Story by Capt. Steve Revelas, Chief of Staff, NECCPAC
In the summer of 2001, Cmdr. Kelly Schmader took command of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 based in Port Hueneme, California from legendary Seabee, Cmdr. Kevin Slates. As with any battalion, there was a heavy turnover occurring that summer along with the commanding officer to include the S3, Lt. Cmdr. Darius Banaji. However, a strong crew of veterans led by Executive Officer (XO), Lt. Cmdr. Al Stratman, remained to train the new wardroom members.
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The Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3 wardroom during a field training exercise in circa 2002 before deployment. (Courtesy photo.)
Alongside the XO were veteran Lieutenants, Lt. Russ Rang, Lt. LaTanya Simms, Lt. Andy Schulman, and Lt. Jeff Lengkeek. They readied the battalion for what has come to be known as a green deployment to Rota, Spain in September that year - not knowing what was on the horizon for the unit, our nation, and the world. This is not a September 11th story, even though that was the central focus of all serving in the military at the time. This story is about the house that Schmader built.
As with any vertical structure, the strength and integrity of a house is unquestionably its foundation. The groundwork of that 2001 NMCB-3 house had been meticulously excavated and placed by "Skipper" Slates over the previous two years. As an incredible leader and mentor, he instilled in his Wardroom, Chiefs Mess and Seabees the kind of dedication and "Can-Do" that "The Duke" John Wayne himself would be proud of. In the summer of 2001, "Skipper" Slates turned over an unshakable foundation, undoubtedly positioning his relief for success.
"Skipper" Schmader, like his predecessor, was a Seabee through and through, having served multiple roles in the Naval Construction Force to include S3 under Bob Phillips in NMCB-5. Schmader built upon the strong foundation provided him, bringing to the battalion an unmistakable love for the Seabees and an unmatched wealth of knowledge that he passionately shared with his Wardroom, Chiefs Mess, and Seabees of all ranks and ratings. Fleet Rates as the non-OF7 ratings were commonly called, did not exist in NMCB-3 under Schmader. All 581 of the Better Than Best were Seabees he was clear on this point and many other standards that defined the battalion and the way in which it and its people would operate.
While Schmader had his hand in everything, one never felt micromanaged by him. Once again, it was out of pure passion for the legacy and reputation of the Seabees, his pure joy in seeing everyone wearing the Seabee patch be successful - that he drove the operations and administration of the battalion. It was this unbridled enthusiasm for the Naval Construction Force that I remember most, nearly twenty years later. That enthusiasm was shared with and adopted by the entire Wardroom and impacted the lives and careers of everyone that served under him. There was not a soul in that Wardroom that left NMCB-3 not wanting to come back to serve in the Seabees, an opportunity that not many are afforded.
Not only was Schmader passionate about the Seabees, he was an incredible mentor. He prepared every officer with the expectation that they would be a commanding officer someday, not knowing (or perhaps he did you ll have to ask him yourself) how incredibly successful his influence and passion developed within his wardroom.
Of the 21 officers of the Schmader wardroom, 11 have gone on to command: Al Stratman, NMCB-133 and 25th Naval Construction Regiment (NCR); Bruce Nevel, NMCB-74; Stephen Revelas, NMCB-11 and 22nd NCR; Russ Rang, Camp David; LaTanya Simms, NMCB-4; Jeff Lengkeek, NMCB-4; Jeff Powell, NMCB-133; Matt Riethmiller, NMCB-5; Laurie Scott, NMCB-3; Charlie Kubic, Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 2; and Jason Fahy, UCT-2. Most recently, a 12th to be, Jon Nieman, who was stashed with NMCB-3 before going to Naval Civil Engineer Corps Officers School in Port Hueneme
(and briefly served as C6 on deployment) was announced as the next CO for NMCB-3.
Two others have not yet had the opportunity, former XOs Lakeeva Gunderson from NMCB-1 and Rob Kleinman from NMCB-5, but they and the others have the potential to command Seabees, especially as officers from "The House that Schmader Built." I cannot think of a more incredible legacy than to inspire a generation of CEC officers to proudly serve in the Naval Construction Force. Kelly Schmader did it better than anyone I know.