U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 completed two command post exercises (CPX) on board Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme, May 7 and 21.
CPX-2 and 3 continue a series of exercises that challenge the battalion’s command and control (C2), communications and timely decision making capabilities through real-world scenarios centered around major combat operations (MCO) and humanitarian aid/disaster relief. The exercises lead up to the battalion’s final graded field training exercise called Operation Turning Point, which certifies NMCB-3 is fit for deployment.
“The CPXs feed into Operation Turning Point which plays into the bigger picture of making sure that we are ready to execute tasks in our range of capabilities in our projected operational environment while deployed,” said Lt. Oscar Solis, NMCB-3’s training officer. “This can range from our general horizontal and vertical construction capabilities to specialty missions such as airfield damage repair (ADR), port damage repair, and bridging operations to support Navy and joint missions whether they be logistics support or MCO, for example.”
In the past, these exercises have required the battalion to stand up a main body site with a combat operations center and tactical operations center and a separate autonomous site for an 89-person air detachment. However, when a Seabee battalion deploys, it will be distributed throughout an area of responsibility with detachments needing to execute tasking specific to their location in order to meet the battalion’s greater mission.
The Seabees have begun to train more like they fight. NMCB-3’s CPX-1, meant to exercise the basics of watch standing and familiarity of immediate actions drills, required the battalion to establish a main body site while simulating distributed command task elements (CTE). The simulations ended there and NMCB-3 rolled into CPX-2 and 3 with CTEs dispersed on the base to exercise C2 over the elements and execute tasking in a manner that is more consistent with how they will operate during Operation Turning Point where they will also face enemy aggressors and more complex scenarios.
“These exercises are very different from what we’ve seen in the past,” said Solis. “Today, we’re focusing on having more dispersed operations with smaller and lighter units that are capable of executing any of our required tasking. Exercising our communications is key, but this also allows much of our decision making to happen at lower levels, and that’s something we’re really preparing our small-unit leaders for.”
The exercises test critical C2 skills throughout with an exercise control group who are responsible for applying stress to watch teams by injecting scenarios that may be faced during real-world operations. The watch teams are expected to react in a timely manner and in accordance with standard operating procedures. The exercises also required the Seabees to complete unit level training construction tasking and unit level training readiness assessments for specialty skills including bridging operations; ADR; and chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) defense.
The battalion’s bridging capabilities were assessed during CPX-2 with the requirement to construct a 60-ton heavy timber bridge. Bridging capabilities are an essential piece of what makes an NMCB capable of rapidly providing mobility of forces and logistics support and Chief Steelworker Kent McCormick, NMCB-3’s bridge detachment assistant officer-in-charge, said he saw the training leading up to the exercise pay off.
“We’ve been conducting unit-driven training events leading up to this that really got our bridge masters and crew comfortable,” said McCormick. “We trained on various bridge configurations to home in on technical abilities and the safety aspect of it, but with that repeated hands-on experience also came speed and the ability for us to more easily plan for possible missions in the future.”
The ADR detachment, a skill that goes back to the Seabees’ founding in WWII, was tested during CPX-3 on their ability to conduct damage assessments, determine minimum operating strips for specific aircraft, and repair airfields for continued air operations.
“Many of the people on our team are new to this capability, but the battalion has been approaching this in a crawl, walk, run manner,” said Equipment Operator 1st Class Russell Lizotte. “Steadily ramping up the training and the exercises have increased our ability to work together and our efficiency with our equipment. For example, I saw our team get off to a shaky start during our first trainings, but then I saw them steadily get better and faster until we finally decreased our time to completion by about 50-percent compared to our initial trials.”
Also assessed during CPX-3 was the CBR team’s ability to mobilize to a convoy that was attacked with a simulated CBR agent to conduct tests to determine a safe place for decontamination. Once the effected personnel and equipment were moved, the team was responsible for the decontamination of vehicles and personnel as well as marking-off the contaminated area.
The exercises have been successful in growing muscle memory within the watch teams and specialty organizations and have identified strengths and areas for improvement for the battalion to focus on moving forward. NMCB-3 will use this experience to ideate solutions for their upcoming CPX-4 and Operation Turning Point and once again become the Pacific Fleet’s “Ready Battalion.”
NMCB-3 is home ported in Port Hueneme, California. Seabees are the expeditionary engineering and construction experts of the naval service. They provide task-tailored, adaptable and combat-ready engineering and construction forces that deploy to support Navy objectives globally.