‘Seabees are the Best Kept Secret of the Navy’

By Lt. Matthew Riley, Chaplain, NMCB 5

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Lt. Matthew Riley, a Navy chaplain, reads from the Bible at a sermon for Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 Seabees during the battalion’s field training exercise (FTX) on Fort Hunter Liggett. Using realistic scenarios in a field environment, NMCB 5 is being evaluated by Naval Construction Group (NCG) 1 on the final FTX in preparation for a deployment. The exercise challenges the battalion’s command and control functions while maintaining the camp, building structures and bridges, and defending the camp and construction projects. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John Curtis)

Upon receipt of my orders to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5, a chaplain mentor of mine reminded me of the missional approach that chaplains embrace. He encouraged me to “learn their language, even earn their pin if they let you.” We both knew full well, that we as chaplains cannot wear combat devices and doing so without authorization was never considered. Yet, from his wise council, I embarked on a journey that expanded my appreciation for Seabees and the Naval Construction Force as a whole.

The Seabee combat warfare (SCW) qualification standard took me on a journey through camp setup, maintenance and purpose of Civil Engineer Support Equipment (CESE), and the complexities of the embarkation process, which gives life to the mobile aspect of the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion. While going through the board process, I entered the mind of key leadership billets. Seeing through the eyes of operations, supply, training, and even program management at the executive officer level, stretched my mind in ways I never imagined.

The PQS, which took me 14 months to complete, stirred up more conversations across every corner of the command than I ever anticipated. I matriculated through a total of four boards, and then I was issued my fragmentary order, a change in the operations order or plan to accommodate a change in situation, with 48 hours to complete a given scenario. I slept five hours out of two days, while trying to figure out how I, as a detachment officer-in-charge with 89 troops, would get all my equipment, gear, and troops to my objective, completing contingency construction and providing security for our camp at the same time.

During this 48-hour process, so many people, some that I had never even met, came by my office to tell me they were praying for me. On one occasion a chief stopped by for encouragement, telling me his Seabees were inspired that “Chaps” was going for his pin. This reaction surprised me. I simply set out to learn firsthand what Seabees and Civil Engineering Corps officers had to endure, yet I encountered a team atmosphere I never imagined.

All efforts and inspiration aside, I failed my first board review with the commanding officer. There was no easy pass for the chaplain, once the command master chief noticed that my resource leveling would not have satisfied the mission in the allotted time. Passing me was not an option. Either due to the lack of sleep or the sheer nerves of it all – I cried. And when I did, I prayed that God would help me learn this scope of knowledge that was well outside of my wheelhouse. I re-boarded two months later and by God’s grace I passed.

Being a Seabee chaplain has been the highlight of my personal and professional life. Investing myself into their culture took me beyond the knowledge of their construction skills. I uncovered a plethora of their talents ranging from efficiency in mobilization, ability to conduct convoy operations, and set security on their camp/job site, just to name a few. Yet, what I will miss most is their consistently high levels of motivation and camaraderie.

Seabees are the best kept secret in the Navy, and I am so grateful that I got to serve with them. Although I do not wear the SCW pin on my uniform, I wear it in spirit, to commemorate the bonds I will always share with the Seabee community.

141012-N-SD120-030Lt. Matthew Riley, a Navy chaplain, delivers a sermon for Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 Seabees during the battalion’s field training exercise (FTX) on Fort Hunter Liggett. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John Curtis)

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