NECC Looks for Technologies that Save Time, Keep Forces Moving
By EVAMARIE SOCHA, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md — Additive manufacturing — using 3-D printing to replace parts that break down in the field — could be the latest arrow in the quiver of the “Navy’s Elite Construction Force,” the Seabees, as they mark 75 years of construction service to the armed forces this year, a command official said April 3.
Cmdr. Eileen D’Andrea, of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), is interested in additive manufacturing, which is technology that builds three-dimensional objects using materials such as plastic, metal and concrete layer upon layer. It’s among the things she’ll peruse at the 2017 Sea-Air-Space Expo, she said.
The 3-D printing has great potential for infield use, D’Andrea said. If a part breaks down, for instance, 3-D printing may save the day by creating a temporary replacement until a permanent part can be found.
“Our mission is being expeditionary,” said D’Andrea, who has spent the last three years of her 22-year career keeping more than 10,000 active-duty and Reserve service members well trained and supplied. More than 8,500 service members specifically make up the NECC.
Materials that are small enough, light enough, tough enough but accessible are always of interest.
“If it meets the need until a spare part can be found,” she said, it saves time and keeps the force moving, helping the Seabees do their job better and faster.
Using unmanned aerial vehicles to survey sites, particularly for damage, and finding new and improved items, such as solar-powered airstrip lighting or quicker-setting concrete that is lighter to transport, also are on D’Andrea’s wish list as she surveys expo offerings.
The latest technologies add to a mission that itself hasn’t changed much over the Seabees’ 75-year history, D’Andrea said. From the force’s founding as a construction battalion on March 5, 1942, supporting troops in World War II to present operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, getting into an area and building the supporting structures is the Seabees main goal.
Airfield support and repair and disaster relief have been the main tasks of today's Seabees, D’Andrea said. Rebuilding schools and hospitals and airstrips fast and efficiently are important. The service also works side by side with fellow armed forces, particularly the Marines, not only in getting an exercise off the ground but in keeping it going. For instance, the Seabees will set up fuel lines to keep armored vehicles moving or note support structures, such as control towers, that also need to go up at an air base.
Partnering with other countries so they know the Seabees are there to help them also is a goal, she said.
The Seabees — the name comes from Construction Battalion — began with about 320,000 service members in World War II, 80 percent of whom saw action in the Pacific theatre, D’Andrea said. Ratings include builder, electrician, mechanic, equipment operator, engineering aid, utilitiesman and steelworker, among others. Forces train alongside other service members in Louisiana and California.
In marking its birthday, the service honored one of its oldest surviving members, Jerry Smith, who was part of the 1st Naval Construction Battalion that served near Guadalcanal. D’Andrea herself visited him and presented honors.
“Our ability to get the job done” is the Seabees’ focus, regardless of the theatre. Thinking through an effort helps in being ready before there is a problem,” said D’Andrea, herself a civil engineer and trained architect.
She paraphrased a quote to describe the Seabees’ mission today: “The difficult we do once,” she said. “The impossible takes a little longer.”