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Special ops is not just a video game – it is a component of each of the military forces that is trained for unconventional warfare. “Special Operations Command – SOCOM – conducts numerous special operations missions that are very important in the Global War on Terrorism,” Major Casey Barnes, Marine Special Operations Center (MARSOC) engineer, explains. “They do some direct-action unconventional warfare and some foreign internal defense; especially key village stability operations that provide coherence and legitimacy to the local governments. But don’t get me wrong, we can kick the door down if we need to.”

The men who raided the compound where Osama Bin Laden was hiding were Navy SEALs, the Navy’s special operations command. The special operations units of each military branch receive orders from the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

“All the other military branches – the Army, Navy and Air Force – they all have components to the special operations command,” Barnes points out.

In October 2005, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Marine Corps to create a Marine component to the U.S. Special Operations Command.

“They didn’t exist,” Barnes points out. “There was not a Marine component to the U.S. Special Operations Command, so Secretary Rumsfeld said, ‘Make it happen.’ When he said to stand up, we had interim facilities that Camp Lejeune provided, and we had to use existing infrastructure both in facilities and personnel to stand up MARSOC.”

By September 2007, the design/build contract for the new MARSOC was awarded to the Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., Baltimore. Site development on 225 acres of a 500-acre undeveloped woodland on Stone’s Bay at Camp Lejeune – which previously had been used for training – was begun in February 2008. The MARSOC was developed around existing rifle ranges and training facilities located further beyond the site.

Three Years Later

Now $256 million and 37 major new buildings later, the project is scheduled for substantial completion by July with a contract completion date of Oct. 14. Three or four buildings are at various stages of construction, but most of the project is 98 percent complete, Whiting-Turner reports. Some change-orders and equipment with long lead times are expected to extend the project until October.

Among the buildings and structures that are part of the project are a 150,000-square-foot headquarters building that has been LEED-certified Silver, three bachelor enlisted quarters (BEQs), a battalion aid station, a supply warehouse and buildings for intelligence operations, equipment maintenance, academic instruction and special operations training.

The buildings provide a wide variety of functions and include facilities for training, administration, maintenance, supplies, dogs, living quarters, quality of life, a sewage lift station, a water tower and utility infrastructure. Also part of the project are a parade field and a 15-foot-deep salt water training pool.

All the buildings in the project enclose nearly 1 million square feet. If the smaller ones – such as pump houses and MCMA pits, which are training pits for martial arts, ammunition storage sheds and bridges for pedestrians and vehicles – are included in the count, the number of buildings is more than 40.

The variety of structures did not enable the use of modular construction. Each building with the exception of the three BEQs is different. No building is the same – each building functioned much differently than the next one. Additionally, all infrastructure – water and sewer lines, roads, electricity and other utilities – had to be installed from scratch after the woodland was cleared.

The Facilities

Barnes emphasizes that MARSOC is a major command for the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune. “This is our command headquarters, where the two-star general sits,” he stresses. “It’s basically the world headquarters. They’ve got a West Coast battalion commanded by a lieutenant colonel out at Camp Pendleton, Calif., about one-fourth the size of our forces, and then three-quarters are over here at Camp Lejeune.”

Most of the structures are single-story. The headquarters is two-story, and the BEQs are three-story. Most of the facilities are load-bearing masonry with a brick façade. All the buildings have a portion of brick on them and then usually metal panels above that. Some buildings use structural steel, and many roofs are standing seam metal. Interiors are mostly painted load-bearing masonry blocks. The administrative space is mostly drywall with acoustical ceilings. 

A tower for drying parachutes is approximately 120 feet tall. A dehumidification fan unit inside it circulates air to dry the parachutes quickly. Another unusual outdoor structure being completed is a 40-foot rappelling tower with one side for rock climbing, two for rappelling and the other for practice rappelling on simulated building facades.

Quite a Site

Starting from scratch with a rural site required much grade and soil work. The project includes large hardscape areas for parking, warehouse loading and vehicle maintenance areas that needed to drain properly and comply with storm water management rules and regulations in their design.

Whiting-Turner Construction reports that grading properly so water flowed in the right direction was challenging, as well as obtaining certification for the project and the necessary state permits. Some remediation was necessary to remove culverts from streams and restore wetlands in areas that may have been impacted previously. Whiting-Turner worked hand-in-hand with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers on permitting.

The soil on the site was layers of sand and clay. The rainwater would filter through the sand and sit on top of the clay without being absorbed into the soil. Despite these conditions, most of the buildings are on concrete spread footings, including the administration building and the BEQs. Only the training pool, water tower, drying tower and rappelling facility required piles. The rappelling facility has wood piles, and the others use 12- to 14-inch precast concrete prestressed piles. The water tower’s piles extended 60 feet deep. Whiting-Turner estimates 150 piles were driven.

Building sites were prepared by digging drainage ditches around the buildings’ perimeters and surcharging the site with dirt for as many months as were required to consolidate the soil and squeeze the water in it into the ditches. Occasionally, poor soil was replaced with gravel and an underdrain system installed to keep the water level low.

LEED Silver

The administration building has achieved LEED Silver certification, and the BEQs and six other buildings have achieved LEED certification. Eight of the buildings have had all the backup and paperwork prepared for them to be certified in case the decision to obtain certification for them from the U.S. Green Building Council is made by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), with whom Whiting-Turner’s contract is made.

 The LEED buildings use high-efficiency heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, low-flow plumbing fixtures, daylighting, occupancy sensors, reflective roofs, materials with recycled content, and divert 50 to 75 percent of their construction waste from landfills. Many of the buildings with large open spaces like warehouses or the training pool feature daylit translucent panels.

Whiting-Turner’s managers maintain it was difficult to blend energy-efficient architectural features with the antiterrorism force protection requirements that come along with military construction. Additionally, being located in a coastal area, the design-to-wind load ratings for the buildings were high – 130 mph – along with the requirements for protection against airborne objects. The architect on the project was URS Corp., Washington D.C.

Three Owners

Three military entities are involved in this project: the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), which functions as construction manager on the project; Camp Lejeune, which hires NAVFAC to manage the project on its base; and MARSOC, which will “live” in the facilities at Camp Lejeune.

“We’re just lucky we had a very good team, both on the government side and Whiting-Turner,” Barnes notes. “That could have been a challenge, but it was not, and I’m very happy. All the Marines moving in on the whole are very happy with the space, the furnishings and their buildings.”

Subcontractor Support

Whiting-Turner self-performed most of the concrete, door frames and hardware install, rough carpentry and accessories install like fire extinguishers and toilet accessories. The contractor also turned the facilities over to the Marine Corps with all the equipment – such as for medical, dental and maintenance facilities – already installed.

Whiting-Turner estimates up to 150 subcontractors worked on the project, and its managers praise the subcontractors. “Every job has an issue or two, and all you can hope for is a reasonable conversation about how to resolve it and keep moving, and we had that 99 percent of the time, which I think is substantial effort,” a Whiting-Turner manager said. Whiting-Turner’s key partners included LJ Construction, Retention Pond Services Inc., Bridge Builders USA Inc., Construction Interface Services Inc., Savage Range Systems, MOI, Cates Energy Services, Onslow Grading & Paving and Bryant-Durham Electric Co. Inc.

With approximately 750 men and women on-site daily at the project’s peak in the summer of 2009, safety was a challenge on the project. Nevertheless, more than 1.1 million man-hours were worked on the MARSOC without a lost-time accident. “That is the whole team – everybody feeling a personal responsibility and getting the job done well and getting it done safely,” a Whiting-Turner manager said. “It was a monumental task, and everybody is very proud of that.”

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