Partial transcript of remarks made by Rear Adm. Mark A. Handley, Commander 1st Naval Construction Division (NCD) to Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, Detachment Lavaredo

120515-N-UH337-150 FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan (May 15, 2012) Rear Adm. Mark A. Handley, Commander of 1st Naval Construction Division (NCD) speaks with Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 in a dining facility on forward operating base Lavaredo. The detachment of Seabees is partnered with Italian forces in the Bakwa District. Homeported in Gulfport, Miss., NMCB-11 is deployed to Afghanistan to conduct general, mobility, survivability engineering operations, defensive operations, Afghan National Army partnering and detachement of units in combined/joint operations area - Afghanistan in order to enable the neutralization of the insurgency and support improved governance and stability operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jonathan Carmichael / Released)

Location:  Forward Operating Base (FOB) Lavaredo, Bakwa District, Farah Province, Afghanistan

Date:  May 15, 2012

“I thought I’d just talk for a few minutes and give you kind of an update on the Seabees and what we’re doing worldwide. Right now … , Afghanistan is still the tip of the spear for the Seabees.   In 2009 we had two battalions here.  In 2010 and ’11 we ended up with four battalions in Afghanistan.  I think NMCB-11 was one of those in their last deployment into Afghanistan.  As we come forward now into 2012 we’re back down to two battalions: 11, and NMCB-7.  … Later this summer as NMCB-7 departs we’ll go down to one battalion in Afghanistan.  They’ll be essentially where you guys are in RC Southwest/West area really supporting most of the Marines.  So it’s kind of interesting that we go back to our roots. 

“Looking at 10-years of combat from the beginning of OIF-1 ‘til today, this last couple of years has been the strongest and hardest pull that we’ve had as Seabees.  We’ve actually had more Seabees deployed in these last two years than we have since Vietnam.  So that’s pretty significant.

“…. When you think about the history of NMCB-11, you were recommisioned, obviously after 9/11.  We picked NMCB-11 to signify that.  I think it’s fitting that you guys have this chapter in Seabee history in Afghanistan.

“Since you’ve been on deployment here you’ve had the President of the United States come to Afghanistan … and give a couple of pretty strong statements about what the future of Afghanistan is, and a lot of the focus of what you’re deployment here is going to be; ensuring that we start the turnover to the Afghan forces where we can, what we can.  And I know NMCB-11 has been leaning forward to try to partner with some of the Afghan engineers, so as we start to collapse bases they’re able to take them over.  So we’re able to turn them over to the Afghan people, to the Afghan forces.  And that’s going to be part of that strategy as it’s laid out. 

“If you look around the rest of the world, where Seabees are outside of Afghanistan, points to where we’ll see Seabees in the future.

“Your future deployments are going to be kind of like your last deployment into PACOM, into Europe and Africa.  And probably the greatest impact that you’re going to have is the work that we’re doing in the small remote islands in the Pacific and some of the countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Timor-Leste.  In Africa, in Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia.  … a lot of those places where we’ve got Seabees really doing what we call ‘shaping operations.’ We might be working in a small village building a school, building a clinic, and really opening the doors for us, for the Navy leadership and the Embassy leadership to have discussions about cooperative security.

“ … While NMCB-11 was there [referring to last deployment’s det to Timor-Leste] I got some of the best feedback I’ve ever received as the division commander, from the pacific.  That was specifically your det and the impact it was having.  It really prompted the ambassador to reach out to the Pacific Commander, a guy by the name of Admiral Willard at the time, and basically said that the Seabees in Timor-Leste, NMCB-11 in particular, were having the single greatest positive impact on the relationship that the United States has had with Timor-Leste.  That enabled us to get port access to have our ships go in there, to have other coalition forces; the Australians are in there, and a number other of initiatives they’ve been able to do.  If you’ll look at some of the objectives in the Pacific, Obviously the South China Sea is pretty important for the Pacific Fleet Commander, and Seabees are playing a big role in it.

“I think as you see the drawdown in Afghanistan over the next couple of years, you’re going to see a continued presence in the Pacific, and you’re going to see it in Europe and Africa. 

“So we look to that future.  We’ve got two main areas and we’re probably going to have two deployment sites that we’re going to be supporting.  As our core structure reduces, we’re going to have about six active battalions.  And you guys are going to go on a little different rotation than what you’ve been seeing of late.

