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.
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.
The Seabees today still train to “build with rifles on their back.”
The unique Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia, issued to qualified Naval Construction Force members since 1993, tells a bit of the unit’s history.
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.
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 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)
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.