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From Steelworker to CEO: Things I Learned As A Seabee

FROM STEELWORKER TO CEO:
THINGS I LEARNED AS A SEABEE

by Ted Rossin

CEO and President, Rossin Steel, Inc.
Seabee Diamond Anniversary Ambassador

I became a U.S. Navy Seabee as a kid of 20—but what set me apart was the 2 1/2 years of experience I’d already had as a steelworker, having learned the trade at my father’s knee. Today I’m still in the steel business, only now I’m co-owner of the largest steel company in San Diego. I’m also a father of three, a grandfather of seven an avid golfer, and a big believer in giving back to the community.

How did I get from there to here? My success had everything to do with being a Seabee and through the GI Bill, receiving a four-year degree from Purdue University. The lessons I’ve learned have stayed with me through five decades in business.

Growing up in Munster, Indiana, life wasn’t always easy. My mother died in 1960, when I was in my second year of high school. Now it was just my dad, my older brother, and me. I became the family housekeeper, doing all the cooking, cleaning, and ironing. These skills came in handy when I was in the service. I sometimes charged my buddies to sew their buttons on.

My dad was a supervisor at a steel company, and when I turned 19, he gave me a job. When you work for your dad, you usually end up with the worst jobs. Probably the worst job at a steel company is shoveling mountains of snow, so that’s where I started. My dad didn’t want anyone saying he played favorites! Later I moved on to cleaning steel. I really took to steelwork and learned other skills, and by the time I was 20 I was in charge of a night crew bridge gang.

I lived at home with my father, so I heard about all the work problems at home, and all about the home problems at work. I finally said, “Dad, let’s just discuss the work problems at work, and the home problems at home.” He agreed, so we worked that out. While I worked hard, the job had its perks. I was the best-dressed guy around and drove a brand-new ‘65 Chevy.

In 1965 I was drafted into the Army, but I enlisted in the Navy instead. I’d heard about the Seabees and hoped they could use my steelworking skills. Also, this way I might avoid going to Vietnam. But there were no guarantees that the Seabees would want me. In a platoon of 100 guys, only one might become a Seabee. Turns out I was that lucky one. So I became part of MCB-7 and looked forward to serving my country. Just before entering the service I became engaged to my wife Connie. From our first date I knew she was the one, and I wasn’t letting her get away.

A young Ted Rossin when he was drafted in 1965.

After training in Naval Station Great Lakes and Davisville, RI, our company was scheduled to go to Cuba. But wouldn’t you know it: we went to Vietnam instead. I did two 8-month deployments in Vietnam, in 1966 and 1968. I came home between deployments and that’s when Connie and I were married.

Getting off the plane in Vietnam, the first thing you noticed was how hot it was. The heat was intense, just surrounded you. Our group went to a Seabee camp near Hue Phu Bai, where we built barracks and wooden huts for the Marines. Because of my experience with steelwork, I was promoted twice and became a squad leader. Having supervised a bridge crew, I knew something about managing people, but leading a squad gave me a chance to hone those skills.

While I missed home, I enjoyed the camaraderie of being a Seabee, of building things and sharing a few beers afterwards. I learned valuable leadership skills working alongside people like Norm Eckles, who became my best friend. Norm always volunteered us for the hardest jobs, like putting sliding doors on the side of a Butler building. That wasn’t in the building plans, so we had to figure out how to do it. We built bridges and laid down matting for airfields. In Long Vei we built a camp for the South Vietnamese Army.

Fortunately we didn’t see too much fighting. During one attack in the middle of the night, everybody grabbed their flak jackets and jumped into foxholes. Half asleep, I grabbed my blanket instead. That’s when I earned the nickname Linus. Another time we were attacked in Khe Sanh. We were there for just one night. The foxhole was right in the floor of our hut, covered by a trap door. So we opened the door and jumped in. We didn’t know it had been raining for two days straight, so we almost drowned.

I returned home in 1969 and went to work in a steel shop, going to college at night. Seven years later I earned my degree from Purdue and we moved to San Diego. We’d visited there and loved the area. I got a job as a project manager with Bannister Steel, moving from the shop to the office. Rising through the ranks, I became vice president in 1987. When the owner, Ralph Bannister, died in 1995, I bought the business with five other employees and became president. Several years later the business was bought by a larger company.

