Story by Joel Diller, U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay
The Seabees are made up of Sailors from different backgrounds and skill sets – they have to be to complete the projects required of the Navy’s construction force. When the Navy’s first construction battalions were organized during World War II, the average age of the first group of Seabees was 31 years old. This is because they were mainly experienced civilian tradesmen who underwent military training so they could defend what they were building. They were a unique type of Sailor in 1942 – and still are today.
“The Seabees, we’re a special breed,” said Chief Builder John Wightman, senior enlisted leader, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Europe, Africa, Central, Public Works Department NSA Souda Bay. “We are actually built like a Marine Corps fire team. Because of that we have seven different types of rates in the group Seabees.”
Wightman said a Seabee battalion organizes the seven rates into a headquarters company and four construction/rifle companies. Headquarters Company includes the administration, supply, and engineering functions and the engineering aid rate; Alpha Company, the equipment operator and construction mechanic rates, works with equipment; Bravo Company, the utilitiesman and construction electrician rates, works with utilities; Charlie Company, the builder and steelworker rates, performs general construction; and Delta Company, a mix of all the rates, is added for deployments.
The NSA Souda Bay Public Works Department operates as a tenant command on the installation, and its headquarters is NAVFAC EURAFCENT, located in Naples, Italy.
“What makes NAVFAC Souda Bay unique is that compared to other public works departments we have a high-rate of first-termers straight from ‘A’ school,” said Wightman. “So we have to learn from the civilian professionals and have our senior Seabees mentor the junior personnel.”
A Seabee’s Perspective: I Couldn’t Believe It!
Builder Constructionman Charles Stankye, a Connecticut native, is serving his first tour with the Navy after completing “A” school at the Naval Construction Training Center in Gulf Port, Mississippi. He never thought in a million years he would be living and working in Greece.
“When I first learned I was going to Greece I was in shock,” said Stankye. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Having studied carpentry for eight years at vocational-technical schools in high school and college, he earned his bachelor’s degree in residential construction. Prior to joining the Navy, he knew little about the Seabees, but it wasn’t until he talked with a recruiter about his construction background that he decided to join the Navy.
“They said ‘Do you know about the Seabees?’ and I said ‘A little bit’ and they informed me that is exactly what I do in my every day job,” said Stankye.
Here at Souda Bay, part of his job is to complete work orders, which could range from pouring concrete to fixing ceiling tiles or walls. But in addition to doing work he enjoys, he appreciates working with people from different backgrounds.
“My favorite part of the job is working with other people,” said Stankye. “Some people have little experience, so I can help them. Or some people have more experience, where they can help me and others. And learning everybody’s background – that’s a fun time.”
A Seabee’s Perspective: Don’t Waste Your Chance
Construction Electrician Constructionman Angel Gueverraanderson, a first-term Sailor, seemed destined for his rate from an early age. He discovered his fondness for working with electronics when his mother bought him a soldering gun.
“We’d take about anything and try to take it apart and then we would try to put it together,” he said. “If it worked, we would be like ‘Cool, this is how they did that’.”
So when the recruiter told him a construction electrician rate had opened up, he accepted it and was at boot camp a few months later.
Upon receiving his first set of orders, an assignment to NSA Souda Bay was definitely not what he was expecting – but he recalls the advice a recruiting duty commander gave him: “He pulled me aside and was talking to me about [Souda Bay] and said ‘That is the one place I always wanted to go – don’t waste that chance’.”
He hasn’t wasted his chance. In addition to trying to learn some of the Greek language, he has visited Loutro, Balos, Heraklion and Santorini.
A Seabee’s Perspective: Every Day is Different
Equipment Operator Constructionman Brandon Sneed, a first-term Sailor, became a Seabee with the goal of becoming a crane operator in the future. While opportunities in that field are not available at a duty station such as NSA Souda Bay, for right now he enjoys operating the various types of equipment.
“[The work I do] really just depends on the day,” said Sneed. “Sometimes we have to go out and use the jack hammer or use a back hoe or dig a trench. Sometimes we have to run the dump truck to bring in back fill to different places.”
Sneed said he also operates a forklift and helps transiting units move their equipment from the airfield on the Hellenic Air Force’s 115th Combat Wing base down to the port at the Marathi NATO Pier Facility.
While his time so far at NSA Souda Bay “has been a cool experience”, he is looking forward to branching out in his career once he is assigned to a construction battalion.
A Seabee’s Perspective: Hard Work and Discipline is Rewarding
Utilitiesman 3rd Class Jesus Cedillo, a San Antonio, Texas native, gained a variety of experience while he was on three deployments prior to being stationed at NSA Souda Bay.
On his first deployment he helped open up Naval Support Facility Deveselu, Romania, where he did plumbing work and helped build Southwest Asia (SWA) huts.
He also went to El Salvador and Columbia as part of a Southern Partnership Station (SPS) detachment, an annual series of U.S. Navy deployments focused on exchanges with regional partner nation militaries and security forces.
“We built a vocational school for a community center in El Salvador,” said Cedillo. “In Columbia, we built a bath house for a village, which was really awesome and really rewarding.”
On his third deployment to Naval Station Rota, Spain, he worked in the material liaison office and central tool room where he repaired equipment and sent tools to places that needed them.
Now assigned to NSA Souda Bay, he works on a variety of utility issues ranging from investigating smells in the bathroom to resolving boiler issues and fixing pipes. He also works on projects such as installing water faucets and cleaning solar panels.
“The one thing I really do like about the Seabees is that we instill hard work and dedication,” said Cedillo. “If someone’s messing up, we’re like ‘Hey, fix it’. We’re not afraid to call people out.”