Story by Ryan Labadens on 02/26/2019By Ryan Labadens
NCBC Gulfport Public Affairs
NAVAL CONSTRUCTION BATTALION CENTER GULFPORT, Miss. Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, Miss., hosted 34 foreign ambassadors from four different continents Feb. 26, 2019, as part of the U.S. Department of State and the Office of the Chief of Protocol's 24th Experience America tour.
According to a press release distributed by Ambassador Sean P. Lawler, Chief of Protocol of the United States, the Experience America tour is a State Department program designed to connect foreign ambassadors with academic, business, community and cultural leaders with the goal of building relationships to promote economic investment, commerce and dialogue, while giving these ambassadors stationed in Washington, D.C. the opportunity to learn firsthand about American culture, history and industry.
NCBC Gulfport, which is home of the Atlantic Fleet Seabees, was the first stop on the final leg of this three-day tour that lasted from Feb. 24-26. During their trip, the ambassadors met with members of the Gulf Coast Business Council, which facilitates cooperation between private and public sector entities and promotes initiatives to attract new opportunities and industries to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They also toured the Port of Gulfport, a deep-water international seaport and hub of maritime commerce, as well as the University of Southern Mississippi to learn more about the ocean engineering demands throughout the state and new ocean technology being developed and currently in use.
This trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast also allowed the ambassadors to learn more about the state of Mississippi's geography and waterways and its ties to the world's maritime economy, as well as the scientific, technical and military research and engineering facilities hosted in Mississippi, all of which play important roles in the state's economy.
The tour of NCBC Gulfport itself allowed them to get a better understanding of how the base supports the Seabees, which provide task-tailored, adaptable and combat effective engineering and construction forces that deploy to support U.S Navy objectives around the world.
During their tour, the ambassadors first visited the Colmer Dining Facility, where they dined on Navy cuisine while Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, Capt. William Whitmire, NCBC Gulfport commanding officer, and other NCBC Gulfport commanders and officials welcomed them to Mississippi and to the installation. Whitmire then gave the ambassadors a brief history of the Seabees and a description of what they do.
"I think it's a great opportunity to showcase not only our Department of Defense but the capabilities of the Naval construction force, particularly for these countries," said Whitmire. "Many of the countries that are represented here today have had Seabees in them doing humanitarian civic action work and theater security cooperation, and so it gives them a little bit of context as to where the Seabees come from and helps them to better understand what the United States is doing to increase partnerships around the world."
The ambassadors then visited the Naval Construction Training Center (NCTC), which instructs U.S. Navy Sailors, U.S. Army Soldiers and U.S. Air Force Airmen in various construction trades in a joint-training environment.
Ambassador Gerald M. Zacklos, Ambassador of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, noted how much he enjoyed getting to visit NCBC Gulfport to learn more about the Seabees, and how much he appreciated whenever they visited his country to work on various construction and humanitarian relief projects.
"I enjoyed very much having visited the base and seeing all the training, and being able to relate to the final outcome of that training whenever the Seabees come to help our people," said Zacklos. "It's a good feeling to see the Seabees providing such tremendous assistance around the world."