Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 40 said goodbye to their command in an official decommissioning ceremony Wednesday, Sept. 12, at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Port Hueneme.
NMCBs 3, 4 and 5, the 31st Seabee Readiness Group (31st SRG) and Underwater Construction Team 2 marched onto the parade ground in formation in front of a throng of guests that included prior NMCB 40 commanding officers, former members of the battalion — including four men who were at the 1966 commissioning — local military and civilian leaders, friends and family members.
If anyone who came to the ceremony was under the impression they were saying goodbye and burying NMCB 40, they had another thing coming.
“I got some great advice when we were planning today’s ceremony from one of my senior chiefs,” said Cmdr. Timothy DeWitt, NMCB 40’s current and last commanding officer. “He said, ‘Sir, please don’t make this a eulogy.’ And I thought that was great advice. Today is a celebration. We will always be Forever 40.”
DeWitt talked about how decommissioning a battalion is a lot different than decommissioning a ship.
“It’s sad to see a ship be decommissioned because after the ceremony a ship is never seen again,” said DeWitt, who will become the chief staff officer for the 31st SRG. “For us, all of the equipment is given to other units, and we expect for her (NMCB 40) to return again someday when her country needs her. It all comes down to the number 40 — nothing left to rust.”
The commanding officer’s comments about expecting the unit to return again make sense considering NMCB 40 has now been commissioned twice.
NMCB 40 was “stood up” in October 1942 in support of U.S. efforts in World War II. In 1945, when the war was over, NMCB 40 was decommissioned. The disestablishment lasted for more than 20 years until the unit was commissioned once again Feb. 1, 1966, to support U.S. efforts in Vietnam.
Later, NMCB 40 served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (Saudi Arabia), Operation Restore Hope (Somalia), Operation Joint Endeavor (Bosnia-Herzegovina), and Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (Iraq and Afghanistan).
From humanitarian relief efforts following the Indonesian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans in 2005 to supporting the warfighter in nearly every major conflict since World War II, NMCB 40 and the Seabees who carried the command colors have contributed to the proud heritage, success and tradition of the U.S. Navy.
The decommissioning of battalions — in this case, NMCB 40 and its sister battalion NMCB 7 a week earlier in Gulfport, Miss. — is a familiar scenario at the end of any U.S. war or conflict.
“The decommissioning of units and decrease of Seabees is a part of our nation’s progression following major conflicts,” said Capt. Dean Tufts, commander of the 31st SRG. “During World War II, we had more than 250,000 Seabees. That number decreased 98 percent to 5,000 after the war. During Vietnam, the number rose again to 26,000, only to decrease after the conflict was over. Even during Iraq and Afghanistan our numbers surged to 17,000 and now here we are today with the decommissioning of NMCB 40.”
Guest speaker Rear Adm. Christopher Mossey, who serves as the Chief of [Navy] Civil Engineers and Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, said that while decommissionings are not rare in the Navy, this wasn’t something he was looking forward to.
“This moment is truly bittersweet,” said Mossey, who is recognized as the King Bee. “This happens frequently in our Navy. In a month, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise will return from the Gulf and be decommissioned after 50 years of service. It’s not about the platform — it’s about the people.
“To all of us, NMCB 40 represents the bonds we have made; friends you’ll have commitments with for the rest of your life. NMCB 40 will always be with us because the Seabees who leave this unit today will take their experience and knowledge into other battalions.”
Mossey further explained that NMCB 40 would live on through the projects they’ve completed around the world and the people and communities they’ve helped by building clinics, schools, water wells and other quality-of-life improvements.
“Our country will continue to need Seabees as we continue to foster and sustain relationships with our allies to improve cooperative security,” said Mossey, who explained that the Seabees’ missions directly support the goals of the Chief of Naval Operations. “Congratulations and thank you to NMCB 40 for a job well done.”
The Seabees who worked hard to earn NMCB 40 both the Battle “E” and Peltier Awards for Best Seabee Battalion both on the West Coast and Navywide said they will miss the battalion.
“I’ve enjoyed my time in the 40 a lot,” said Equipment Operator Constructionman Dillon Francis, who is taking his experience to NMCB 4. “I gained rank here and I made a lot of friends. It’s nice to see a lot of my friends coming with me, but it’s tough to see a lot of people go someplace else.”
The emotional conclusion to the ceremony came when DeWitt dismissed the men and women of NMCB 40 for the final time. The battalion gave the traditional, “Aye, Aye, Sir” response, performed an about face and filed off the grinder for the last time — until they are needed again.