Tag Archives: afghanistan

Seabees, still ready to Build & Fight After 80 Years

​Arising from a need to rapidly build bases on remote islands for the push across the Pacific during World War II, today’s Seabee force turns 80 this month.

Tracing their unofficial origins to 300 skilled artisans who built an advance base in 1813 for Captain David Porter’s squadron operating against the British along South America’s west coast, the Navy officially formed and christened its first Naval Construction Battalions in March 1942.

Recruited from tradesmen in 60 skilled trades– both “vertical” such as in building construction and “horizontal” such as in the construction of roads and airfields– the new “Seabees” were also trained to defend their positions as the islands and beaches they would land on would often still be very much in an active combat zone. Fitting the job, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell set their motto as “Construimus, Batuimus” roughly meaning “We Build, We Fight.”

Early members received only three weeks of training and were sent overseas. They carried at one time or another just about every rifle and pistol in the Navy’s inventory and pioneered such exotic arms as the Sedgley Glove Gun/Haight Fist Gun.

WWII Seabee posters
Seabee recruiting posters of the time, aimed at pulling often-draft-exempt skilled construction workers into the service, also emphasized the carpenters and heavy equipment operators would be expected to fight if needed, ready to leave the controls of their crane or grader, grab a carbine or Tommy gun, and get to work. 

Seabees marching WWII

“The Navy Seabees build a naval base in the South Pacific. These Navy Seabees march to work with rifles and bandoliers of ammunition. Seabees are trained to fight and work.” On numerous occasions, Seabees fought beside Marines in hand-to-hand combat against the Japanese troops, particularly on contested Henderson Field in Guadalcanal, then returned to their work once the attack was over. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Seabees drill at a U.S. Navy base in Alaska.1943

“Seabees drill at a U.S. Navy base in Alaska. These sailors are training with guns and tools for construction duty under combat conditions, April 13, 1943.” Note the M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)

Seabee Water Tender Second Class operating pump for water and manning an M1917 Browning machine gun in the Solomon Islands, 1944. 

Seabee Water Tender Second Class operating pump for water and manning an M1917 Browning machine gun in the Solomon Islands, 1944. 

Seabees unload pontoons and LSTs on Angaur in the Palau Islands,1944

“Seabees unload pontoons and LSTs on Angaur in the Palau Islands, converting the island into a formidable base. Also seen are bulldozers and cranes, photograph received 27 December 1944.” (U.S. Navy Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

“US Navy Seabees, who landed with the first wave of Marines, stand guard over a Japanese naval floatplane at Sasebo, Japan. Photographed by Private First Class C.O. Jones, September 1945.” Note the M1 Carbine. (Photo: National Museum of the U.S. Navy)

Seabees repair airstrip on Tarawa with heavy grading equipment and trucks. November 22, 1943

“Operation Galvanic, Invasion of Tarawa, November 1943. Seabees repair airstrip on Tarawa with heavy grading equipment and trucks. November 22, 1943.” (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

“Battle of Peleliu (Operation Stalemate), September-November 1944. Group of African-American Seabees acting as stretcher-bearers for the 7th Marines.” (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)
Seabee sign Bougainville Island 1944
“This sign, near the Torokina fighter strip on Bougainville Island testifies to the U.S Marine Corps admiration for the Navy’s construction battalions.” (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Three U.S. B-29 Superfortresses roar over a Navy Seabee working on an unfinished section of the new U.S. base at Tinian

Three U.S. B-29 Superfortresses roar over a Navy Seabee working on an unfinished section of the new U.S. base at Tinian in the Marianas Islands. With their lumbering bulldozers and other heavy equipment, Seabees have enlarged and constructed airfields on Saipan, Guam, and Tinian, from which those huge planes are conducting large-scale attacks on industrial areas in Japan. (U.S. Navy Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

During World War II, some 350,000 men served in the Seabees, organized into no less than 315 regular and special construction battalions. They would construct over 400 advanced bases spanning from Iceland to New Guinea and Sicily to the Aleutian Islands, operating in all theaters. 

In the Pacific alone, they would build no less than 111 airstrips while suffering over 200 combat deaths. A further 500 Seabees were killed during their highly dangerous construction work under adverse field conditions. In addition to 33 Silver Stars and 5 Navy Crosses, ‘Bees also earned more than 2,000 Purple Hearts in WWII, the hard way. 

Korea and Vietnam

Drawn down to a force of just 3,300 by 1949, the Seabees remained a “Can Do” part of the Navy and Marines’ shore establishment and would rapidly expand to serve in the Korean War and Vietnam. During the latter conflict in Southeast Asia, the Seabees expanded to over 26,000 men in no less than 23 assorted Naval Mobile and Amphibious Construction Battalions by 1969.

In most cases, the bases in which Marines fought from during those conflicts were constructed and improved by Seabees, often, as in WWII, under threat from the enemy. 

