U.S. Navy battalions who were responsible for construction, particularly during the Second World War, were called Seabees. The Seabees have historically built military bases, paved airstrips, roadways, and bulldozed. They have been used in several different theatres during war time, dating from World War II. The Seabees have long been established as an infrastructural backbone of combat operations throughout the entire globe. After the entry of the U.S. into the war, the Navy was given the resources to establish these battalions. During WII, the Navy Construction Training Center trained 100,000 Seabees. In total, approximately 330,000 Seabees worked throughout the war on construction operations.
The Seabees were reordered in the year 1947 and combined with the Naval Reserve. After the war and demobilization occurred, the construction battalions of the Seabees shrank to about 3,300 sailors in active duty. Throughout the Korean and Vietnam wars, these battalions were used, but certainly not to the extent that they were during World War II. In recent history, the Seabees were responsible for several unusual jobs such as the repair and maintenance of scientific bases in Antarctica. In 1991, during the Gulf War, the battalions were also used to construct bases for the military in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia.
Asbestos and the Seabees
The Seabees are an essential part of U.S. military history. Without their help, the country would no doubt have lacked in the infrastructure that was required for efficient and effective U.S. combat both nationally and globally on foreign soil. Sadly, the duties of the Seabees often consisted of exposure to hazardous substances that could be found in a number of construction products and compounds. One such material was asbestos, which was commonly used as a form of insulation in many different products. The mineral become known as a proven carcinogen with its use being discontinued in the 1970s.
Before this, however, countless personnel were exposed to asbestos without knowledge of its damaging and potentially fatal effects. Those who served in the Navy or worked on other ships were particularly at risk because of the closed environment and the prevalence of asbestos-containing insulation to prevent tragic fires at sea. Many of these individuals have gone on to be diagnosed with respiratory conditions and even cancers such as mesothelioma, which is a highly aggressive form of cancer that is solely linked to asbestos exposure and is often lethal to the victim.