The Navy’s Cargo Handling force finds its roots in the Naval Construction Force. During WWII, the need for a militarized Naval Construction Force to build the roads, bridges, airfields, and facilities vital to advance bases in the war zone became evident. Therefore, the Navy activated, organized, and manned construction units. In January of 1942, men were recruited from the civilian construction trades for assignment to a Naval Construction Regiment composed of three Naval Construction Battalions. On March 5, 1942, they were granted permission to use the term “Seabees”.
In the fall of 1942, a similar need began to appear for military units that could load and unload ships in the Pacific. The ships civilian crews were unable to keep up with the bottleneck that was occurring. Ships remaining at anchor to be offloaded were primary targets. As the establishment of construction battalions began to subside, the Navy ordered the Civil Engineering Corps (CEC) to begin establishing battalions of Seabees for stevedoring purposes, which later became designated as “Special” Seabee battalions. These “Special” battalions were organized around a nucleus of experienced stevedores, many of which were longshoremen from the ports in the US, and then rounded out by inexperienced men who received additional training in stevedoring at Camp Peary, Virginia. Two “dry-land Liberty ships” were constructed at Camp Peary to provide training for the units. Capt. Henry R. Patterson often called the “Daddy of Stevedores,” came out of retirement to train the new recruits. In all, there were 39 Seabee special battalions, with the first commissioned in December 1942. Their motto was “Keep the Hook Moving.”
Following the war, stevedore units were disbanded and the Navy’s cargo handling requirements were accomplished by special units to complete each tasking. The mission of the Seabee “Special” was transferred to the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, and on 1 Oct 1949, Cargo Handling Battalions were established. On 1 Dec 1970 the existing battalions and port crew units were consolidated and replaced by one active duty unit, the Navy Cargo Handling and Port Group, (NAVCHAPGRU), a unit aligned under Naval Surface Forces Atlantic (SURFLANT) and homeported at Williamsburg, Virginia. Additionally, six reserve Cargo Handling Battalions aligned as the Navy Cargo Handling Force (NCHF) were established to support the Marine Corps Maritime Pre-positioning Force (MPF). The number of battalions grew to 12 in the 1980s, and a second active duty unit for training the reserve battalions was created, the Naval Reserve Cargo Handling Training Battalion (NRCHTB), also a unit of SURFLANT.
The lessons learned from Operation Desert Shield/Storm (ODS) identified a requirement for a single organization able to provide flexible, deployable transportation and supply support logistics services in any area of the world. So in 1993, the Navy established the Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force (NAVELSF). The NAVELSF was built on the solid foundation of the NCHF, but was aligned under Commander Navy Reserve Forces Command. NAVELSF consisted of twelve reserve NCHB’s and two reserve Navy Supply Support Battalions (NSSB). The NSSB’s consisted of the Advanced Based Functional Components (ABFC) capabilities identified as shortfalls during ODS, and included fuels, communications, warehousing, postal, personnel support & services, and organizational maintenance. Additionally, in JUN of 1998, NRCHTB was merged into NAVCHAPGRU, and this unit remained aligned under SURFLANT as a unit of the Naval Support Element (NSE) for MPF operations, under Naval Beach Group Two (NBG-2).
In OCT 2004, NAVELSF underwent a significant organizational change when it was the last of the Naval Reserve hardware commands (Seabees, NCW, and NAVELSF) to move from an administrative Chain of Command under CNRFC, to an operational alignment under United States Fleet Forces Command (USFF).
Concurrent with the alignment to USFF, four significant organizational changes occurred. First, NAVELSG absorbed over 400 reserve billets giving NAVELSF increased ordnance handling and reporting capabilities. Second, a separate Air Cargo Handling Battalion (NACHB) was created by removing the Air Cargo Company capabilities from each NCHB; third, an ad-hoc unit, the Logistics Task Force, Atlantic was absorbed as the Naval Expeditionary Logistics Response Cell; and fourth, the active duty battalion NAVCHAPGRU was renamed to NCHB-1, and was now aligned under NAVELSF, placing all cargo handling forces (active and reserve) under one centralized command. All four organizational changes occurred simultaneously with the alignment to USFF, and were a major step towards building an effective organizational command structure, however, this construct had too many (18) direct reports to NAVELSF.
In January 2006, NAVELSF became one of the founding components of the newly established Type Commander for expeditionary forces, the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), along with the Naval Construction Force, and the Maritime Force Protection Command (MFPCOM). Under NECC, NAVELSF was renamed as the Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group (NAVELSG). NECC recognized the broad span of control and capability in NAVELSG and directed NAVELSG to execute a more effective organization.