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U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC)
ADM Daryl Caudle
2022 SEABEE BIRTHDAY BALL
05 March 2022
Thank you, Lore (RDML Aguayo), for the kind introduction - and let me start off by saying, ‘Happy Birthday’ Seabees! You don’t look a day over 80 years old!
It is truly inspiring to be amongst such a large and diverse crowd of proud Seabees and Civil Engineers – from the newly designated, to the combat proven women and men, civilian and uniformed – who make up this team of ‘Can Do’ warfighters.
Donna and I are both humbled and honored to be here to celebrate this special day with you! How about a round of applause for the NAVFAC team and everyone involved in putting this evening together – what an outstanding event and venue – I know it wasn’t easy.
Even more, how about a round of applause for the Seabees, Engineers, Support Elements, and Families spread far and wide, both at home and abroad, who make up the heart and soul of this stellar team!
As you all well know, 80 years ago today Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, was granted the authority to activate, organize, and man a special organization whose mission would be to support the Navy and Marine Corps in remote locations, and defend themselves if attacked – Naval Construction Battalions, better known as ‘Seabees’ – with the motto Construmus Batumius – ‘We build, We fight.’
Also, today, we celebrate the 155th birthday of the Civil Engineering Corps (2 Mar 1867), and the soon 180th year of NAVFAC (31 August 1842). To be true, the history of Civil Engineers in the Navy transcend well beyond the years I just mentioned – back to the very birth of our Navy, when Benjamin Henry Latrobe was hired by President Thomas Jefferson to engineer the first dry docks to keep the Navy’s first twelve frigates seaworthy – but in respect to keeping this party moving, I’ll spare you my attempt, as a submariner, to impress upon this prestigious group the history and heritage of your own community.
So, what I’d really like to focus on this evening is the profound impact the combined C-E-C, NAVFAC, and Seabee team has - on our Navy’s, and for that matter the Joint Forces’, ability to maneuver and conduct sustained operations around the world in any future fight.
I am certain that everyone in this room is keenly aware of, and closely following what is going on overseas in Europe, the Middle East, and in the Pacific – particularly in Ukraine and the South China Sea. It is undeniably true that we are facing for the first time, competition from two near-peer, nuclear capable competitors. Both China and Russia continue, on a daily basis, to demonstrate aggressive behaviors that we haven’t seen since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992. And it is also true that they are actively engaged in developing the capacity and the capability to challenge us both overseas, in space, cyberspace, and here on home front.
But despite what we may read in the media about China this, Russia that, or even the internal challenges we face with uncertain budgets, manning levels, or the challenges and pace of modernization – I can guarantee everyone listening today, that our Sailors, our warships, and our capabilities are feared, and they are absolutely ready to take the fight to the enemy.
How do I know – that’s easy – it’s the extraordinary combination of leadership, mastery, resilience, capabilities, and training that transforms our exquisite multi-mission platforms into unprecedented lethality – stuff they just can’t replicate.
Take a moment and look around the room – this is what they don’t have – true warfighters – committed people from far and wide, and from all walks of life, who through sheer courage, inner strength, and mental fortitude rise to heroism. Not because they are commanded by some tyrant, but because they are bound by a unity of purpose – fully committed, from the trenches in the battlefield, to manning the rails of our warships – to mission accomplishment and to each other.
Young men and women from small towns, like those found in Washington State, who spent their formative years running around timber, mining, and sailing communities – building small canoes and boats out of scraps of wood and discarded materials so they can sail out to the islets of Discovery Bay to watch the proud ships of the fleet make way through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Adventurers who aggressively seek new and fleeting opportunities, like braving the long journey to remote towns such as Hyder, Alaska – a town with a population less than 50, and one of the last American frontiers – to brave the mines of the Misty Fjords in search of silver and gold.
Those who come to seek similar challenges and journeys in the United States Navy and raise their hand to put their talents to work as warfighters for the defense our nation – who volunteer for the hardest training they can find so they can deploy with elite units like the Army’s 5th Special Forces Airborne Group – all while marrying their sweetheart, starting a family, and welcoming their firstborn.
Warfighters who deploy deep in dense, unfamiliar jungles to construct runways and forward operating bases – and who, when attacked in the night by an overwhelming adversarial force, being outnumbered four-to-one and receiving relentless heavy mortar, machine gun, and small arms fire – pick up their rifle and a handful of grenades and take the fight to the enemy alongside their brothers-in-arms.
Warfighters who not once, but consistently through battle, run out into open fields and trailers full of munitions set ablaze by enemy flamethrowers, to resupply their comrades and retrieve the wounded and the fallen – even after being severely wounded by shrapnel themselves.
Warfighters with the grit and tenacity to take a punch, and even after being shot in the face, fearlessly volunteer to take on a machinegun nest with a rocket launcher alongside their field commander and blow it to hell.
And then, through selfless courage and commitment, while suffering mortal wounds from enemy fire, are able to stay alert throughout the night and the morning, keeping their team armed and ready with needed arms and munition – all the while laughing and joking, keeping everyone’s fighting spirit alive.
Warfighters who hang on to the bitter end, never letting down the attack until the final aircraft is skids up, and all are accounted for.
You see, what our competitors don’t have are warfighters like Construction Mechanic Third Class Marvin Shields, who is fundamentally no different from the Seabees and Engineers in this room. No different from Steel Worker Second Class Robert Dean Stethem, Builder Chief Petty Officer Raymond J. Border, or even Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary, whose brave, fearless, and intrepid actions clearly ring out through our glorious naval history.
From the Navy’s first advanced bases in the Pacific, to the beaches of Normandy, Okinawa, and Wonson, to the “Great Seabee Train Robbery,” the “Ghost Battalion,” and Operations “End Run,” “Iraqi Freedom,” “Enduring Freedom,” and “Inherent Resolve,” – you’ve been there, you’ve built, and you’ve fought to ensure our decisive victory.
