GULFPORT, Miss. - Wars, just like those who fight them, evolve with time. They advance with each generation to incorporate tactics, tools, and lessons learned from previous conflicts. But as wars evolve, so does training. For Seabees, some of the best training they can receive occurs every year with the annual field exercise, or FEX.
The FEX gives a naval construction battalion the opportunity to test its skills in a simulated combat environment. The battalion is evaluated at the group level; in the case of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Two Five (NMCB 25), they were evaluated by Naval Construction Group Two (NCG 2) during their most recent FEX at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Virtually every field of expertise in the battalion is tested during FEX, all with the goal of maintaining a deployable and war-ready organization.
From left, Logistics Specialist 1st Class Travis Thompson, Master-at-Arms 1st Class Timothy Marti0n, and Legalman 1st Class Christopher Newham, of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Two Five (NMCB 25), provide cover during a mass casualty drill at the NMCB 25 field exercise (FEX) March 14, 2014. The FEX gives the battalion members an opportunity to test their skills in a simulated combat environment. NMCB 25 is training for an upcoming deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Patrick Gordon)
“The FEX is the first opportunity a battalion has to sit down as a coherent, congruent, total unit executing the full spectrum of missions that are expected by a combatant commander of a Seabee battalion in theater,” said Marine Capt. Robert Kent Wallace, NCG 2 military training officer. “The goal of FEX is to exercise to some extent all of those different tasks to ensure that a Seabee battalion is capable of fulfilling that mission and a full spectrum of operations once they reach theater, wherever that is. There's really nothing that isn't evaluated.”
Evaluators test, critique, and scrutinize every department of the battalion to ensure technical expertise is maintained. On top of that, combat scenarios are thrown at the Seabees to test their tactics and how they operate under pressure.
“We reacted to a variety of scenarios,” said Master-at-Arms Timothy Martin, NMCB 25 battalion Master-at-Arms and Quick Reaction Force team leader. “Things like civilians at the gate, whether they were hostile, looking for help, or just curious. We also responded to any enemy action throughout the camp — intruders in camp, enemy action attacking our front lines. We responded to pretty much any type of emergency situation. It was an eye-opener for some of these guys. It's pretty high-speed stuff.”
From the outside, the scenarios may seem like petty harassment at times. But every training evolution is rooted in real life scenarios that the battalion may face while overseas. These scenarios are conducted by trained staff who bring their respective fields of expertise to the exercise, ensuring that their knowledge — both professional and operational — is passed on to those in training.
“Across the spectrum of rates you have everything from safety, to intel, to communications, tactics and training, camp maintenance — all of those individuals bring a wealth of information as respective authorities within the doctrines that they're evaluating, and that gives you 150 experts putting a very critical eye on the battalion as it goes through,” said Wallace. “So from my perspective, it exists as a vast pool of knowledge from which the battalion can draw for two straight weeks to ensure they're going forward with the best information possible, and to ensure the exacting standards of a Seabee battalion are met down range.”
Other scenarios are outside the control of the evaluators, but no less important to plan for. During NMCB 25's FEX, a powerful storm ripped through their training area and threatened to cancel the exercise. In some parts of the camp, water was knee deep, and mud quickly turned parts of the camp into a quagmire. The battalion was ready though, and faced the storm head on, weathering the wind and rain, and dewatering the camp within hours.
“We had to trench everything to prevent any further damage or flooding,” said Construction Mechanic 1st Class (SCW) Wayne Treat, of NMCB 25. “It required a lot of trenching through the camp and around the tents we had, just to get that ponding water out of there. A lot of man hours, a lot of effort, but once that was done it drained out pretty well and dried out fairly quick. It was a successful effort, but moreover, it was a needed effort — there was really no other option but to drain the camp and carry on. In the long run, it worked out well.”
The efforts of the battalion proved it was ready for any challenge faced down range. But for the amount of training presented, it's all for nothing without the spirit of each Seabee to take what they've learned and bring it to the fight.
“Everything's dependent upon the initiative each individual Sailor takes, the responsibility they take to be involved, and how they engage themselves throughout the entirety of the evaluated period,” said Wallace. “And if they're not, then we replay the scenarios over and over and over again in the course of five, seven, 14 days — however long it takes — until it's done right, because that stuff matters; if you don't train to the standard, then you never have that capability.
So our goal is to train them to the standard, and that forces them to grow in their capacity to execute that mission once they get downrange and are facing possible life-or-death pressures. Those things are cumulative; the process we try to put these individuals through is to generate some of those stressors to ensure that their reactions to the stressors are such that they're going to come away with mission accomplishment, troop welfare, and hopefully bringing everyone home alive.”
NMCB 25 will carry the lessons learned at FEX with them overseas, using them to maintain a high measure of performance and safety. Once they return, they will bring with them the knowledge of the battlefield fresh in their minds to provide to future generations of Seabees before they go overseas, ensuring that the tactics never get old or outdated.
“You can't beat the lessons learned and the experience that you can get from this,” said Capt. David Marasco, commodore, 9th Naval Construction Regiment (9 NCR). “We've been fortunate to be able to take data from real world scenarios down range in Afghanistan and implement and employ it into these scenarios which help our units better understand the tactics and procedures that are going on down range, and to have a good understanding of what to expect when they get there. To do what you're going to do, there's no better preparation than that.”
By U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Patrick Gordon
Provided through DVIDS
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