“Our future deployments are going to be six months.  We’re going to go to a rotation of six months on deployment and 12 months in homeport.  That’s going to be challenging to the Seabees because we haven’t done that before.  I say it’s challenging because we have to be sure we do the best we can in our homeport period to make sure we get the best training for you but that we don’t overload it.  Every once in a while – we’re overachievers, you know; Seabees ‘can do’, so we try to put more and more stuff into it.  As I suspect, even your 11 month homeport you had last time felt pretty packed, didn’t it?

“We’re going to look at a couple of things in the technical training piece of it.  One of the things I set out for our Seabee division was to look at our technical training, and really improve on higher-end skills.  So you’re going to see a couple of shifts.  Where you used to go to ‘F’ school or SCBTs, you’re going to see that done more on O.J.T..  Then what we’re going to do is free up time and get more C-1 advanced schools. 

“The long term goal is, as people are coming into a battalion at the E-5, E-6 level, ensuring that they get C-1 advanced on their way in.  In the meantime we’re trying to get as many people through those classes.

“Starting this January we’ve increased the number of C-1 advance classes that we have.  Right now we’ve got about a third of the people in those classes that are coming in on orders on their way to a battalion.  About a third of the people are folks in the battalion that are in homeport that are going into C-1 advanced.  About a third of the folks are reserve force, and they are taking advantage of those classes.  So we’re really looking to make sure that we maintain our critical skills.

“As we go through our force structure reduction there are couple of things I will highlight as what our priorities are.  First and foremost, when we have fewer Seabees, like each and every one of you, we’ve got to make sure that we’re getting the highest and best use out of you for support to those combatant commanders like the MEF, like the Italians that you’re supporting here, like IJC.  And you guys are probably the best example of direct support.

“Obviously there’s a huge logistics tail that makes sure you guys are successful, a CSE element that gets you out here, and all the logistics we’ve got to have then.  But we’ve got to be sure, now that we have fewer Seabees, that we use really good judgment on where we employ you and where we put those projects.  And that’s, as I say – as we go into the future, when we do that in Europe and Africa – making sure that we get the best det locations with the right effects for those commanders that we’re supporting.

“The second one that we’re going to focus on is maintaining our core capability.  Whenever you shrink a force like we’ve done over time after almost every conflict, you want to make sure you maintain all those skills and all those capabilities you all have today so that in the future, if we need to increase the quantity of it we can do that.  But we’ve got to make sure we maintain that foundation in order to build it up.

“The last one, and probably the most important one from my perspective, is to make sure we take care of our people. 

[asks how many of them have been in the Navy since earlier than 2003.  The indication was that most of the Seabees in the audience entered the Navy in 2003 or later.]

“Basically, you guys have only known combat.  You’ve been in and out of combat since you’ve been in the Navy, and that’s kind of new for our force if you think about it.  … Even if you look at the length that we were in Vietnam and the time the Seabees were in there, that’s a pretty long pull.  So you’ll see a strong focus on resiliency of the force, making sure that we take care of every aspect that we can and that is: making sure that we take care of your family, making sure that we take care of you, your health, your mental health, your physical health, your professional development, making sure you’re as competitive as you can be; making sure you have those options in front of you as best we can.  The other one, which has been probably the toughest part for us is – we’ve had PTS and ERB for the last couple of years, ERB, just this one time, and we’ve had to look some people in the eye that have served side by side with us, and … thank them for their service and then help them transition to their next career. 

“So you’re going to see continued support with career fairs and other services that are available as you transition.  And we’re all going to do it someday, but we want to make sure that we take care of our people when they’re in the Navy and as they transition out of the Navy.  There are lots of great stories about people who have transitioned out of the Navy and done great things.  I think you’re going to see us lean forward in that support as well.

The Admiral then turned it over to Command Master Chief John F. Mulholland, 1-NCD.

Command Master Chief Mulholland thanked the det for all the work they’d done in “just eight short days.”  He pointed out that the equipment operators are “getting more stick-time than a lot of equipment operators that do five years in a mobile construction battalion.”  Mulholland stressed peer intervention. 

“That’s Sailors helping Sailors.  We’re in this together.  Peer intervention is probably the most important thing that I can talk about in the Navy.” 

He pointed out the highly qualified leadership in the regiment, the battalion and specifically in det Lavaredo while encouraging Seabees to learn from them. 

Mulholland also encouraged the Seabees to promote to their highest capability, get warfare qualifications, work on professional development, and be prepared even if they currently don’t think they will want to reenlist. 

Mulholland closed with “Keep doing good things for the entire Naval Construction Force.  Hoorah!”

After a few questions from the Seabees, Handley concluded by encouraging everyone to be sure to thank their spouses, family members, friends, and everyone else who is supporting them back home while they are deployed to Afghanistan.

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