It’s the perseverance, toughness, sheer will, and determination of American warfighters, Sailors, and Seabees that’s our ‘special sauce’ – that’s what sets us apart from the rest – and that’s why we are rightfully feared. What’s more, when we’re employed as part of a naval team – along with our joint and allied partners – we’re synergistic, we’re relentless, and best of all, we cannot be beat!
As Fleet Forces Commander, I am firmly committed to ensuring our warfighters and our capabilities are fully prepared and ready to deliver violence across the full spectrum of operations in today’s maritime era of strategic competition.
There is much the Navy can learn from the powerful legacy of the Seabee and Civil Engineer community. As a submariner, my philosophy on ensuring our ability as a naval force to fight and win decisively is rooted in our team’s ability to assess, innovate, and execute better than our competitors – traits that are already deeply embedded in your ‘Can Do’ mantra.
To successfully accomplish this now and in the future requires us to be constantly self-aware, to critically self-assess, and to expeditiously self-correct – all of what I consider to be the necessary set of actions to ‘shape our battlespace.’
This philosophy extends from the most junior Sailor on the deckplate to the senior Admirals on the flag bridge and beyond. It involves how we go about shaping and balancing both our personal and professional lives – from the responsibilities we have to our families and the community, to our professional development both within ourselves, and amongst our teams.
Make no mistake, we must be ready at home and abroad to deploy forward in defense of our national interests, and in the protection and assistance of our Allies and Partners – operations that can span the spectrum from Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Relief, to sustained combat operations in remote locations.
I want to quote an excerpt that captures this pressing imperative:
“The first duty of this Nation is to “prepare.” No fleet, however, that we can assemble, will fulfill its mission if our navy yards and shipbuilding establishments are not immediately developed to a point where they can efficiently, completely, and expeditiously repair the disabled and battered battleships. Neither our commercial shipyards nor our naval stations are now in a condition to meet the extensive demands of war.”
Sounds pretty familiar right? This was delivered by RADM John Edwards before congress in 1916 – and what was true then, is absolutely true today.
Without a doubt, this team here are the critical enablers of the future fight, and there is a huge lift coming your way as we advance the Fleet for 2030 and beyond.
For the C-E-C and NAVFAC Team, the revitalization of our shipyards is of paramount importance to maintaining our readiness and capabilities now and into the future – and just as important, we must have a united voice to our leadership and congress to message the need for the funding to execute this vision – now, now, now!
With the introduction of new platforms like the COLUMBIA Class SSBN, Ford Class Carriers, DDG(X), and the Joint Strike Fighter, there will be necessary changes to the requirements for our shore infrastructure – much of which is already underway.
These improvements are critical to ensuring our warfighters and enabling capabilities are properly housed, maintained, and protected in order to ensure our training, readiness, and sustainment support our combatant commanders’ objectives and missions.
For the N-E-C-C team, we are fully invested in and are moving at flank speed towards Fleet - Marine integration. This effort is directly aligned with our ever maturing and improving concepts of Distributed Maritime Operations, Expeditionary Advance Base Operations, and Littoral Operations in Contested Environments.
These concepts are all designed to enable our Fleet and Marine Forces to establish sea control at the time and place of our choosing through the distribution of forces, all-domain maneuver, and lethality.
This is where our mindset and our efforts must be placed, now and into the future – developing and delivering a fast reaction, self-sustaining, and rapidly maneuverable force, both on-land and at-sea, capable of housing, delivering, and employing our next-generation, netted, weapon systems with precision and lethal effect.
Throughout our naval history, C-E-C, NAVFAC, and Seabees have proven time-and-time again their versatility, scalability, and sustainability in any environment. Whether blazing trails in Antarctica, conducting peacetime operations after natural disasters, or building advanced forward bases of operations in support of combat operations – you’ll be there, and you will continue to be one of the most critical elements to enabling the fleet to win decisively whenever, and wherever, we may be called.
And in that tradition, I challenge you all to continue the relentless pursuit of excellence that has been so prevalent in your community. The last twenty years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan alone have showcased the amazing depth and breadth of Seabee capabilities – and there is indeed much to be proud of – however, our potential adversaries out there are outfitted with some high-tech hardware – they’re tough, and they’re prepared to fight. We all must rise to the challenge – learn and master new skills, and leverage our areas of overmatch, which are rooted in our people just like the talent in this room.
It’s a bit like ‘Back to the Future,’ as we shift our focus to the eastern front – we have to revisit the lessons of our past, both in Europe, and more importantly in the Pacific. With those lessons, we have to apply innovative adaptations to how we plan to operate, fight, and sustain.
The real work is now – we must continue to master our skills at expeditionary pier, airfield, and base repair – and we must create ways to enable an agile logistics footprint that can morph and sustain at the speed of relevance.
The big picture is, we can’t rest on our well-earned laurels. As we move forward in this maritime era of strategic competition, we must continue to press forward, forging together existing and new capabilities so that we can fight and win decisively against our peer adversaries, and in every encounter.
I’ll leave off the way I started – the combined team of C-E-C, NAVFAC, and Seabees truly fill indispensable and vital roles in peace and wartime operations, from the homeland to the far reaches of the world. I continue to be awed and inspired at what this team ‘Can Do,’ and am excited to see what you ‘Will Do’ in the future.
It’s been a tremendous privilege and honor to be here tonight – thanks once again to those who put this wonderful event together and for allowing me to share in this celebration with you. I also want to thank your families for their unwavering commitment and support – it is only through their love, support, and strength that we are able to achieve our full potential as people, as Sailors, and as a Navy.
May God continue to bless you all, our Navy, and this great nation. Thank you.
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