By Leslie Yuenger, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest Public Affairs Officer
SILVERDALE, Wash. (NNS) -- Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Northwest celebrated the 76th anniversary of the Seabees, while hearing about great accomplishments on Antarctica, March 10.
"Hearing Capt. Ball speak about his deployments to the seventh continent and the challenges he faced from all fronts each day, was more than educational, it was inspiring", said Capt. Chris Kurgan, commanding officer of NAVFAC Northwest.
This year's guest speaker was retired Capt. Kevin Ball, Civil Engineer Corps, who served as the engineering officer for Naval Support Force Antarctica during the late 1970s. Ball was on-island for three separate deployments and learned how to keep this remote outpost functioning with its extreme weather conditions, including temperatures down to negative 74 F, and meet the needs of the International Science community.
The Navy's construction battalion, or Seabees, got their start in Antarctica prior to the International Geophysical Year, spanning 18 months from 1957 through 1958. The Navy was chosen to build and maintain several scientific research stations including, Wilkes Land, Mount Ellsworth, Byrd, Cape Hallett and expand Little America, which is the principle American base on Antarctica. A specialized Seabee battalion was formed at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Davisville, Rhode Island, Task Force 43, to meet this mission labeled Operation Deep Freeze.
The Seabees purpose was to build and maintain science labs, barracks and dining halls, and provide water, power, fuel handling, storage, aircraft support, and a desalination plant on this remote site, in extreme weather. Once construction was complete, maintenance of power, water, sewage, waste disposal, inland station support, sea ports and air fields was a daily occurrence.
Materials and supplies were brought in by C-130 and the 10,000-foot runway, carved on the sea-ice, was laid out, cleared, marked and maintained, along with space for taxi and aircraft parking area. If you are familiar with sea-ice, you know that it breaks up every year with the summer season. Each year a new runway was required to be built.
"Not many folks know that the Seabees went to Antarctica and the work they accomplished in some of the toughest weather known to man, but Seabees "CAN DO", said Kurgan.