Story by Lt.j.g. Eric Fallon, NMCB 4
“The difficult we do at once. The impossible takes a bit longer!”
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4 have exceeded even the most ambitious timelines to complete the installation of piles that will ultimately support a catwalk pier system for a Short Approach Lighting System (SALS) at Runway 36 on Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI), San Diego. The effort, carried out in conjunction with Marathon Construction Corporation and Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Southwest, reflects the culmination of months of preparation and embodies the spirit of the Seabee motto, “Can Do!”
SALS is a system of lights installed on the approach end of an airfield runway. It includes a row of light bars and strobe lights that extend out from the approach end of the runway. This enables pilots to visually identify the runway from a greater distance and align their aircraft with the center of the runway sooner, which will ultimately enhance the ability of pilots to safely land in conditions of reduced visibility. At NASNI’s Runway 36, the approach end of the runway extends into the San Diego Bay. To extend the SALS, a catwalk pier that extends into the bay was required, which means that piles to support a pier had to be constructed. NMCB-4 and Marathon were up to the task.
NMCB-4 closely coordinated their efforts with NAVFAC Southwest and their industry partners to provide this critical project to the air station. The design of the catwalk was provided by Marathon Construction Corporation, a San Diego-based general engineering contractor specializing in marine and heavy civil construction. With their 50-ton crane and their expert partners from Marathon, the Seabee detail spent over two weeks driving 40-foot long piles into the earth.
Executing pile driving operations requires collaboration between Seabees of various rates. Steelworkers in NMCB-4’s San Diego Detail NASNI constructed a template that allowed for precise placement of piles on the beach. Equipment Operators delivered the piles to the site and also operated the crane used to perform pile driving. Construction Mechanics performed frequent maintenance checks on the crane and assembled a 100-foot boom extension required for the work. Finally, an Engineering Aide performed an initial site survey and conducted continuous quality control assessments.
The Seabee detail conducted multiple Pile Driving Exercises (PDX) this year, developing and rehearsing the techniques and procedures that were necessary to successfully complete the project. The rehearsals culminated in the execution of this real-world project with partners in the private sector, completing the project 12 days ahead of schedule.
“We are the first Seabee unit to use a vibrating hammer for pile driving operations instead of the traditional diesel impact hammer,” said ENS Alfred Brown, Officer-In-Charge of NMCB-4 Det NASNI. “The vibrating hammer expands capabilities for Port Damage Repair (PDR) since it allows for more precise pile driving, resulting in a higher quality product. Working with NAVFAC and Marathon on such a major project has been a privilege. We’re proud of what we achieved together and we’re proud to show our Navy and industry team what we can do!”
More than just providing a valuable product to the air station, this project represents a model for industry-government partnerships and marks a renewed focus for Naval Mobile Construction Battalions as mission enablers for the fleet. The Seabees’ Port Damage Repair (PDR) capability enables resilient logistics flow at seaports and Advance Naval Bases in contested environments for forward deployed naval forces. The mission often involves complementary capabilities of other Naval Expeditionary units like those of the Underwater Construction Teams and Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Successful PDR missions ensure the ability of Navy vessels to refuel, rearm, resupply, and repair when and where it is needed most.
The NMCB-4 Seabees are preparing to deploy across the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command theater in the next few months. This mission has demonstrated their proficiency with pile driving operations and has enhanced their readiness to execute PDR missions throughout the world.