SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND, Calif. — U.S. Navy Seabees with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 completed Operation Turning Point, also known as their Field Training Exercise June 16.
Operation Turning Point is an around-the-clock exercise that focuses on constructing advanced bases while maintaining proficiency in tactics and survivability with Marine units. NMCB-5’s sites were located throughout Southern California, onboard Naval Air Weapons Station China, Naval Base Ventura County Port Hueneme, Vandenberg Space Force Base, and San Clemente Island.
There are several aspects of the Seabee’s FTX they must complete before being qualified to deploy. Part of FTX is constructing an advanced base in a simulated wartime scenario. Throughout the evolution, the battalion received support from the 7th Engineer Support Battalion and Marine Wing Support Squadron 372. It consists of setting up communications, the tactical battlespace, security with foot patrols and convoy patrols, and construction tasking — such as tent decks, Southwest Asia Huts, timber bunkers, and entry control point structures.
In the last FTX, Lt. Jessica Collins, with NMCB-5’s operation department, was a watch officer and the construction projects platoon commander. It gave her exposure to the project sites, and it was her first experience learning about project packages and what goes into project planning. This year, she worked in the tactical operations center with the main body on San Clemente Island.
She spoke about the camaraderie during FTX, “So [the supply officer] and I were talking, and she says it’s like being on a ship because you have nobody else, really nobody else, to talk to and nobody else to interact with. So you’re forced to interact with the team and NMCB-5 personnel. It creates a more cohesive unit, I think. It’s good to see people come together to get along and meet the mission.”
Some of the exercises’ challenges are constantly being on a tight timeline, especially when they hit the midway point. The battalion tackles those challenges by connecting the khakis with the junior troops, which helps them keep a pulse on everything. This also brings in more teamwork and camaraderie.
“I think as a leader, the biggest challenge is keeping troops motivated despite lack of sleep and being away from their families, and keeping them motivated to keep going forward,” said Collins. “So, definitely just getting out there as often as possible; that gives them the facetime to see what they need or what’s going well for them. I think we overcome that by just putting ourselves as khakis out there, visible, to the troops, and help them anywhere we can.”
It seems essential, but another challenge is communication. During the exercise, the Seabees overcame that challenge. They ensured all the troops were seeing the bigger picture and on the same page.
Since it’s vital to ensure each facet of the exercise intertwines with one another, the people on security and in the fighting positions must have open communication with the watch-standers in the Tactical Headquarters’ (THQ) tent. Builder 3rd Blaze Cochrane, a radio training officer in the tactical headquarters during FTX, talked about the importance of each element collaborating.
“That’s heavily implied, especially during the exercise,” said Cochrane. “It takes more hands-on, and everyone is much more involved for people coming together, with every evolution and scenario. It’s not just higher ups knowing what’s going on or people in the THQ; it’s everyone from the squad leader to the two people in the pits.”
In addition to the main site construction and tactical scenarios while being hit with simulated enemy attacks, they supported the littorals with other engineering tasks. They executed port damage repair, airfield damage repair, road repairs, and main supply route repair from simulated damage.
NMCB-5 is homeported out of Port Hueneme, California. They train on high-quality construction, expeditionary logistics, and combat operations to execute construction and engineering projects for major combat operations, disaster response, and humanitarian assistance.