Depleted Seabees step up during Rota stay
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Petty Officer 2nd Class Josh Wample would normally be taking orders, but for the past six months, he’s been giving them.
“I was in charge of my peers,” said the 22-year-old Wample. “Sometimes I had to be ... hard ... and tell people what to do whether they liked it or not.”
The Naval Mobile Construction Battalion No. 1 of Gulfport, Miss., is scheduled to leave Rota after six months of its eight-month rotation. However, the Seabees at Rota — about 170 of the battalion’s 700 members — said they didn’t know where they’d be spending the next two months.
Because of their thinned ranks, the Seabees are facing more duties than ever.
Wample, of Rehoboth Beach, Del., supervised five projects — construction, inventory and demolition — that would normally be run by someone two ranks higher.
“No one’s going to listen to you if you pass the buck all the time,” Wample said. “You can’t always say do it ‘because the chief said so.’
“When we first got here, we had a big issue with leadership. A lot of people were forced to step up and do their jobs because nobody was going to do it for them.”
The Seabees are engineers and workers who can defend themselves if necessary. The battalion usually deploys as a group. But in August they were split up. Some went to Guam while others came to Rota. Smaller detachments were sent to Sicily, Greece, Bahrain and other places, prompting the No. 1 to claim that “the sun never sets on our battalion.”
Rota always has a Seabees unit, according to Lt. Ronald Jenkins of Tallahassee, Fla. Units are also continually rotated into Guam and Okinawa.
Battalion No. 1 was to be replaced next week by Battalion No. 74, also from Gulfport. No. 74 will take over the construction projects, and they’ll repair and maintain the base’s bulldozers, tractors and cranes. They’ll brush up on their military skills, too.
“We’ve had 10 to 14 reserves from various units augmenting our force,” Jenkins said. A reservist unit from Montana is currently serving a two-week stint in Spain.
“We called in for reserve support,” Jenkins said. “Usually there are 300 to 400 [Seabees] here.”
Jenkins said he felt it was a historic deployment because so many lower-level Seabees were required to become supervisors and leaders.
“We had second- and third-class petty officers in charge of $300,000 to $400,000 projects,” Jenkins said. “That’s a lot of responsibility.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Garnett Whitmire of Kansas City, Mo., assumed the role of chaplain because the battalion’s official chaplain was with those sent to Guam.
“I’m just a motivated person trying to get people to heaven,” Whitmire said.
Whitmire’s real job included repairing vehicles, taking inventory and plastering walls. In Europe, he said, they plaster walls instead of painting over drywall. So now he knows how to plaster.
The Bible, according to Whitmire, says that people should not be swayed away from their chosen profession. For now, he’s a builder.
“My first goal is to be an architect,” said Whitmire, also 22. “But if the Lord calls me to be a chaplain or pastor, so be it.”
The Rota detachment of Seabees Battalion No. 1 was expecting to rejoin its unit in Guam after finishing up in Rota. But it’s been warned that the Navy might have other plans for the final two months of this deployment.
All the Seabees knew was they’re supposed to board a plane next week.
“We were expecting to come here and go back to Guam,” Whitmire said. “Now our ears are open to whatever happens and being prepared for whatever comes up.”