Let’s first clear up some confusion about the Navy Seabees: Yes, they are sailors; no, they do not go aboard ships.
“I’ve been in 19 years, and I’ve visited one ship,” said Builder Chief Martin Yingling.
“We build, we fight” is the simple motto of the Navy’s engineering and construction crew. On Saturday, during the first day of the 13th annual Seabee Summerfest, several hundred Seabees stationed at Port Hueneme showed the public what they do.
As support for the Navy and Marine Corps, the 9,400 active Seabees build roads and bridges and set up camps and power generators. Though the Seabees are also trained as fighters, their weapons are more likely to be the hammer and saw, their ammunition plywood and canvas.
The 57-year-old unit’s mascot, a speeding bumblebee in sailor cap, carries a machine gun as well as a wrench and hammer. The term “Seabee” is derived from “CB,” which stands for Construction Battalion.
Four battalions, or about 2,600 Seabees, have their home port at Hueneme’s Naval Construction Battalion Center. Two of those units are now overseas, one in Japan, the other in Spain and Yugoslavia. Gulfport, Miss., is the home port for the Navy’s other four battalions.
Yingling said that even within the Navy’s ranks, the Seabees can be a secret.
“You can walk up to a regular person in the Navy, and they’ve never met a Seabee,” he said.
Every branch of the U.S. military has its own engineers and builders. The Army’s Corp of Engineers is probably the best known because it often carries out public works projects and disaster relief in the United States.
The Seabees, according to one of them, are the best and most broadly trained of the military’s construction crews. Traveling by air and on the ground, they often arrive before troops.
“The Marines always say they’re the first ones there, but we have the coffee ready for them when they get there,” said one Seabee, who was willing to share a common saying within the unit but not his name.
Several thousand people attended Summerfest on Saturday, ringing the naval base’s parade ground for a review of the Seabees in their dress whites by a vice admiral from Washington, D.C. Many in the audience were family members and friends of the Seabees on parade and those overseas.
Afterward, children, their faces painted in camouflage, tried on helmets and scrambled around Jeeps. Several of the Seabees’ common construction projects, including an observation tower and barracks, were on display along with the division’s olive-green tractors, bulldozers and dump trucks. Carnival games and rides, along with live music, added to the festivities.
And though the Seabees are usually landlubbers, ships were on hand for the event. At the base’s port, visitors could tour the Bunker Hill, a guided missile cruiser from San Diego, and a Coast Guard patrol boat. The Seabees underwater construction team also demonstrated its work.
Summerfest continues today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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Seabee Summerfest ’99 Schedule
8 a.m.: Ship to Shore four-mile run at Pier 3, CBC Port Hueneme. Call 989-7728.
9:30 a.m.: One-mile fun run at Pier 3, CBC Port Hueneme. Call 989-7728.
11 a.m.: Car show begins. Call 982-6123.
Military exhibits, vendor booths and carnival open.
Noon: Ship tours begin, lasting until 4 p.m.
Star Spangled Baby Contest begins on the Summerfest stage. Call 982-3585.
2 p.m.: Popeye’s kids’ karaoke contest on Summerfest stage. Call 982-3535.
3:30 p.m.: Special performance by the Rave, playing rock on the Summerfest stage.