On July 2019 Ridgecrest, California was the epicenter of two devastating seismic events and several thousand aftershocks since. As a result, Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake suffered damage to over 270 structures with the majority uninhabitable, adversely affecting the research, development, acquisition, testing and evaluation mission of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) as the U.S. Navy’s center of excellence in weapons development. The focus immediately following the earthquakes was to bring NAWS China Lake and NAWCWD back to full mission capability.
Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Officer in Charge of Construction (OICC) China Lake was established in August 2020 to execute the $2.7 billion Earthquake Recovery Program provided by Congress under an emergency appropriation. The inaugural Commanding Officer for OICC China Lake is Captain Laurie Scott, a 25 year veteran of the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps.
“We (OICC China Lake) are tasked with managing a unique and wide-ranging earthquake reconstruction program that will restore critical warfighting capabilities back to NAWS China Lake”, said Capt. Scott. “In consultation with Naval Construction Group ONE (NCG-1), we recognize the unique opportunity and benefit for our Seabees to be exposed to large-scale commercial construction of operational facilities in order to gain valuable proficiencies, that will ultimately enrich our Naval Construction Force.”
The award of the multiple construction projects led to OICC China Lake partnering with NCG-1 to establish the Seabees Skills Mentoring Program. The intent of the program is to expose Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) Seabees and Civil Engineer Corps Officers to large scale commercial construction techniques, with the purpose of equipping Seabees with a greater base of experiences to construct and repair assets that enable the Navy’s logistical maneuvering for the long-term Strategic Competition we are facing as a nation.
“I am proud of the OICC China Lake team, not only for getting this multi-billion dollar program established and setting a rapid pace of the reconstruction effort, but also for the forethought of leveraging the relationships with their contractors to provide this amazing opportunity for our Bees”, said Rear Adm. John Adametz, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Pacific Commander. “The tools and experiences gained while working at China Lake will advance our warfighting capabilities and better the force to respond when called upon.”
This OICC China Lake/NCG-1 mentoring program exposes Seabees and Civil Engineer Corps Officers to state of the art construction techniques, practices and procedures; develops individual planning, construction and management skills by learning from the top journeyman/master tradesmen and Professional Engineers in the U.S.
OICC staff acquired feedback from the Seabees and contractors which took into account the current construction activities within the program to improve the experiences of subsequent groups. The alterations of the program and the quality feedback has improved with each team’s experiences, resulting in increased hands on activities, levels of responsibilities, and the options to expand of program to other contractors supporting the earthquake recovery program.
“This program is part of a three-pronged NCG-1 approach to generate forces while reducing the Navy’s infrastructure costs, develop our forces by leveraging Industry advances, and employ our forces in order to build enabling infrastructure forward and ensure access through improved partner nation relationships”, said Capt. Matthew Riethmiller, Commodore NCG-1. “We knew there was an opportunity at NAWS China Lake with NAVFAC’s OICC Office, we honestly just did not imagine the Seabees and contractors would make it this successful.”
The cooperative and collaborative relationships with the contractors working the earthquake recovery effort has been vital to the success of the Seabees Mentoring Program. There are currently three contractors participating in the mentoring program, serving as the center of gravity in providing opportunities for the Seabees’. Reyes Construction, Inc., tasked with the construction of 25 magazines and inert storage facilities and Environmental Chemical Corp (ECC), managing six MILCON projects, in conjunction with Hensel Phelps Construction Company, encompassing 190 acres that make up the South Airfield Complex.
As part of each squad’s indoctrination, Seabees’ are provided a field project overview, contractor’s safety training and introductions to their mentors. The time Seabees spend in the field is augmented with practice in quality control, scheduling, planning, the application of new technologies and hands on/practical skills. The skills learned are essential and give the ability back to the battalions as experiences as critical assets in a contingency environment.
“The complexity and sheer scale (190 acres) of our construction program lends well to providing experiences to each Seabees enlisted rates. After an orientation and safety brief, the Bees were matched with mentors and put into the field“, said Manjiv Vohra, ECC - President and CEO. “The last group of Seabees here with us made a huge impression in such a short time. They demonstrated an eagerness to learn and ability to absorb the knowledge and techniques from their mentors, then quickly apply those skills in the tasks they were assigned.”
ECC is one of six NAVFAC Global Contingency Construction Multiple Award Contract firms that could provide construction and engineering services in response to natural disasters, humanitarian assistance or providing warfighting support in a contingency environment.
As these Seabees gain familiarity with these contractors’ processes and establish professional relationships, they may find themselves working alongside these contractors or administering contracts in a deployed environment.
Feedback about the program contributed to creating additional experiences including field safety, operating heavy equipment, concrete pump/hoses/placement and finishing, use of GPS, laser levels and testing equipment, placement of underground utilities, setting of rebar, building and stripping of forms and engineering/project management techniques.
NAWS China Lake is located in the Western Mojave Desert region of California, approximately 150 miles north of Los Angeles. China Lake’s mission is to support the Navy's RDT&E missions to provide cutting-edge weapons systems to the warfighter. The installation is the Navy's largest single landholding. In total, its two ranges and main site cover more than 1.1 million acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.
NAWCWD is an organization within Naval Air Systems Command that boasts a variety of state-of-the-art and one-of-a-kind laboratories and facilities that enable us to deliver unparalleled weapons research, development, acquisition, test, and evaluation for our nation's warfighters, and we offer 24/7 warfighter support to ensure the on-the-ground service member has the support they need to defend our nation at home and at sea.
OICC China Lake was established in August 2020 to provide engineering, acquisition, and execution oversight for military construction and repair projects caused by the devastating damage from the 6.4 and 7.1 magnitude earthquakes that occurred on July 4 and 5, 2019.