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Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC)

82 Years of Seabee Excellence: Honoring a Legacy of Construction and Service

by Lt. j. g. Camila Healy, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Public Affairs
05 March 2024 The U.S. Navy Seabees, renowned for their expertise in naval construction and engineering and unwavering commitment to service, celebrated their 82nd anniversary this weekend in Norfolk at the Hampton Roads Seabee Ball where service members across area commands honored their community’s rich history and enduring legacy. Organizers voted to also honor the 50th anniversary of the Underwater Construction Teams at this year’s ball, acknowledging the service and sacrifice of the Seabee diving community since their inception in 1974.

“As Seabees, we recognize the importance of camaraderie, tradition, and celebrating our achievements,” said Cmdr. Matthew Lenzer, a Civil Engineer Corps officer assigned to Navy Expeditionary Combat Command staff and lead planner for this year’s Hampton Roads Seabee Ball. “This year’s Seabee Ball is an opportunity for us to come together, reflect on our accomplishments, and renew our commitment to service. As we honor our past and embrace the present, we also aim to inspire the future as we gather to commemorate the values that make us proud to be Seabees.”

Although the Navy designated the first construction battalion in January 1942 to fulfill the immediate need for the construction of a fueling station on Bora Bora so that ships and planes could continue defending open sea lanes towards Australia, the term “Seabee” was not coined until March 5, 1942. The Seabees quickly became an indispensable asset to the U.S. military during World War II due to their ability to rapidly construct vital infrastructure in war-torn regions. Their efforts earned them a reputation as the Navy’s premier builders and solidified their place in military history.

“For 82 years, the Seabees have been an integral part of the Navy’s mission,” said Seabee Master Chief Robert Balmaceda, NECC Staff Senior Enlisted Leader. “From 1942, with men at a range of ages from all construction trades, to today’s men and women who specialize in our seven Seabee ratings. We have upheld our motto, ‘With compassion for others, we build, and we fight for peace with freedom.’”

Mr. Ken Stethem, the brother of Steelworker Second Class Robert Stethem who died in a terrorist attack while serving with Underwater Construction Team One, served as the keynote speaker for this year’s event.

“The depth of Rob’s courage and resolve in the face of overwhelming adversity by cowards who had nothing more against Rob than the fact that he represented the best that America has to offer,” said Stethem. “He was young, he was strong, he was proud, yet he was also kind and humble - the reach and the power of Rob’s spirit is able to touch others heart, and their spirit, and this is how he continues to inspire all who hear his story.”

In June 1985, Stethem and four other members of Underwater Construction Team One were returning to the U.S. from overseas duty aboard Trans World Airlines Flight 847, when terrorists hijacked the flight and diverted it to Beirut, Lebanon. The terrorists singled out Stethem as a Navy Sailor and beat and tortured him to persuade him to meet their demands. Stethem’s heroic refusal to aid the terrorists ultimately led to his death. Stethem was posthumously promoted to Second Class Petty Officer and later to Master Chief Constructionman (CUCM) for making the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom and his fellow Americans. Stethem was also awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his heroism.

In his honor, the Navy commissioned the USS Stethem (DDG 63) on October 21, 1995, in Port Hueneme, Calif., as the thirteenth Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. The crew of USS Stethem carries on the legacy of Stethem, alongside the Naval Construction Force, with their motto “Steadfast and Courageous” to honor his steadfast devotion to duty and courageous service.

“The cost of freedom is sacrifice,” said Ken Stethem. All Americans should know Rob’s story and remember his sacrifice. When we fail to remember Rob’s story, and others who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom . . . we don’t dishonor them . . . we dishonor ourselves.”

Since their inception in 1942, the Seabees continue to provide a wide range of military construction and advanced general engineering support to operational commanders around the world in competition and conflict. The Naval Construction Force enables infrastructure improvement projects including roadway establishment, boat ramp construction, pier and mooring inspections, and water well installations. In crisis, they can provide expeditionary and rapid airfield damage repair and port damage repair capabilities in support of distributed maritime operations.

“For the past 82 years, the Naval Construction Force provided naval engineering and construction capabilities to the United States and our allies and partners where and when it mattered most," said Rear Adm. Brad Andros, commander, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. "As we look to the future, I have no doubt the Seabees will continue their legacy of service to the Fleet, bridging the gap from sea to shore with their ‘Can Do’ attitude and operating in the most challenging of environments.”

The Naval Construction Groups, Regiments and Battalions, serve within the Navy Expeditionary Combat Force, who provide capabilities in complex and austere environments for the Navy. For more information about NECC and our units, visit our website: