Editor’s Note: In 2017, the United States Naval Construction Battalions (better known as the Seabees) celebrate their 75th anniversary. Formed in 1942, the Seabees are the Naval Construction Force of the United States Navy. Their nickname is a heterograph of the first initials “C.B.” from the words Construction Battalion. As this article highlights, Seabees can be a great fit in the search for facility management talent.
By Randall Niznick
General Douglas MacArthur said during WWII, “The problem with your Seabees is you don’t have enough of them.” I would like to revise this quote and say: “The problem with Seabees is we don’t know enough about them.” And by “we” I mean the general American public and more specifically, those who work within the facilities management profession. Since my own transition out of the Seabees and into corporate America, I don’t know how many times I have been asked, “What is a Seabee?”
So who are the Navy Seabees? In a nutshell, we are the US Naval Construction Force. We have all the construction trades represented and we are led by Civil Engineer Corps Officers (not all of them are civil engineers, they come from all engineering disciplines). Here are the seven enlisted ratings in the Seabees:
- Construction Mechanics;
- Equipment Operators;
- Engineering Aides;
- Construction Electricians;
- and Steelworkers.
The titles of these rates pretty much explain the specific jobs each one entails. But Navy Seabees are so much more than their rating; they are truly an exceptional team of construction professionals.
But, we have another side to the Navy Seabees, one that takes us out of construction and into facilities. You see, in the Naval Mobile Construction Battalions, we deploy to Seabee camps all over the world. These camps have facilities (i.e., medical/dental clinics, housing, administrative/executive building, chapel, etc.). All of these buildings on a Seabee camp are maintained by a Seabee maintenance organization. Just like out here in private sector, work is generated by the customer via work order submittal. If the work exceeds a certain dollar amount or man hour limit, the work order is changed into a specific job order (project). Seabees plan, estimate, and manage these projects just as a facilities manager plans, estimates, and manages a renovation or minor project ( for example, replacing flooring in a lobby).
In addition to our camp maintenance roles in the Construction Battalions, we are also assigned tours of duty outside of the battalions. Some of these duties entail being assigned to a public works department working within Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC). Again, Seabees have the opportunity to oversee maintenance and minor projects of US Naval facilities located at US Navy bases worldwide. These tours of duty tend to be around three years in length, and when Seabees finish up their “shore duty” they go back to the construction battalion or sometimes into special programs.
As you can see, Seabees are experienced in project management, customer service, maintenance, and operations in addition to their primary role — construction and construction management.
The enlisted force of the Navy Seabees has changed a lot over the years. It is not uncommon to see enlisted Seabees obtaining four-year degrees, usually in construction management or business administration. Many civilian facilities management positions require four-year degrees in addition to facilities experience.
Seabees perform work all over the world and are adept at completing any task at hand with limited resources and materials. This global work experience enables Seabees to truly embrace diversity. As corporate America continues to be more global, having people within the organization who have experienced diversity firsthand is of great benefit.
But the best skill a Seabee brings to an organization is our sense of service. Ask just about any Seabee what they loved most about the Seabees, and they more than likely will say something along the lines of “I loved building schools or drilling wells in underdeveloped countries, helping the local communities and giving children a proper place to learn and grow.”
Seabees have always had a strong sense of serving others and it is reflected in our motto: “With compassion for others, we build, we fight for peace with freedom.” Let’s set aside the facility management hard skills and look at facility management soft skills. Wouldn’t you want to hire a facility manager who has this sense of “service to others” as a part of their professional DNA?
Now I will admit Seabees can sometimes be stubborn, hard-nosed, and sometimes a little rough around the edges. Seabees tend to speak their minds when they know there is a better way to do something or if they feel they or anyone on their team is being treated unfairly. But let’s be honest, isn’t this the kind of manager/leader we need in today’s corporate environment… one that will put his or her behind on the line for the better good of their team? I think so.
Lastly, I will say I have seen many Seabees transition successfully into federal government facilities management positions. But, I would like to see more Seabees be given the opportunity to work as a facilities manager in the private sector. I truly believe we have a lot to offer corporate America if we are just given a chance. In regard to US Navy veterans in private sector facility management, I have seen many prior Navy nukes and other fleet Navy engineering ratings be sourced and hired for facilities positions. There is nothing wrong with this approach, and I know these guys and gals are more than qualified to be a great facilities manager. But I feel Seabees are an untapped resource for facilities management positions and may be overlooked because of the lack of knowledge of who the Navy Seabees really are.
If you are scouting for your next facilities manager and come across a resume with “Navy Seabee”, please take a second look… he/she could be the ideal candidate you are looking for!
This article was originally posted by Niznick on LinkedIn in January 2017, titled “US Navy Seabees and Facilities Management”.
Niznick is a retired 23 year US Navy Seabee veteran who advanced from the HVAC and plumbing trades into maintenance and facilities management. He currently works for a Fortune 500 construction and building services company. Niznick earned his B.Sc, Environmental Management from the University of Maryland University College.
On October 3, 2017, Niznick is a panelist in the Next Gen FM discussion at Facility Executive Live!, a one-day event to take place in downtown Chicago. This BOMI-accredited session is one of six topics at the conference. Click here to learn more about this event hosted by Facility Executive magazine.