By MC1 Patrick Gordon, NMCB 25 Public Affairs
A member of NMCB 25 runs with a litter to evacuate ‘Bees during a mass casualty drill at the battalion’s FTX, March 14. NMCB 25 is training for an upcoming deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Photos by MC1 Patrick Gordon
Wars, just like those who fight them, evolve with time. They advance with each generation to incorporate tactics, tools and lessons learned from previous conflicts. But as wars evolve, so does training. For Seabees, some of the best training they can receive occurs every year with the annual field training exercise, or FTX.
The FTX gives a naval construction battalion the opportunity to test its skills in a simulated combat environment. The battalion is evaluated at the group level; in the case of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 25, the ‘Bees were evaluated by Naval Construction Group (NCG) 2 during their most recent FTX at Camp Shelby, Miss. Virtually every field of expertise in the battalion is tested during FTX, all with the goal of maintaining a deployable and war-ready organization.
“The FTX is the first opportunity a battalion has to sit down as a coherent, congruent, total unit executing the full spectrum of missions that are expected by a combatant commander of a Seabee battalion in theater,” said Marine Capt. Robert Kent Wallace, NCG 2 military training officer. “The goal is to exercise to some extent all of those different tasks to ensure that a Seabee battalion is capable of fulfilling that mission and full spectrum of operations once they reach theater, wherever that is. There’s really nothing that isn’t evaluated.”
Evaluators test, critique and scrutinize every department of the battalion to ensure technical expertise is maintained. On top of that, combat scenarios are thrown at the Seabees to test their tactics and how they operate under pressure.
“We reacted to a variety of scenarios,” said Master-at-Arms Timothy Martin, NMCB 25 Quick Reaction Force team leader. “Things like civilians at the gate, whether they were hostile, looking for help, or just curious. We also responded to any enemy action throughout the camp – intruders in camp, enemy action attacking our front lines…pretty much any type of emergency situation. It was an eye-opener for some of these guys. It’s pretty high-speed stuff.”
EO1(SCW) Russell Graham (left), NMCB 25, trades riddles with Naser Khadem, an Afghan role player, during Engineering Brigade Advise and Assist Team training, March 20. The training is designed to acclimate the Seabees to working with Afghan forces.
From the outside, the scenarios may seem like petty harassment at times. But every training evolution is rooted in real-life scenarios the battalion may face while overseas. These scenarios are conducted by trained staff members who bring their respective fields of expertise to the exercise, ensuring their knowledge – both professional and operational – is passed on to those in training.
“Across the spectrum of rates you have everything from safety to intel to communications, tactics and training, camp maintenance – all of those individuals bring a wealth of information as respected authorities within the doctrines they’re evaluating, and that gives you 150 experts putting a very critical eye on the battalion as it goes through,” said Wallace. “So from my perspective, it exists as a vast pool of knowledge from which the battalion can draw for two straight weeks to ensure they’re going forward with the best information possible, and to ensure the exacting standards of a Seabee battalion are met downrange.”
Other scenarios are outside the control of the evaluators, but no less important. During NMCB 25’s FTX, a powerful storm ripped through their training area and threatened to cancel the exercise. In some parts of the camp, water was knee deep and mud quickly turned parts of the camp into a quagmire. The battalion was ready and faced the storm head on, weathering the wind and rain, and dewatering the camp within hours.
“We had to trench everything to prevent any further damage or flooding,” said CM1(SCW) Wayne Treat, NMCB 25. “It required a lot of trenching through the camp and around the tents we had, just to get that ponding water out of there. A lot of man hours, a lot of effort, but once that was done it drained out pretty well and dried out fairly quickly. It was a successful effort, but moreover, it was a needed effort – there was really no other option but to drain the camp and carry on. In the long run, it worked out well.”
The efforts of the battalion proved it was ready for any challenge faced down range. But for the amount of training presented, it’s all for nothing without the spirit of each Seabee to take what they’ve learned and bring it to the fight.
“Everything’s dependent on the initiative each individual Sailor takes and the responsibility [he/she takes] to be involved, and to engage themselves throughout the entirety of the evaluated period,” said Wallace. “And if they’re not, then we replay the scenarios over and over and over again in the course of five, seven, 14 days – however long it takes – until it’s done right, because that stuff matters; if you don’t train to the standard, then you never have that capability.
EA2 Rachel Schaeffer (left) and BU2 Andrew Myre, NMCB 25, tighten lines on the command operations center during the battalion’s field exercise (FEX), March 13. The FTX gives the battalion members an opportunity to test their skills in a simulated combat environment.
“So our goal is to train them to the standard, and that forces them to grow in their capacity to execute that mission once they get downrange and are facing possible life-or-death pressures,” he said. “Those things are cumulative; the process we try to put these individuals through is to generate some of those stressors to ensure their reactions are such that they’re going to come away with mission accomplishment, troop welfare and hopefully bringing everyone home alive.”
NMCB 25 will carry the lessons learned with them overseas, using them to maintain a high measure of performance and safety. Once they return, they will bring with them the knowledge of the battlefield fresh in their minds for future generations of Seabees before they go overseas, ensuring that the tactics never become outdated.
“You can’t beat the lessons learned and the experience that you can get from this,” said Capt. David Marasco, commodore, 9th Naval Construction Regiment (9 NCR). “We’ve been fortunate to take data from real-world scenarios downrange in Afghanistan and employ it into these scenarios which help our units better understand the tactics and procedures going on downrange, and have a good understanding of what to expect when they get there.”