By Ens. Samuel Stoffels, NMCB 25 Public Affairs Officer
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 25 recently utilized the Engineering Professional Exchange Program (EPEP) to create a new training opportunity from June 1-14 for both the Army’s 372nd Engineer Brigade and the Seabees of NMCB 25 at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.
EPEP is a program where the Army and Navy exchange officers for a period of one to two years to learn from each other and take the lessons back to their parent service. In the spirit of the program, Navy Lt. Ted Biagioni and Army Capt. Randall Rice, with the Army’s 372nd Engineering Brigade (372nd EN BDE), created an alternate annual training event. The two officers coordinated the planning of the event to offer the Soldiers of the 372nd EN BDE and the Seabees of NMCB 25 military training in a joint environment. Twenty-five Seabees from NMCB 25 provided direct support to the 372nd EN BDE’s Extended Combat Training (ECT) evolution at Fort McCoy where the brigade practiced its mission of providing Command and Control (C2) while brushing up on tactical and technical field skills.
Three Seabees arrived early to coordinate logistics through both services’ logistical systems to ensure adequate training gear, food, and berthing for the two-week joint exercise. Upon arriving at Fort McCoy, these Seabees immediately fell in with the culture of the Army engineers and soon formed a bond that would last the entire ECT. Despite the differences in lingo, it was easy to see the Army engineers and the Seabees are cut from the same cloth.
The rest of the Seabees arrived at Fort Snelling, joining seamlessly in with the 372nd EN BDE’s morning accountability formation and began reporting through the Army’s leadership. After formation, the Seabees went to the motor pool and began assisting the 372nd EN BDE in finishing preparations for the morning convoy to Fort McCoy. The Seabees were able to empty and repack two Conex containers in a matter of minutes for the Army. With the assistance of the Seabees, the Army was able to step off within their window of time for the convoy to Fort McCoy.
The Seabees fell in with the Army as they moved out to the field. The quartering party consisted of Seabees and Army personnel clearing and setting security for the initial establishment of the 372nd Tactical Operating Center (TOC). Similar to the quartering party, following chalks were integrated with both Seabees and Army soldiers. Army and Navy worked together to establish the rest of the Forward Operating Base (FOB) operating seamlessly as if they had trained together for years.
After establishing the FOB, Army Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) from one of the Army’s Sapper units began training Seabees in defensive security. They set up hasty fighting positions, followed by digging two-man and crew-serve fighting positions. The Seabees performed the tasks so well that they became instructors, teaching Army personnel on digging additional fighting positions and constructing range cards (known as sector sketches in the Army) for placing crew-serve weapons. The dug-in security perimeter was completed hours ahead of schedule due to the efficient work of the Seabees.
The Seabees then moved on to learning the details of effective patrolling and military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) training. The Army tailored the patrol training using the Seabee Combat Handbook, which both Services found to be almost identical to Army training manuals. The training evolved into routine patrols with integrated fire teams consisting of Army and Navy personnel working in unison to accomplish each training task.
C2 was performed jointly throughout the entire ECT. The Seabee Lieutenant was assigned as the Battle Captain of the Tactical Operation Center (TOC), which the Army learned would typically be referred to as the Watch Officer in a Seabee Combat Operations Center (COC). Other Seabees operated the radios and stations of the Command Post of the Future (CPOF) in the TOC as well. With the integrated TOC, the Army conducted normal operations without issue.
As the TOC became fully operational, Seabees continued additional integrated defensive fighting position training. They improved their fighting positions, repositioned fighting positions for better security, and established secondary fighting positions. That night, the camp received a simulated attack by opposing forces (OPFOR), and the integrated fighting positions, staffed by both Army and Navy personnel, successfully held off the aggressors.
Training continued with crew-serve weapons on the Fort McCoy ranges. The training began with familiarization training of the MK-19, M2 Machine Gun, and the Army’s M249. The Seabees had the opportunity to shoot the qualification sequence on each of the crew-serve weapon systems with the Army. Equipment Operator 2nd Class Susan Tucker, from Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) Green Bay, Wisconsin, had the highest M249 qualification score of all Soldiers and Seabees at the ECT. The training continued into the night with night qualification. Some of the Soldiers and Seabees were fortunate enough to see the sunrise over the smoking hot barrel of the M2.
Midway through the exercise, the unit received a simulated fragmentary order (FRAGO) to reestablish operations at another location on Fort McCoy. The new location was roughly one hour south of the existing established FOB. The Seabees jumped into action. Using the Seabee’s planning method ‘BAMCIS’, and the Army’s RIMRCIS procedures, plans were established and executed. Following the planning stage, the camp was disassembled and packed in record time with no injuries and 100% accountability of personnel and sensitive items. The Seabees fell into the convoy and again were integrated with setting security, establishing C2, and erecting the new FOB.
Training continued at the new FOB with more military tactics taught by the Army. The training included land navigation and immediate action drills including enemy contact, ambushes, individual tactical movement, and more. Tactical training progressed to a capstone exercise using paintball guns that resembled M4s. The final exercise eventually led to a paintball assault and defense with the two integrated teams. During this assault, the teams created hasty fighting positions, obstacles, and ambushes using paintball claymores. Brigadier General Matthew Baker, Deputy Commanding General of the 416th Theater Engineer Command, was fortunate enough to witness the joint paintball assault on his visit to the FOB.
Following the paintball exercise, Colonel Noel Palmer, Commander of the 372nd EN BDE, had the opportunity to frock two junior enlisted Seabees in the field. With their requirements satisfied and the frocking letters in hand, Construction Electrician 3rd Class Benjamin MacLean was frocked to second class petty officer and Builder Constructionman Sebastian SanchezGarcia was frocked to third class petty officer. Colonel Palmer gave a speech afterward stating how honored he was to participate in the field ceremony and was grateful that his Soldiers were able to witness this unique Navy tradition.
The final FRAGO was received to move back to cantonment and finish the ECT with individual rifle qualification and defensive squad live fire at the Fort McCoy ranges. The individual rifle qualification was executed by the Army’s Range Safety Officer (RSO) utilizing the Navy qualification standard at a known distance of 200 meters. The squad live fire was conducted to simulate defending an area in entrenched fighting positions using live ammunition with popup targets that simulate an enemy force advancing from the perimeter. The Soldiers and Seabees practiced with dry fire, then blanks, finally graduating to live ammunition. Fighting positions had to communicate together to suppress the advancing targets. There was a total of five fighting positions with one being a crew serve position. The Seabees integrated with the Army units, bringing all skills learned throughout the training exercise bear, as they inflicted 50% casualties on the advancing forces, passing the scenario.
Upon completion of the exercise, the ECT ended with a barbeque and an awards ceremony. During the ceremony, three Seabees were decorated with Army medals for their superior performance during the ECT. Senior Chief Builder Chad Bartman was awarded an Army Commendation medal for his exemplary leadership during the ECT. Equipment Operator 2nd Class Susan Tucker and Construction Electrician 2nd Class Benjamin MacLean received the Army Achievement Medal for their outstanding achievements in the field during the ECT.
According to participants, the ECT was successful because of the planning, execution, and contribution by both the Seabees and the Soldiers of the 372nd EN BDE. The experience and relationships that were forged between the Seabees of NMCB 25 and the 372nd EN BDE will foster future joint training evolutions that will improve the readiness of both units, and America’s military fighting force overall.