Seabees of Amphibious Construction Battalions (PHIBCB) 1 and 2 ignored the warm April sun beating down on them, as they worked to assemble a section of the Elevated Causeway System (ELCAS) on board Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. As the rhythmic pounding of the pile driver rattled the earth, Seabees scurried around it, steadily building a causeway during a massive training event.
The ELCAS is a 3,000-foot modular pier system used to provide logistic support to the Marine Corps or Joint Expeditionary Forces where port facilities have been damaged or are not existent. The system can also be used where beach or surf conditions prevent direct shore landings of equipment.
“Last time the system was assembled was back in 2011, and there are very few of us left here that have actually had hands-on experience building it,” said Equipment Operator 2nd Class Amanda Sydnor, a Seabee assigned to PHIBCB 2. “Just like anything, the first couple days we have to iron out all the kinks before getting the operation running smoothly, but after we get our rhythm, it should be an easy day.”
A giant floating pile driver bangs two rows of steel pilings into the ground to support the ELCAS. Prefabricated causeway sections are then lifted into place, creating a stable pier in as little as seven days.
“The ELCAS is a pretty technical evolution. Doctrinally, we have to build a 3,000-foot pier in seven days, with a minimum of 54 people working 12-hour shifts during 24-hour operations,” said Chief Equipment Operator William Haynes, the training chief assigned to PHIBCB 2. “This is just one section of the overall build; we want to get these guys trained up so that when we build the system later this year, things will go smoothly.”
Unlike this training that was performed on land in the PHIBCB 2 compound this time around, for the build slated later this summer, PHIBCB 1 and 2 personnel will construct a 500-foot section over water.
Training operations such as this are critical because structures like the ELCAS must be assembled quickly, and properly. Unfamiliarity with the equipment and construction techniques can endanger the ELCAS build, just as high winds or seas.
“I have been a reserve assigned to the PHIB for about two years now and I have only seen ELCAS in PowerPoints and in training manuals,” said Equipment Operator 2nd Class Heath Blobaum, assigned to Det 616 Minneapolis, Minn. “It’s pretty nice being able to actually get hands-on with this stuff, as it’s a lot easier to learn how the system works by actually physically seeing it in action rather than trying to learn it through a PowerPoint.”
As the last pile is driven into the earth and the pile driver comes to a halt, Seabees take refuge in the shade and take a long drink of water, while reflecting on the day’s training and contemplating the sea-based build later this summer.