The Cold War, Desert Storm, and Beyond

Besides service in Korea and Vietnam, the “Fighting Seabees” engaged in new frontiers around the world during the Cold War, constructing bases everywhere the Navy went including in remote Diego Garcia, Greece, Spain, Antarctica, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. They served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Restore Hope, in Bosnia, in Panama, in Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

Seabees Desert Storm
“Capt. Mel Hamm, left, commander, Fleet Hospital Operations and Training Command, and Lt. Vic Modeer of Reserve Naval Construction Battalion Hospital Unit 22 discuss the construction of Fleet Hospital Six during Operation Desert Shield.”

NavSeabee Det Sarajevo in blown up church. Feb 1996 Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina

“NavSeabee Det Sarajevo in blown up church. Feb 1996 Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina” (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

“Deh Dadi TWO, Afghanistan (Feb. 28, 2011) Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 40 begin their journey back to homeport in Port Hueneme, Calif.” (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael B. Watkins/Released)

Seabees laying concrete in Djibouti 2011

“Djibouti (Jan. 20, 2011) Builder Constructionmen Diana Aceves, right, and Daniel Fuentes, both assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 74, Detail Horn of Africa, pour concrete during a construction project at Ecole 5 Primary School.” Note that Seabee construction rates have been open to women since 1973. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Lindsey/Released)

The Seabees today still train to “build with rifles on their back.” 

Seabees with M240 machine gun Hunter Liggett, 2016
“Camp Hunter Liggett, Calif. (April 27, 2016) A Seabee assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 yells out enemy locations to his teammates during a simulated attack during a field training exercise. The exercise prepares and tests the battalion’s ability to enter hostile locations, build assigned construction projects and defend against enemy attacks using realistic scenarios while being evaluated.” (U.S. Navy photo by Utilitiesman 3rd Class Stephen Sisler/Released) 

Seabees Camp Shelby 2018 in a trench

“Camp Shelby, Miss. (Aug. 20, 2018) Seabees stand inside their fighting position during Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133’s field training exercise (FTX) at Camp Shelby. FTX provides a robust training environment where Seabee forces plan and execute multiple mission essential tasks including convoy security, force protection, and camp buildup before deployment.” (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class George M. Bell/Released) 

Seabee jungle training Okinawa

“Okinawa, Japan (Jan. 12, 2016) Ensign Frank S. Sysko assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 holds his breath while he exits a mud-filled trench during a jungle warfare training evolution hosted by Marines with the Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC).”  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Gomez/Released) 

The unique Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia, issued to qualified Naval Construction Force members since 1993, tells a bit of the unit’s history. 

Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia
It incorporates the old-school WWII Seabee “We build, we fight” motto of the sailor bee with a Tommy gun as well as an M1903 Springfield (one of the few times the Springer makes it to patches or insignia) and a cutlass. Interestingly, Seabees often carried all three weapons in WWII, using M1928 and M1 Thompsons, the 1903A3, and, on occasion, ship’s cutlasses (the latter as machetes).


Now the Taliban faces an insurgency of its own

Although America’s longest war is over, the Taliban isn’t fully victorious in its now-liberated country. There are several groups still holding out against the resurgent regime. After all, it is a civil war there. 

Ahmad Massoud, 32, the well-spoken leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, is the son of the famed Soviet Afgha War-era mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated in 2001 while heading of the Northern Alliance. A graduate of Kings College and the University of London, the younger Massoud last week published an op-ed in the WaPo pleading for help.

I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban. We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father’s time, because we knew this day might come.

Of course, although he is asking for arms and support from the West, the likelihood of it coming overtly is slim to none.

However, it should be noted that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is is funded almost exclusively by the American government, is running short reports highlighting his struggle. 


At the same time, Amrullah Saleh, one of the old republic’s vice presidents and former Intelligence chief, is still in the country and, along with former Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi (one of the elder Massoud’s better commanders in the Northern Alliance against the Soviets and a former Chief of Staff of the Afghan National Army), are in the Panjshir with Massoud The Younger, where they are trying to form a larger resistance movement in line with a government in exile concept.
At least some are coming to the call. 
Massoud is being joined by “Hundreds of Tajiks from the southern town of Kulob” who  “say they’re prepared to join anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan. The Afghan fighters are based in the Panjshir Valley, a predominantly ethnic-Tajik region that has repelled Taliban incursions in the past.”
Other reports are not quite as glossy as the Taliban move in to put down the unruly valley, just 100 miles from Kabul. 
Still, if Massoud and the gang can make it to the end of the fighting season, 2022 could be a big year for them. 
Meanwhile, there is an Uzbek angle.
Another vice president and warlord-figure, the aging Abdul Rashid Dostum (who was marshal of the Afghan National Army and a senior officer of the Communist-era ANA) along with Atta Muhammad Nur, a well-known Tajik who served as a mujahideen resistance commander for the Jamiat-e Islami militia against the Soviets before joining the Northern Alliance back in the day, fled from their stronghold in Mazar-e-Sharif to Uzbekistan a couple of weeks ago, where they no doubt still have a myriad of contacts across the border. Whether or not they make inroads back into the country remains to be seen but, as they say, you can run the warlord out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the warlord.
The more things change…

Welcome (back), M16A4

The humble original M16 was originally Armalite’s AR-15, and was first ordered for military service with a contract issued to Colt Firearms in May 1962 for the purchase of early Model 01 rifles to be used by Air Force Security Police.

