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Operation Bearing Duel: Putting Seabees to the Test.

By MC3 Lex T. Wenberg

"Bunkers, bunkers, bunkers, gas, gas, gas!"Seabees scrambled for their mission-oriented protective posture (MOPP) gear as gas grenades went off throughout their forward operating base.

Most Seabees took their designated positions in bunkers while the security team (React Force) set up patrols throughtout the camp on lookout for aggressors.

In the aftermath of the attack, Seabees heading back to their posts discovered what appeared to tbe injured or dead comrades with bloody wounds and splintered fragments of wood sticking out of their arms and legs.

The intensity and urgency of the Seabees reactions did not betray the fact that these weren't real life-threatening situations; they were all just part of the annual field training exercise (FTX) Operations Bearing Duel.


A Seabee assigned to NMCB 21 surveys and protects the secondary combat operations center as an M-7A3 riot CS gas grenade is detonated at FOB Thresher during a simulated gas attack.

Above and opposite--

A Seabee assigned to NMCB 5 dons a gas mask while moving toward a bunker during a simulated chemical, biological, BR attack during a scenario at FOB Mega Mouth.

UT2(SCWS) Warren Henseler teaches NMCB 5 Bravo Company Seabees REACT training during Operation Bearing Duel 2010 at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif.

Seabees assigned to NMCB 21 use a Humvee to protect the lines around FOB Thresher during a simulated gas attack.


During the recent three-week exercise at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., Seabees lived in tents, built basic tactical structures and fought in simulated battles.

The 31st Seabee Readiness Group (31st SRG) developed this iteration of the exercise to evaluate and instruct Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 and Reservist Battalion 21 for an upcoming deployment. These realistic scenarios tested Seabees on the full range of their various skill sets.

Seabees support U.S. global operations by building bases, repairing/constructing runways and roads and building bunkers/barracks while providing their own security.

"We generally rely on Marines, but there will be times when there are no Marines available," said Lt. Javier Lopez-Martinez of the 31st SRG. "In those situations, Seabees have to be ready to do security operations themselves. This training is geared to remind Seabees of that fact in a very real way."

As a critical part of the troop increase required for operations in Afghanistan, Seabees need to be prepared to handle their own security, convoy escorts and creation and maintenance of entry control points in forward operating bases.

The scenarios at the exercise involved bunker drills, gas and MOPP gear drills, convoy escorting, perimeter scouting, establishing and building.

"We train in classrooms using PowerPoint presentations, and we do some smaller, more specific field training exercises," said Construction Electrician 1st Class (SCW) Leonardo Calderon, a Seabee instructor and FTX evaluator with the 31st SRG. "This is where they put it all together."

The training exercise is geared to be as realistic as possible while still providing room for constant feedback.

"We want Seabees to have a constant dialogue with us so that we know what we are doing right and what we can improve," said Lopez-Martinez.

One of those improvements was the addition of a role-playing scenario involving paid civilian actors to be Afghan civilians.


Both NMCBs were ordered to set up a lookout post at a certain location. The Seabees of each NMCB were not told there was a simulated village adjacent to the designated area. As the builder convoy approached, they slowed then stopped, not knowing what to expect. The town could be full of people hostile to U.S. forces; there was no way to tell. To avoid potential violence, the Seabees needed to proceed with caution.


Advancing slowly, the Seabees put their training to use by establishing a perimeter around the intended lookout post and an entry control point into the safe zone just outside the village.

The village was constructed to simulate the operations environment in Afganistan. Open windows, hanging laundry, broken-down cars and a bazaar were all part of the scene, including a mosque with a large blue dome that towered above the other buildings.

The villagers looked on with curiosity as music played loudly from the mosque.


The Seabees scrambled to get themselves ready for anything.

"We actually have no direct plan of action for them," said Lopez-Martinez. "They're going to do what they're going to do. There's no real 'correct' way to do this. We just evaluate them based on whatever decision they make."



Darkness quickly overtook the village as the sun set over the mountains in Fort Hunter-Liggett. The Seabees had the perimeter secured and began to put up their lookout structure. Just then, a group of villagers approached the entry control point. The Seabees put floodlights from their trucks onto the group as they approached.

The villagers shielded their eyes, yet they walked casually toward the entry control point.

"This part of the exercise is to ensure that if and when Seabees come into contact with civilians they use everything they know to ensure their safety and thesuccess of the mission," said Calderon. "Part of that is peaceful interaction with the locals."

The Seabees called out their interpreter and he got to work communicating with a man who turned out to be the village elder.

"We're here to get the Seabees accustomed to interacting with Afghani people," said a contractor who preferred not to be named. "We hire the role players and design cultural courses for the Seabees to attend. The role players will actually be teaching and giving feedback on the cultural do's and don'ts after the scenario.

"We work on scenario development, simulated injuries and education," the contractor said. "Our ultimate goal is to allow each Seabee to forget that this is an exercise, and then help them understand their choices and perhaps [give them] some better ones once it's over."

The village scenario was just one of many potentially dangerous situations in which Seabees could find themselves, the contractor explained.

To properly secure themselves against aggression, Seabees need to have an understanding of tactical operations, especially defensive tactics, according to Marine Capt. Anthony Friel, a tactics trainer with the 31st SRG.

"Seabees aren't taught offensive tactics because their job is to build," said Friel. "But they do need to know basic tactics, where to set up gunning positions, how to do patrols, perimeter sweeps; basically anything that can help keep them safe."

Throughout history, Marines and Seabees have worked together and continue to work together in modern times; Seabees build bunkers in forward operating bases, and Marines protect Seabees, said Friel. Since Seabees need to be capable of many different jobs themselves, they need specialists in tactical operations.


"Each Seabee battalion has a Marine advisor on tactics to ensure that Seabees and Marines are in accordance as to how they operate," said Friel. "Seabees are then expected to be able to run security for themselves according to that advice."

From the Marines, Seabees learn fighting positions for defending the camp and ways to create defense perimeters of both patrols and physical boundaries. The Marines also train the React Force to sweep through the camp in case of enemy infiltration.

"The Seabees are in country to build, but they can't build without being secure," said Friel.

Sometimes, though, tactics aren't enough. Sailors, Marines and Airmen all risk being injured in times of war. To keep these service members in the fight, the team relies not only on hospital corpsmen as each Seabee needs to be familiar with field triage and basic first aid.

The Seabees did training at their homeport in Port Hueneme, Calif., in classrooms, but needed practical training as well.

"We need this to be like 'muscle memory' for these guys," said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (FMF/AW) Daniel Smith, an FTX evaluator. "Combat situations and situations where corpsmen are not available are very real possibilities and Seabees need to know how to handle them without thinking."

To address this, the 31st created a mass casualty scenario in which Seabees are required to physically perform triage, field first aid, tend to the wounded and sort out the dead.

The scenario was based on events NMCB 14 experienced in Iraq.

"I want Seabees to understand that this truly could happen," said Smith. I hope to God it doesn't happen, but when it does your skills have to be an instant reaction. So to that end we have to train like we fight."

Instructors stood by to help reinforce the knowledge the Seabees gained in classes by coaching Seabees on how to carry and speak to the injured.

"Basically theres a standardized priority list for any combat situation which involves different ways to handle things when they go wrong, said HMC(AW/SW) Chris Phillips, an evaluator and instructor with the 31st. If youre injured, and the injury is life threatening, its best to treat yourself as quickly as possible. After that, I always say the best defense is a good offense. You have to shoot back and neutralize the threat.

Those are among the basic techniques for Seabees to look for when helping themselves or other wounded service members. After weeks of camping, building and fighting, Seabees closed up camp at Fort Hunter-Liggett. With the training exercise complete, all that was left was to pack up and head back to homeport. Our guys did an excellent job out there and made the Seabees proud, said NMCB 5 Command Master Chief (SCW) Mark Kraninger Of course there are always a couple of areas to work on, but thats why we do an FTX.

Training can only prepare a team so much, said Kraninger. "You can never cover every possible thing that can happen, but the 31st SRG did a really good job creating as many situations as possible in order to keep our guys adaptable.

"We improve both our courses and FTX every year from constant feedback from the Seabees we train, and even from our own guys, said Lopez-Martinez. In this way were constantly creating a new breed of Sailor.

The work will be hard on deployment, Lopez-Martinez said. "Theyll be earning their pay. These Sailors give me so much hope. They enlisted in a time of war to do one of the harder jobs in the Navy. That kind of spirit is what its all about: We Build; We Fight.
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Title Annotation:training military personnel for construction missions
Author:Wenberg, Lex T.
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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