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Naval Mobile Construction Battalion TWENTY-ONE
"Blackjack Battalion"

Training for Mobilization Readiness and Construction Operations in support of CINCLANTFLT.

U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion TWENTY-ONE (NMCB-21) was commissioned in 1962. Originally organized at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station northwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the "Blackjacks" were formed from Seabee units within the Fourth Naval District. The Battalion's first commanding officer was Commander J. Schuyler. With its flag now at the Readiness Support Site (RSS) on board Naval Air Engineering Station (NAES) Lakehurst, New Jersey, today's NMCB-21 is comprised of Seabees from fifteen Naval Reserve Centers located in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The history of NMCB-21 is also partly the history of the former NMCB-13 that was decommissioned in 1995. A large number of the Seabees that comprised NMCB-13 transferred to NMCB-21 when the former battalion was decommissioned. Seabee battalions designated by the numbers 13 and 21 have a tradition of working together which dates back to World War II during which construction battalions 13 and 21 worked side by side on Okinawa.

NMCB-21's RSS was established at Lakehurst in 1971. The RSS is a secured compound that includes administrative offices, a supply warehouse, and vehicle and camp maintenance shops. The battalion was the first Naval Reserve construction battalion to have such a facility. Facility improvements to the RSS are ongoing and provide a source of meaningful training for the Seabees who perform monthly training drills at Lakehurst.

A source of great pride for NMCB-21 is a larger than life Bee sculpture mounted inside the front gate of the RSS. Patterned after the famous Seabee logo, the NMCB-21 Bee is the product of Seabee veteran Steelworker Chief Ernie Cotilus. "Ernie's Bee" is one of just a few similar Seabee sculptures in the world. Chief Cotilus voluntarily hand fabricated the Bee at his home. He then transported individual sections of the Bee to the RSS where it was assembled on its support pedestal.

"Ernie's Bee" underwent a major renovation in 1992 to reverse years of aging. After being lifted off its pedestal and put into "dry dock" in the battalion shops, the Bee underwent a complete overhaul to repair rust damage. The Bee was even issued a new uniform, trading in its traditional "Dixie Cup" for a modern camouflaged utility cover. Prior to returning to duty as the NMCB-21 gate guard, "Ernie's Bee" pulled convoy duty. The Bee was mounted on a low-boy trailer as part of NMCB-21's participation in the 500th Anniversary Columbus Day Parade in Toms River, NJ.

NMCB-21 has a tradition of being first. The "Blackjacks were the first reserve naval construction battalion to conduct an air detachment flyaway outside of the continental United States when it participated in the anti-terrorist exercise "Atlantic Stinger '89" at Naval Air Station Bermuda. The battalion was the first Navy combat unit to be assigned a female executive officer, Lieutenant Commander (now Captain) Barbara Sisson. In 1988, NMCB-21 was the only Naval Reserve unit to participate in the Bicentennial Constitution Day Parade in Philadelphia.

The dedication, zeal, and professionalism of the "Blackjack" personnel are well recognized within the Naval Construction Force. NMCB-21 has built a reputation as a quality battalion around the world. For example, in 1998, NMCB-21 personnel contributed to the renovation of a hospital in Bulgaria as part of Operation Cornerstone '98. The battalion's efforts have not gone unrewarded. In 1992 and again in 1996, NMCB-21 was selected as the "Best of Type" among Naval Reserve construction battalions.

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