The Seabees and Diego Garcia in 1971

The Early Days of Diego Garcia Construction

Cdr. Daniel W. Urish CEC USN (ret)

Commander Dan Urish

Commander Dan Urish was Commanding Officer of the first Seabee Battalion, NMCB Forty, deployed to Diego Garcia and Island Commander, having relieved Commander Robert K. White on island in May, 1971. In October, in a ceremony with the plantation manager, Marcel Moulinie, he officiated the closure of the copra plantation, and the transfer of the British flag from the plantation where it had flown since the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s to the newly constructed naval base to fly alongside the American flag. He was relieved at the first island Change of Command ceremony by Commander Phillip Oliver of NMCB One in November, 1971.

As described by Commander Urish the construction of an island naval base literally ”from scratch ” in the middle of the Indian Ocean in 1971 was a unique challenge for the United States Navy Seabees involving highly complex planning and logistics requirements. It was an operation that in many respects was a “deju vu” of the many operations in which the Seabees built advance bases in the Pacific Ocean “island hopping” campaigns during World War II.

From 1971 to 1987 there would be 14 more Seabee deployments to accomplish extensive permanent construction on Diego Garcia. An article written by Commander Urish and published by the U. S. Naval Institute in 1973 further describing the early days of construction is attached. At that time the base was viewed as an austere, but highly important military facility and checkpoint against Soviet expansion in the “Cold War” era, with a primary function as a joint United States/British Communication Station, not as the major military operational and support base that exists in 2011.

The landing ship USS Graham County (LST 1176), offloading supplies on Admiral Pratt Beach, Diego Garcia 1971 (water color painting by Thomas J. Viet).


© Dan Urish


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4 Responses to The Seabees and Diego Garcia in 1971

  1. Robert Henry from new Jersey lives in Tennessee says:

    Sir ; what a great thing you have done by putting this on the web.Salute you sir.
    Wish I could do it all over , Served with nmcb 40 Builder po2 worked on the block plant. I am 63 now but I know I would do a better job and be a better soldier.
    Cooda shooda wooda , oh well I served as best I could being a complete idiot.
    Great thing you did Sir Robert Henry usnmcb 40 po2

  2. larry carrington says:

    i was station with mcb 10 in 1972, i came from the main body at rota spain.

  3. Theodor A Martinez says:

    I was in Diego Garcia in 1972, with NMCB 10, 1975 with NMCB 40, IN 1982 PWC.. LOVE IT..

  4. Adrian Schwalb says:

    As a British civilian, I was contracted by DG21 the Base Operating Service Contractor to the US Navy Support Facility on Diego Garcia from 2008 to 2010 to act as the professional mechanical engineer working on and signing off designs for projects required to develop the island’s infrastructure. I found the lecture by Dan Urish very informative and learnt much about the history of Diego Garcia and its occupants some of which was generally known but not available in such a comprehensive and amusing manner.

    I experienced the benefit of the modern conveniences and leisure activities that had been made available by the efforts of countless military and civilian personnel since 1971. It was a memorable time both professionally and personally in a unique location. Congratulations to Dan Urish for bringing it to life.

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