuring that’s led us to this day. If you look on the surface, all you’ll see is a bunch of tired buildings and then you’ll realize that over the years it hasn’t been the facilities, the location, or even the number of the Battalion that made it great, it has been the people. Our people are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, volunteers and patriots. Each and every one of you is sewn with the fabric of patriotism, leadership and impeccable morale fiber.” “We can case our colors,” he added, “but the spirit, the legacy and the camaraderie of NMCB 21 can never, and will never, be cased.”
Since September 11, 2001, members of NMCB 21 actively participated in rescue efforts and combat operations. Working with the New York Naval Mobile Militia, they took part in the rescue and recovery efforts in the aftermath of September 11th. In 2003, the Battalion mobilized 250 personnel in two heavy air detachments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. One of the air detachments participated in the invasion of Iraq and earned the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest unit award that our Nation can give.
In 2005 and 2006, personnel from NMCB 21 again mobilized in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. These individuals served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. In 2009, NMCB 21 mobilized and deployed as a full battalion as part of the Nation’s 30,000 troop surge into Afghanistan. While in theatre, they conducted limited combat engineering; provided general engineering support; maintained freedom of movement for forward and main operating bases; and constructed, maintained and established critical buildings and infrastructure. During this deployment, NMCB 21 supported the 22nd NCR, the 3rd NCR, and the 25th NCR with personnel in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, and Kuwait.
To summarize the contributions that NMCB 21 has made to the Navy, the Department of Defense and the Nation, “NMCB 21 has Done and Can Do!”
LCDR Greg Philips is an alumnae of NMCB 21. He is currently assigned to NR NAVFAC CEU as PAO and is a member of the Seabee Magazine Editorial Board.