Seven decades ago, on an Alaskan island, the 9th Naval Construction Regiment was commissioned to assist World War II efforts. Twenty-six years later, the unit was recommissioned as a reserve unit in Dallas, and eventually moved to Fort Worth.
Over the weekend, on Fort Worth's Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, the 9th was decommissioned.
The ceremony honored full-time civilians who served in the Navy part-time. Many of them helped to construct runways, bridges, hospitals or water wells from Vietnam to Iraq.
“It’s not uncommon for fathers and sons, and even grandfathers to have been in the same unit,” said Rear Admiral Mark Fung, deputy of Naval Construction Forces. “So when you’re decommissioning this regiment it’s kind of like decommissioning the community and history of the area.”
A sailor from a Naval construction battalion is called a Seabee. At their peak, back in 1945, there were more than 250,000 Seabees. At their leanest, the number was 5,000. They were machinists, steel workers, truck drivers and welders. The Fort Worth Seabees will be reassigned to other battalions and other regiments, says Captain David Marasco, commodore of the 9th NCR.
“It’s hard to say goodbye not just to a regiment but to a vast majority of our force that have done so many great things over the last 13 years,” he said.
Marasco was a skipper when the 9th NCR was sent to Iraq. He’s seen the unit through multiple deployments. He told Seabees in Sunday’s audience that he was sad and a little mad about the decommissioning. But he says he gets it.
“Our force goes through ebbs and flows,” Marasco said. “Due to fiscal constraints, we have to make cuts in our force structure. And we’ll continue to do great things at the levels that we’ve drawn down to. And if the need ever arises, we’ll be ready for it.”
As is tradition, the colors of the 9th NCR were retired and encased into a black cloth bag. Lt. Commander Ron Kennedy gave the closing blessings.
“We don’t say a final goodbye today,” he said. “Merely a traditional fair winds and following seas 9th NCR, until your nation needs you again.”
As the ceremony drew to a close, construction mechanic Jessica Brown, who’s 34, and a full-time college student in Lubbock, was fighting back tears.
“This was my home for the last two-and-a-half years, so it’s sad,” she said.
Brown enlisted because of her uncles.
“Every time they saw a flag, they saluted, and stood tall,” Brown said. “And I … the pride and honor they had, I wanted that too.”
She got that early Sunday, when officials awarded her a Navy Commendation Medal, for helping to repair roads and base camps in Afghanistan.