Among the privileges of commanding U.S. Fleet Forces was the opportunity to visit the Fleet and to witness the professionalism, ingenuity, and adaptability of our Sailors firsthand. During my tour, I spent a week in the Central Command area of responsibility, much of that time with our troops, many of them individual augmentees, global war on terrorism support augmentees, and mobilized reservists. Across the board, I was amazed by their superb performance and broad portfolio.
We have asked these men and women to go into unusual locations, perform duties for which there has been little formal training, and overcome challenges that few could have anticipated.
Not surprisingly, they have excelled. At almost every level, joint commanders told me, Sailors bring uniquely inherent analytic skills and adaptability, and have been critical to the success of operations in CENTCOM. In the process, every one of them is helping to expand the role of the Navy in protecting our nation.
Since 9/11, more than 77,000 Sailors have served in some type of individual augmentee tour. Combined with Sailors who have deployed as part of a regular rotational unit, our augmentee Sailors are redefining the ways maritime forces influence events ashore. They are fighting the enemy, building bridges of trust with Iraqi and Afghan communities, and demonstrating the inherent value of our seagoing culture, even when stationed far from the sea. In the process, the Navy is building a base of Sailors with joint, coalition, and civil-military operations expertise that will be critically important as it continues on the course set by our new maritime strategy.
U.S. Navy Presence Ashore in CENTCOM
Approximately 22,000 Sailors are in the CENTCOM AOR today. More than 60 percent—over 14,000 Sailors—operate from bases ashore. Many participate directly in combat operations, but most are assigned to combat support, stability, and reconstruction efforts. Although most of these Sailors perform missions they never anticipated when they joined the Navy, joint commanders frequently praise their initiative, adaptability, analytical skills, and effectiveness.
Sailors maintain critical information systems, perform convoy escort duties, and stand watch over detainees. They also work with other services, multi-national forces, local administrators and non-government officials. Simply put, Sailors are excelling on the ground.
Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs): Sailors assigned to PRTs in Afghanistan facilitate reconstruction projects, maintain security, and ultimately lay the foundation for Afghan economic growth and development. They serve on the ground for 12 months at a time, and often live among the Afghan people. Six of the 12 United States-led PRTs operating in Afghanistan are commanded by Navy officers.
Working with experts from the Departments of State and Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development, these Sailors have paved thousands of miles of roads, drilled hundreds of wells, and constructed scores of irrigation dams. Because they operate with Afghan security forces and live with the local population, their impact will far exceed their stay. Ambassadors of America, they provide a lens of genuine cultural respect and assistance through which a generation of Afghans may long view the United States.
PRT work is dangerous. Insurgents who use instability and insecurity to protect their power actively seek to undermine the accomplishments of these Sailors, but our people have responded brilliantly. Consider Petty Officer James Hamill. A command photographer, Hamill was serving with a PRT in Khost, Afghanistan. On 20 February 2007, Hamill was assigned to document the opening of the Khost Provincial Hospital Emergency Room.
During the ceremony, a suicide bomber breached the security perimeter. Petty Officer Hamill immediately dropped his camera and took up a defensive position to protect the assembly of citizens and VIPs. The bomber freed himself from a Soldier who had challenged him and charged forward, but Hamill stood his ground and opened fire less than ten feet away from the bomber, triggering a detonation.
The blast injured Hamill and six other Americans, but his actions spared the hundreds present at the ceremony. Ignoring his own wounds, Hamill performed life-saving first aid on the injured American Soldiers and ensured the area was secure to prevent a follow-on attack. Hamill was awarded the Purple Heart for his wounds and the Bronze Star Medal with V for valor.
Oil Platform Security: Operating in a more traditional maritime environment, Sailors of Maritime Expeditionary Security Force (MESF) detachments are the last line in a coordinated defense of the oil terminals at Al Basra and Khawr al Amaya (KAAOT). Living up to seven months on terminals in the northern edge of the Arabian Gulf in converted shipping containers, these Sailors sort through the hundreds of small boats, supertankers, Iranian patrol boats, and container vessels in the most congested waters in the world. They stand watch in the disputed sea border between Iraq and Iran on platforms pockmarked with gunfire from years of war. It's not unusual for the U.S. Sailors and Iraqi Marines to go to battle stations two to three times a day, and in 2004, these platforms withstood an attack by those seeking to disrupt Iraq's critical oil exports.
Since then, more than 800 Sailors and Coast Guardsmen have served on these platforms. Between 70 and 90 percent of Iraq's gross domestic product comes from the oil that flows through these terminals, which translates to thousands of dollars every second to the people of Iraq.1 The success of these Sailors is vital to the Iraqi economy and reconstruction efforts.
