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Sailors go grunt


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Sailors go grunt

Naval infantry battalion could handle Corps-style missions

By Christian Lowe

Times staff writer

Picture Navy swabbies swinging from the yardarms, knives in their teeth, spoiling for a fight with their ocean-going foes.

Sounds like a scene from the movie “Master and Commander.” But if all goes according to plan, the Navy could take such a page from the history books.

A concept being developed by the Navy would stand up a so-called “expeditionary combat battalion” of sailors trained in land-warfare tactics — a force that could execute commando-style raids ashore, maritime interdiction operations and other combat missions similar to what Marines or SEAL commandos already can do.

These “naval infantrymen” would be a step above a master-at-arms — the Navy’s equivalent of military police — but would have somewhat less capability than a fully trained SEAL team.

“The chief of naval operations thinks that with a long war, we need to create a sailor with a bayonet in his teeth that can go ashore and mix it up,” said a senior Navy official with knowledge of the plan, who declined to be identified because all of the details of the plan have yet to be resolved.

“Right now, the Marine Corps’ [Marine Expeditionary Units] have been fully deployed in Iraq, and we’ve deployed amphibs without any Marines on board. If we had this capability, we could possibly put these sailors in this place, and they could provide the amphibs with some capability that they don’t have.”

The battalion would consist of about 600 sailors and is expected to be fully manned by 2007, according to Navy documents. It is unclear who would train the sailors in combat tactics or how they would be manned, the official said.

“The attrition rate through [sEAL] training program is pretty high, and a lot of those sailors that don’t make the cut for being a SEAL certainly could provide a good seed corn to build this capability,” the Navy official said.

The establishment of a naval combat battalion is just one of a host of new capabilities the Navy hopes to develop in the next two years to contribute more to the war on terrorism and help ease the strain on the Marine Corps and Army, which are providing the bulk of combat forces for Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I think it’s a good idea because it’s become so blatantly obvious that the war on terror is a ground-oriented operation,” said Andrew Feikert, top Army analyst with the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service and a former Army Special Forces officer. “We could certainly use more boots on the ground.”

The new combat battalion would carry the additional benefit of providing the Navy with a ground force for counterterrorist operations that are too small-scale or remote for large Marine forces, he said. And when the Navy has to fight for money and influence in annual budget battles during a period in which ground power has reigned supreme, it would help to have a new land-warfare cadre of its own.

In addition, the Navy also wants to establish:

• A provisional civil affairs battalion attached to Seabee construction forces in 2006 and a reserve civil affairs battalion by 2007.

• An active-reserve integrated structure for two helicopter combat support special squadrons.

• A unit that would be able to “data-mine” information culled from the National Maritime Intelligence Center, which tracks information on global ship traffic.

• A team that would exploit intelligence gathered from maritime interdictions.

• A community of foreign area officers who are experts in specific regions of the world.

“In my personal opinion, the Navy wants to become more relevant,” Feikert said. “You don’t want people to look at you and say ‘prove your worth’ — particularly when it comes time for the budget.”

Heading upriver

In addition to the combat battalion, the Navy plans to create three riverine patrol squadrons.

Earlier this year, the Corps announced it was disbanding its Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Small Craft Company as part of an overall force structure reorganization to better support the war on terrorism.

The new Navy “Riverine Force” would help plug that capability gap, the Navy official said.

“If we’re going to need a maritime capability to prosecute a counterinsurgency in the riverine domain, the Navy should own that capability,” the official said. “If you’re going to fight an insurgency, you’re going to need to control the riverine environment … to interdict the flow of insurgents and supplies or whatever.”

Retired Marine colonel and counterinsurgency expert T.X. Hammes agreed, saying a riverine capability could be key against some insurgents.

“One of the things you have to do in [counterinsurgency] is control lines of communication,” he said. “In a desert, that is checkpoints on roads. In a jungled area or a wet area — Colombia or those places — then the riverine capability becomes important.”

Although the details are still being worked out, the Navy hopes to establish its first active-duty riverine force squadron by next year. It wants to establish two more reserve riverine squadrons by 2008.

It is unclear what type of boats the new units would use, the official added, but it is unlikely they’ll take over the Corps’ fleet of riverine craft.

“At one point in time, we were looking at possibly using their boats,” the official said. “We’re not so sure that that boat is the right boat for the missions that we envision.”

Two platoons from the Corps’ Small Craft Company deployed to Iraq last fall, and another two rotated to the war zone in March. After those units come home, the company will be disbanded, although it is still unclear what will happen to the boats.

Riverine operations “are a traditional Navy mission,” Hammes said.

“In fact, the Navy has done a great deal more riverine operations in its history than it has high-seas operations.”

The Navy already has specialized riverine forces that help insert SEAL teams into combat zones. The new squadrons would be separate from those spec-ops boat units, but likely would be based at the same locations, the official said.

The formation of a spec-opslike combat battalion and the assumption of the Corps’ riverine mission is consistent with the types of operations the Navy has been emphasizing for several years.