Note, these guns had waffle-pattern 20-round mags, no forward assist, a thin 1:14 twist barrel, and the early three-prong flash hider.

Fast forward to the XM16E1, which became the M16A1 in 1967, and you started to come closer to the standard Army/Marine rifle used in Vietnam and throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. It used a forward assist and a 1:12 twist barrel.

By 1983, the M16A2 came about, it had a thicker barrel in front of the front sight, a modified flash suppressor (closed on bottom), a new polymer buttstock (lighter and stronger), faster barrel twist (from 1:12 to 1:7), and a spent case deflector for left-hand users. Considered downright vintage by the Army and Marines, the Navy still sports them these days.

M16A2- check
M9 in drop leg holster- check
Body armor- um, about that……

By 1998, the M16A4 was in play, primarily for the Marines, which had a removable carry handle, a Picatinny top rail to allow for optics, short rails on the handguard for accessories, and a 20-inch barrel with a 1:7 RH twist rate.

Note the size difference between the compact M4 Carbine, top, and the full-length M16A4 rifle, bottom. (Photos: Department of Defense)

Since the GWOT kicked off in 2002, the big shift over the years has been to move from the full-length M16 family to the more compact M4/M4A1 carbine, with its collapsible rear stock and stubby 14-inch barrel, leaving the increasingly old-school style rifle as something of a relic today. Heck, the Army for the past couple years has been very actively working on replacing their 5.56 NATO rifles and SAWs with a new 6.8mm weapon. 

Now jump to 2020, and the M16A4 is now apparently the Army’s designated rifle for Foreign Military Sales to equip overseas allies in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Nepal.

Colt and FN are competing in a contract to supply as much as $383 million smackers worth of M16A4s by 2025.

More in my column at Guns.com. 

The Shok Valley sounds like a nice place to never go

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams was presented with the Medal of Honor at the White House on Wednesday. Williams earned the award for his actions in Shok Valley, Afghanistan, on April 6, 2008, while a weapons guy on an SF A-team, Operational Detachment Alpha 3336.

“It was kind of quiet, then all of a sudden everything exploded all at once – machine gun fire, some RPGs started going off. [The insurgents] had some pretty good shooters and a lot of people up there waiting for us.”

Originally recognized with the Silver Star, which was ugraded in September, he is still on active duty.

30 years ago today, the end of Gorbachev’s nightmare and the beginning of everyone else’s

“Goodbye Afghanistan” in Cyrillic, written with AK74 rounds

15 February 1989- The last Soviet combat soldier in Afghanistan, Col.-Gen.Boris Vsevolodovich Gromov of the 40th Guards Army, walked across the Friendship Bridge spanning the Amu-Daria river between that country and what is now Uzbekistan.

The nine-year conflict, which began with the Soviet takeover of the country on Christmas Eve 1979, cost the Motherland 14,453 killed and 264 missing (some of which have later been found alive) of the more than 600,000 that cycled through Afghanistan during the war.

It is estimated that as many as 2 million Afghans on both sides and caught in the crossfire, also perished.

Without Moscow’s support, the Pakistani-Saudi-U.S.-backed Mujahedin quickly swept away the Communist government in Kabul, replacing it after the resulting civil war with the Taliban.

Little Birds, Afghan style

“Train Advise Assist Command – Air (TAAC – Air) advisors from the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing fly Afghan Air Force’s newest MD 530F Cayuse Warrior helicopters for a training event. The new helicopters are capable of firing 2.75” rockets and .50-cal machine guns for close air support.”

The U.S. Army adopted the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse (nicknamed “Loach”, after the program acronym LOH—Light Observation Helicopter) in 1965 and fielded more than 1,400 of these egg shaped killers in the Vietnam era and, while largely replaced by the 1980s, the AH6/MH6 Little Bird variants did yeoman work with special operations units in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere during the Reagan era (see Operation Prime Chance).

Over Mogadishu during the Blackhawk Down affair, it was four MH-6s (Barbers 51-54 of the 160th SOAR) that kept the city at bay overnight.

