By Cmdr. Jorge R. Cuadros, NMCB 11
BU2 Caleb Walters (left) and ITSN Jeffrey Dumag program radios with crypto in close to record time, Heritage Squad Challenge Competition, Gulfport, Miss., Jan. 21. (Photo by Ens. Via Ronic Snow-Hill/160121-N-XZ945-016)
It was a typical Tuesday morning. The ambient temperature was at freezing, but the spirit and enthusiasm that Lucky ELEVEN’s Seabees mustered reached boiling levels. The reason: We were kicking off our Heritage Squad Challenge events, a fierce, four-day competition, Gulfport, Mississippi, Jan. 19-22.
Under our motto of “Constructing the Future, Remembering the Past,” we were decked out in our PT gear on the main grinder as opposed to our NWU Type 3 uniform on the mini-grinder. Focusing on the battalion’s heritage, we completed squad competitions, each day embodying a particular characteristic of our personality as the engineer force of choice.
On Day One, we remembered the endurance of Lucky ELEVEN Seabees who in 1953 arrived at Cubi Point in the Philippines, and completed a 10,000-foot runway by “moving a mountain.” As the first of many battles in the competition, the overall challenge for each squad was to complete the entire Physical Readiness Test (PRT).
BUCN Nikolas Krecu, NMCB 11, hurls dirt as he digs for the fighting position challenge, Heritage Squad Challenge Competition, Gulfport, Miss., Jan. 20. (Photo by Ens. Via Ronic Snow-Hill/160120-N-XZ945-021)
Day Two’s focus was on defensive capabilities by digging a standard two-Seabee fighting position using E-tools and pioneer kits with only one battalion member working on the position at a time. This was followed by a weapons breakdown and re-assembly challenge. When we think about valiant defensive operations, it is hard not to think about CM3 Marvin Shields’ heroism over 50 years ago.
On Day Three, the morning challenges tested proficiency and consisted of Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) Level attainment and radio programming with crypto to communicate with “higher.” In the afternoon, we capitalized on the “I’ve got your back” concept by participating in range safety instruction and a Combat Life Saver event with litter carriers, buddy aids and other combat aid skills inspired by the actions of NMCB 11’s Construction Electrician (Wiring) 3rd Class Richard Supczak, who in April 1965 identified and hurled out from a truck a live grenade that was thrown by the enemy, saving the lives of those in the vehicle.
The culminating event on the final day celebrated the fighting spirit and resiliency of the Seabees, and included a Pugil Stick competition that drew dozens of spectators and fans. NMCB 11 was decommissioned in 1969 and re-commissioned in 2007. In August 2009, the battalion completed its first deployment in 40 years with the same spirit and courage that has characterized the battalion through its rich and proud history.
As I observed the multiple events this week, I was inspired by our Sailors. Yes, generations are different but the spirit is the same. The document titled “What is a Seabee?” captures it well and universally. From Engineering Aide 1st Class William Atwater’s preciseness to lay out the fighting position, to Equipment Operator 2nd Class Andrew Vaughn’s ability to keep all motivated through humor, to Construction Electrician 2nd Class Robert Lee’s agility to dig dirt, to Utilitiesman 3rd Class Rein Johnson-Esquire’s impressive sub nine-minute mile and a half run, to Utilitiesman Constructionman Felisha Nelson’s impressive speed to get to MOPP Level 4, to Steelworker 2nd Class Brianna Keeler’s determination to get one last push up in as the stopwatch neared 1:59, I’ve found renewed energy to keep going and make the upcoming FTX my personal favorite.
After all of these timed and scored events are tallied, we will have a new reigning winner and inaugural Heritage Squad Challenge champion. As I write this article, I don’t know who the winner will be and, in all honesty, it doesn’t matter that much. All that dared to compete are winners to me. They represent the best America has to offer and I am inspired by their determination, enthusiasm and energy. The Heritage Squad Challenge competition is a testament of NMCB 11’s commitment to individual and unit readiness through innovation and teamwork.
EA1 William Atwater, NMCB 11, perseveres to complete a final few push-ups during the opening event of the Heritage Squad Challenge Competition, Gulfport, Miss., Jan. 19. (Photo by Ens. Via Ronic Snow-Hill/160119-N-XZ945-031)