“The Navy for the longest time has been — not that they’re trying to get rid of the blue-water mission — increasingly littorally focused,” Feikert added, referring to inshore waters.

“And both of those missions are definitely littorally focused.”

Andrew Scutro covers the Navy and contributed to this report.

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Mainstream media was reporting that the Navy and Air Force were meeting their goals, but the USMC and Army were behind and had lots of vacant positions. Of course, that is the media and although I wouldn't dream of saying that they lie (cough~Dan Rather~cough), they don't always tell the story exactly as it happened. <_<

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Dumb qeustion maybe..but why not just recruit more marines ?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The Marines are still recruiting, but this is one of the problems we've had with the military over the past few years (decade plus really) where a lot of people going into the military were going there just to get job training or college money. Which isn't bad in and of itself, but then when the military is deployed for combat you have a percentage of these people saying,"Hey! I joined up to get money for college/learn how to be an electrician/whatever not to go and fight! What the hell?"

There really are people that dumb that can't believe just because they're drawing Marine or Army pay that they can be deployed overseas if there's a war going on. Crazy but true. The same holds up for the Reserves and National Guard in a lot of cases. And the media is always happy to put some poor schmuck from Podunk Mississippi on camera saying,"I joined the Guard for a little extra money, and now I've been in Afghanistan for six months, can you believe it?" Believe it.

Since there are a lot, not a majority but a lot, of potential recruits who see the military as nothing more than a college fund or a vocational school since the war's been going on these sorts are tending to join the Navy or the Air Force because they think their chances of being sent into a combat zone are down, they may get deployed but they won't be as likely to be in direct combat as in the Army or Marines.

So that's why the Army and Marine recruiting is tending to be lower than it should be, while the Air Force and Navy is pretty much at or above normal pre-war levels.

As for the original post, riverine combat units with boats sounds like a good idea to me, but "Naval Infantry" or whatever they're calling it sounds like a very, very bad idea to me for a whole host of reasons.

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Yeah, I think more Marines is really the answer here, but how do you get more Marines? Draft? Sometimes that option looks pretty good, other times not so good since you won't necessarily be getting people who really want to be Marines.

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Drafting Marines is an even worse idea than the "Sailor Infantry."

I think all military recruiting would go up if there was a pay increase, some people don't want to hear that but it's the truth. The military is paid peanuts, especially when you consider how much some of the people that hate the military make.

Also I just saw on the news something interesting, they already approved a plan to raise the Reserve maximum age from 35 to 39. Now it looks like they're putting a plan out to raise the maximum age for all branches (including the Marines) to 42 for enlistments. I'm sure some on the "fringes" will claim this is a desperation move, but I think it's a good one. It expands the pool of potential recruits, plus this isn't the 1700s anymore, I know plenty of guys in their early 40's who could kick the crap out of most 20 year olds.

The trick is going to be getting people that age to enlist because patriotism only carries you so far, especially when you have a family to think about and all the bills that entails. If they don't add some compensation then they won't get people leaving good paying jobs to join up.

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Also I just saw on the news something interesting, they already approved a plan to raise the Reserve maximum age from 35 to 39. Now it looks like they're putting a plan out to raise the maximum age for all branches (including the Marines) to 42 for enlistments. I'm sure some on the "fringes" will claim this is a desperation move, but I think it's a good one. It expands the pool of potential recruits, plus this isn't the 1700s anymore, I know plenty of guys in their early 40's who could kick the crap out of most 20 year olds.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Figures. I tried to enlist in 2001, when I was 40. Told me I was too old. Now I'm 44, and I'm still too old. Of course, I've got a kid on the way this time.

Likely candidates are in far better physical condition now, though, that's exactly correct, Schatt. Even if they just fill in at the rear so the younger guys can take on the more strenuous tasks in the field.

As for increasing pay and benefits -- Good God, man, you're not suggesting we actually divert funding from critical government-sponsored programs like Sesame Street, are you?

This message has been brought to you by the letters T, A, L, I, B, and N ...

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OK......I get it now. I didn't realize you folks has a problem getting recruits. We had the same problem with reserve guys up here.......twits joined the militia to get some extra cash and have fun tearing around in jeeps and firing machine guns on the weekends.....then they were AMAZED when a war started and they ended up in Serbia or Afganistan.........nit-wits :blink:

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We got those types over here too. Can't say I have much sympathy for them.

In fact, one of Susans friends has a nephew in the RAF who whined when The Second Gulf War started and he found himself on the way to the Middle-East. I did point out that if he couldn't take a joke he was in the wrong profession.

Didn't go down very well, but doesn't make it any less true.

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OK......I get it now. I didn't realize you folks has a problem getting recruits.  We had the same problem with reserve guys up here.......twits joined the militia to get some extra cash and have fun tearing around in jeeps and firing machine guns on the weekends.....then they were AMAZED when a war started and they ended up in Serbia or Afganistan.........nit-wits  :blink:

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

:blink::blink::huh::huh:

What??

Going to those places for the CDN reserves is voluntary.........there are no surprises.

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