“In the movie, the gunships are shown making only one attack. In fact, they were constantly engaged all night long. Each aircraft reloaded six times. It is estimated that they fired between 70 and 80,000 rounds of minigun ammo and fired a total 90 to 100 aerial rockets. They were the only thing that kept the Somalis from overrunning the objective area. All eight gunship pilots were awarded the Silver Star. Every one of them deserved it.” (source)

Today the Army still has about 47 Little Birds of various marks, and the Afghan Air Force is using the next best thing.

The MD 530F Cayuse Warrior, shown turning and burning above, is flown jointly by U.S. and Afghanistan forces and see combat just about every day. The last four of 27 MD 530Fs arrived at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul aboard a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III airlifter in late August as noted by Janes.

They are all moving to use the Enhanced-Mission Equipment Package (EMEP) which offers the FN Herstal 12.7 mm Heavy Machine Gun Pod (HMP) or 70 mm rockets.

This guy needs a wheelbarrow

Crown Copyright

Crown Copyright

British army sniper with a.338 Lapua caliber Accuracy International AWM complete with a Schmidt & Bender 5-25×56 (MoD designation L115A3) rifle deploying on a mission in Afghanistan. Coming standard with a suppressor, these 20-pound+ beasts can reach well out to 2,000m and count coup on adjacent hilltops, with the round reaching the target before the sound of the supersonic crack does.

You can look at his weapon and note the “come ups” for ballistics MOA adjustments written on buttstock in sharpie and just four spare 5-round mags in his plate carrier. Though he likely has a few boxes of rounds in his bergen as well as any number of other weapons about his person and that of his spotter(s).

This Tommy, though thousands of miles from the UK, is likely close to home as you can tell from the Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR) patch on his right arm. Also note the service number on said patch and on his knee pads along with blood type. Good for his mates, he is a universal donor (O+). Bad for him though.

From the shadows and back again

Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Edward C. Byers Jr. is set to receive the Medal of Honor at the end of the month. He recounts the mission in his own words, above, taking time and making a point to honor his friend, Chief Nicolas Checque, who did not return from the same mission.

Byers, as noted by the Navy, will receive the award on 29 FEB from the POTUS in a ceremony at the White House as a result of his actions as part of a team that rescued an American civilian held hostage in Afghanistan in 2012.

Byers, 36, already has an impressive salad bar of awards and decorations to include five Bronze Stars with Combat V device, two Purple Hearts, the Joint Service Commendation Medal with Valor and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat V device earned across seven combat tours and eight overseas deployments.

A native of Ohio, he joined the Navy in 1998.

Byers will be the first Seal to be presented with the Medal of Honor since the survivors of Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Michael Anthony Monsoor received his posthumously in 2008 from President George W. Bush.

Further, no image existed of Byers in the public domain before this week other than his high school yearbook photo, as special operations guys tend to stick to anonymity.

They are literally the quiet professionals.

I’ve been around these men in work capacities and, when working as a journalist have been allowed to take images of certain cleared equipment and non-identifiable personnel (far in the distance, or from the back), always clearing imagery with the PAO to make sure no faces or sensitive gear/equipment/place identifiers got out. OPSEC, PERSEC, etc.

So you can expect to see Byers step from behind the cloak of invisibility for the next few weeks– because he is being ordered to. After all, the Pentagon went to all the trouble for a MOH, they want to show it off.

And then, as detailed in an interview this week, the active duty Senior Chief will slip back into the teams, and continue to keep his mouth shut rather than cash in and start blabbering.

What he has more trouble stomaching, though, are the books written by retired SEALs that reveal secrets of their trade. No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden, was a best-seller in 2012 and has spawned several other books about SEALs. Don’t look for a first-person account by Byers of the mission that saved Joseph anytime soon.

“I’ve been in the military almost 18 years,” Byers said. “I’ve lived a very quiet life. I’m not exactly sure what their motives are and what they’re trying to accomplish by writing those. I’ve never read their books. I have no plans in the future to write a book or do a movie or anything like that. It’s not what I believe in.”

Can I get a Bravo Zulu for the Senior Chief.

ANA SF Selection Course

Pretty respectable candidate sourse. About 200 Afghan soldiers participate for 3 days in a grueling selection process for the ANA Special Forces. This includes log carrying marches and wading three kilometers through a cold, muddy river at a camp on the outskirts of Kabul. Video by Melissa Preen, NATO.

You have to admit, you love seeing the old woodland camo and ALICE packs again.

Taliban Doesnt even mention the latest video…..

From Danger Room about the latest US atrocity video, this one showing USMC STA snipers whizzing on Tally-ban bodies…….Notably, the Taliban isn’t even trying to exploit the video. “This is not the first time we see such brutality,” said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. This is the same organization that tweets out propaganda about every perceived U.S. misstep — including arguably less offensive ones, like calling the military “terrorists” for the night raids that have become routine. Perhaps the Taliban don’t want the video to derail negotiations with the Obama administration to end the war.

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