By working side-by-side with Iraqi forces, MESF personnel are strengthening the Iraqi Navy's capabilities and capacity. In April 2009, Iraqi forces assumed responsibility for security on the KAAOT platform, a major milestone in a plan that will eventually transfer all security responsibilities to the Iraqis.2
Detainee Operations: Ashore, Sailors guard detainees at internment facilities in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During their year-long assignments, Sailors stand watch 12-14 hours each day, six days a week. They stand face-to-face with men who committed criminal acts, many of them against Coalition forces or the government of Iraq.
According to Command Master Chief Scott Fleming, former Command Master Chief of Navy Provisional Detainee Battalion FIVE (NPDB 5):
It is not uncommon to watch third-class petty officers personally interact with detainee sheiks to diffuse violent disturbances. Sailors demonstrate patience, restraint, and temperament usually reserved for far higher paygrades. . . . We often hear about serving on the tip of the spear, but in this instance, the phrase holds especially true . . . no one deals with our adversaries more directly or continuously than the service members standing watch in a Theater Internment Facility.3
This mission demands exceptional leadership, toughness, and discipline—skills honed in the Fleet.
"Traditional" Deployments Ashore: The Navy continues to deploy traditional units to support combat operations. Three expeditionary EA-6B Prowler aircraft squadrons operate from bases in Iraq and Afghanistan where they, together with Marine Corps Prowler squadrons, provide nearly all airborne electronic attack capabilities in theater.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams operate deep inland in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2007, 97 EOD platoons—more than 850 personnel—have deployed.
Navy doctors, dentists, and corpsmen man the Navy Expeditionary Medical Facility at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. More than 350 Sailors from 32 different commands around the world provide care for all the service members in the area.
Naval Mobile Construction Battalions are engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 18,000 Seabees have deployed in support of these operations. Their work is helping the Iraqis reestablish self-governance and security. Seabees are building Iraqi Security Force outposts, border patrol and police stations, training facilities, and polling sites and are performing airfield repairs. In addition, they restore services and infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water wells, port facilities, schools, and fire stations.
Focus on Sailors and their Families
Most IA Sailors indicate that serving in these ashore missions is personally rewarding and believe their service contributes to the success of overseas operations. They also believe that IAs are good for the Navy. However, less than a third are confident their service will be rewarding to their naval careers.4
Navy assignment, training, evaluation, and advancement procedures did not initially keep pace with these new missions. The commitment and dedication of Sailors and their families in answering the call must be matched by a similar commitment from Navy leadership to provide the right support before, during, and after deployments.
In 2008, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead designated U.S. Fleet Forces Command as the Executive Agent for IA and IA family support, building on the efforts of the former Task Force Individual Augmentee. Fleet Forces Command has been actively engaged with Sailors and commands across all echelons to identify issues related to IA service, develop solutions, and synchronize actions across the Navy.
Initial efforts focused on providing Sailors more advance notice of their IA deployments. Today, the average IA Sailor receives nearly twice the notice a Sailor received two years ago. Our Sailors and their families now have more time to prepare for the myriad details that accompany any deployment.
In close cooperation with the Army, the Navy developed tailored training tracks to prepare Sailors for these new missions and has also worked with CENTCOM and Joint Forces Command to ensure Sailors are assigned to billets where their abilities are best employed.
In October 2006 the Navy established the Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center to coordinate IA pre-deployment screening, equipping, training, and IA redeployment and reintegration. Recently, the Commander of Naval Forces Central Command formed a team to overcome barriers specific to its area of responsibility by establishing central sites in theater to streamline the processes for moving Sailors into and out of the region.
The Navy is also taking steps to improve the quality and consistency of support to IAs and their families, issuing clear direction on parent command responsibilities.
Sailors are now eligible for additional credit for their IA service when competing for advancements. Providing tangible evidence of recognition, Sailors with IA service advanced at higher percentages than their non-IA counterparts on the March 2009 advancement cycle.
There is still more work to be done. In the words of Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "There is, in my view, no higher duty for this nation, or for those of us in leadership positions, than to care for those who sacrifice so much and who must now face lives forever changed by wounds both seen and unseen."5
Common Sailors: A Transforming Force
While continuing to dominate on the open ocean, the Navy is spreading its capability across the littorals and beaches and into the heart of joint operating areas ashore. Today's Sailors support the combatant commanders across the wide range of military operations, excelling where professionalism, adaptability, and determination are basic requirements.
While institutionalizing these changes has been a challenge, we are making headway. With the continuing commitment of leadership, the Navy will expand its force of joint warriors—a force with the expertise to play pivotal roles in protecting the nation's security well into the 21st century.
2. Navy Newsstand, "Iraq Assumes Control of Offshore Oil Terminal."
3. "Sailors in the Sand: Standing Watch on the Wire," CMDCM (SW/AW) Scott Fleming, Command Master Chief, NPDB-5.
4. Survey results from returning IAs through March, 2009
5. Testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense, 10 June 2009.