In 2005 I started Rossin Steel with a partner. We’ve grown steadily and do approximately $35 million a year in business, including many high-profile projects: Horton Plaza Mall, Del Mar Race Track Grandstands, and Trolley Bridges. The “Can Do” skills I learned as a Seabee helped me build this business, and it’s been enormously satisfying.

Connie and I enjoy travel, exercise, and family time. We just celebrated our 50th anniversary too. I’ve been very fortunate and try to give back, supporting many charities, including Nice Guys, a San Diego group that raises about a million dollars a year, and the Bannister Family House, started by my former boss Ralph Bannister. It’s a ‘home away from home’ for people whose family members require medical care at UCSD. Another charity I support, Marine Family Christmas, raises money for food and gifts. I’d do anything for the Marines.

I’ve also been a supporter of the CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation. So much of my success is attributable to the Seabees and I want to help them any way I can. I’m proud to serve as a Diamond Anniversary Ambassador to raise funds for the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme. We should support the Museum as a way of preserving an important part of our history.

While no one wants to go to war, I’ve said many times that if I had it to do all over again, I’d join the Seabees in a heartbeat. My military service matured me and made me realize the importance of getting an education. Without the GI Bill, it’s unlikely I would have gone to college. Countless others have benefitted from serving with the Seabees. I still remember seeing 18- and 19-year-old kids driving big earthmovers, gaining valuable experience through the Seabees. They learned skills they could build careers on.

Please join me in recognizing all the Seabees have done. Click here to make a contribution.

5 Comments
  1. Wow !!!
    Whata CB !!
    I was in MCB 3 69&70 …
    Ron Schramski
    South Bend Indiana

  2. Hello Ted; It was enjoyable reading about your Seabee experiences with MCB 7. This was the battalion that I was also in after I enlisted in ’66. I had done two years of Junior College outside Buffalo, NY before this time, getting an AA degree in Construction Technology which helped qualify me for the CB’s. Similar to you, after boot camp at the GL I went to Davisville, R.I. to join up with MCB 7 while they were in homeport (I guess from your 1st deployment). We 1st deployed to Camp Adnair, accross the river and south of DaNang, accross from MAG 16, and south of the infamous “China Beach” R&R incountry resort (ha, ha). Our 2nd deployment was to Dong Ha, by the 17th parallel and the DMZ. I was an EA and very fortunately made E-5 in 18 months. Also like you I credit the Navy (the Seabees) with helping me mature. I did one more deployment before my early separation, this time for 6 months with CBU 201 on Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica.
    I also completed my education using the GI Bill’s benefits, finally getting my Civil Engineering degree in 1979, and my P.E. license in 1981. I spent 20 more years working on Hwy construction projects in Florida as a Resident Engineer until I decided to return to oversea’s work in 2000. I’ve been working overseas ever since in countries like Viet Nam, India, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Kazakhstan, and am presently on my 3rd tour in Cambodia. At 72 years old, I’m on a 3 year contract as a Team Leader on rural roads’ rehab’g.
    All of this career history directly ties back to my SeaBee experiences.
    Thank you for your service, Ted, and may God continue to bless you and your family.

  3. Awesome story Mr. Rossin , I am a former Seabee myself serving from 1979 -82, NMCB -5 in Port Hueneme , then 22 1/2 years as a reservist with NMCB -21 (Black Jack Battalion ) in my home state of Pennsylvania , from1982- 2005 before retiring as an E-6 , If I could do it all again I would do 20 years active and being a Seabee , gave me that ”CAN DO ”mentality and still use it today

  4. Hi Ted pretty good story. It is great to find another Seabee from MCB-7. I was also a Seabee in MCB-7. I was in MCB-7 from 1967 to 1969. I was an EO-3. I had two tours with MCB-7 in Vietnam. On my first tour I was a truck driver on my second tour I was a crane operator. I work mostly with SW with my crane on my second tour. My first tour was at Da Nang my second tour was at Dong Ha. Dong Ha was not a good pace to be at. It is very hard to find any Seabee that was in MCB-7 around the time that we were in. Just thought that I wound drop you a line. If you get time to drop me a line at jimmy.piccotti@gmail.com.
    Just an old Seabee from MCB-7 from 1967 to 1969,
    Jimmy Piccotti

  5. I was with MCB6 did two tours in Nam got out in 68 I worked for Ironworks local 12 In Albany New York for 32 years now retired. I will always remember the Seabees great to read your story.

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