In the high desert hills above the Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWS) in China Lake, California, a group of Seabees train
the Navy combat engineers in the fields of Water Well Drilling and Blasting and Quarry Operations. NAWS China Lake is home
for the CSFE Site China Lake and the military professionals dedicated to providing a world-class education in how to get water
out of the ground, and "making little rocks out of big rocks."
For those who have never been to the high desert, China Lake can be a study in contrasts, especially in the summer months when
the temperatures often exceed 115 degrees and everyone carries water to avoid dehydration and heat stress. During the winter
months, China Lake gets cold, often hitting temperatures down to 10 degrees. Winds come off the nearby Sierra Nevada
Mountains and whip through the area, adding wind chill to an already frosty environment. And when you consider the desert is
home to a variety of unsavory creatures, such as rattlesnakes and scorpions, it's no place for the timid or tender of foot.
Water Well Drilling Training is ideally suited to the high desert because of the varied geologic formations. Water well classes
drill between two and three wells in a six-week course. One well may be in an ancient lakebed at a depth of 300 feet and the next
well may be in a confining layer of granite or volcanic basalt where the depth could go as deep as 1500 feet. Drillers are
challenged with learning how to bore through various strata to different depths. Water Well Drilling is a remarkably refined art
that requires an ability to interpret geologic data and identify water-bearing formations through surface indications.
"If you can't push it, Blast IT!" This is the way Navy blasters like to think. Say you need several tons of granite blown out
of the side of a mountain. This is where the Blasting and Quarry crew come in to teach Seabees the "Can Do" attitude of the
blasters. The course begins with basic theories of soil mechanics, rock drilling, and explosives. Once the students have
passed a strict series of examinations, it’s off to the quarry site for hands on operations. When an area of rock is
chosen for demolition, an exacting process takes place. The weight and composition of the soil is calculated and the blasters
decide where they may want to "move" it. Holes are drilled to a specific depth and placement into the rock. Some blasts,
called "shots," are done with plastic explosives. At other times, the shot might call for an Ammonium Nitrate and Fuel Oil
(ANFO) mixture. Each method and related tasks is a precise and rigorous process, with each hole containing a precisely
pre-determined amount of the correct explosive. After loading the shot with the explosives the lead blaster on the shot makes
one final check of the area and proceeds to the bunker. A siren wails and a countdown begins. "Fifteen, fourteen...three, two,
one-detonate the shot!"
This is the life of the Seabees of China Lake, We hope to one day see you as a student or as a visitor to tour our facilities,
watch us drill a well or take down part of "B" Mountain.