America’s long-range defense plans in the early stages of World War II called for an uncongested deep-water port to serve the Caribbean area. Gulfport offered this as well as a moderate, semitropical year-round climate, which permitted training and out-loading in winter and summer. Land for the installation was acquired on a plot a mile northwest of the Port of Gulfport in April 1942, and an Advanced Base Depot was established two months later. An Armed Guard School and a Cooks and Bakers School were added in October 1942, followed by an Advanced Base Receiving Barracks in November, at which time some of the first Seabees were stationed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The mission of the center changed from a receiving organization to a U.S. Naval Training Center in March 1944 and provided for training in basic engineering, diesel, radioman, quartermaster and electrician’s ratings.
Continuing realignments occurred, creating a single command of the Naval Training Center and the Advanced Base Depot. The depot became the U.S. Naval Storehouse in 1945, and the training center was decommissioned in 1946. In 1948, the station became custodian of certain national stockpile materials. Bauxite, tin, copper, sisal and abaca have been stored there in varying quantities since that time. Huge piles of bauxite, the imported ore from which aluminum is extracted, are currently being shipped off base to be made into aluminum. The bauxite covers an estimated 24 of the center’s nearly 1,100 acres.
Old-timers on the coast report that there were times when some 25,000 naval personnel were stationed at the center. They lived in wooden barracks, tents and Quonset huts. Civilian employees fluctuated with the amount of strategic supplies and construction equipment being received, stored and transshipped.
Some important organizational changes were made early in 1952 when the Naval Storehouse was disestablished and the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion Center was established. The Navy’s mushrooming commitments for construction forces in Southeast Asia led the way to an increased mission for the center in February 1966. Ten months later, the center had expanded to include new functions such as Seabee team training and a new tenant, the Construction Training Unit. The staff for the Naval Construction Battalion Center had expanded to 183 military and 523 civilian personnel to support about 4,200 Seabees. A personnel training facility, inactive for 20 years, was effectively forming, staging, training and homeporting naval mobile construction battalions.
The impact on the community made by the Seabees and their associates has been astounding. The first group of 509 Seabees arrived unannounced from Davisville, Rhode Island, in March 1966. The first few hours of cooperation between Seabees and the civilian community set the pattern for an association that has since grown into the mutual admiration society it is today. Gulf Coast residents refer to the Seabees as “Our Navy.” They use every opportunity to show their admiration for the fighters and builders. And the Seabees respond in kind. From the beginning they have been good citizens, active in community affairs and taking the lead in many segments of community life.
Seabee assistance to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Camille captured the attention of news media nationwide and earned the NCBC and supporting commands the Navy Unit Commendation for the part they played in recovery operations. Seabees also worked long and hard following Hurricane Katrina. Seabee volunteers contributed more than 6,000 hours assisting in the local community since Hurricane Katrina, and they continue to be good neighbors answering various requests for help from the local community on a daily basis.
In the midst of the Gulf Coast recovery process, the Seabee Center built more than $300 million in new facilities as a result of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Permanent repairs, which include the Military Construction Program Recapitalization Plan, are underway.
The Gulfport Seabee Center is one of the finest installations the Navy has. With military readiness as its primary concern, it is the Navy’s best homeport, mobilization base and logistics support center; the leader in efficient base operations; No. 1 in innovative technology; and the finest in sound business practices.