Friday, March 03, 2006

Desperate Administration in a Desperate Situation. Hey Sailor; Welcome to the Suck.

Via AmericaBlog, Matt Daniels was a Naval Flight Officer (NFO) in the US Navy. He got wind of a rumor that some of his friends and former shipmates, now on an earned rotation of shore duty, are being ordered into a new unit being formed to deal with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)... on the ground... in Iraq; a job normally performed by the army and marines.

Matt is clear to point out that it's only a rumor at this point, but for those who have never been in the military, the Rumor Mill is often quite reliable, at least for initial information.

By and large, they're being ordered to supplement the Army and Marines on the ground in Iraq. That in itself isn't that strange, since the current trend has been to try and give the forces that have been on multiple deployments a break by rotating Air Force and Navy personnel into positions that could be easily 'substituted'. But... here's the twist. They're manning up a new unit - made up of a mix of personnel, to become field combat teams in charge of detecting IED's. Improvised Explosive Devices.
The disturbing thing about Matt's report is that it refers to employing the type of specialist who cost a fortune to train and who are constantly in short supply. NFOs are million dollar sailors trained to deal with a multitude of naval aviation roles, but one of the skills happens to be electronic warfare (EW). This involves the detection, location and jamming of radio signals. In a ground environment, searching for IEDs, it is also extremely hazardous because often the signal is short and the blast is usually very near the detection vehicle.

If there's something that might be more disturbing, it is that Matt's report appears to be true. The February 8th edition of Navy Times had this report:

Thousands of sailors will deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan soon.

There are currently about 4,000 sailors on the ground in both war zones, but that number will likely rise dramatically this year, according to Cmdr. John Kirby, spokesman for Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen.

“Over the coming months and into the summer, the Navy presence on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in theater will continue to grow and could reach as high as 10,000 to 12,000 sailors,” Kirby said Wednesday.

Mullen held a press roundtable Tuesday for Pentagon media. In it he covered a wide array of topics, from shipbuilding to Iraq deployments.

Several Navy communities, such as Seabees and explosive ordnance disposal experts, are in high demand in Iraq as land forces are strained.
When asked for specifics on an increased Navy presence in the war zone, Mullen said the deployments are ongoing. “In some cases it’s happening as we speak. In some cases there’s potential to go fill additional missions.”

(Emphasis mine)

That report followed this one two days earlier describing the problem of roadside IEDs as having reached proportions which have caused army and marine units to reach a breaking point. And now the US military is finally planning to do something about it.

The move is a tacit acknowledgment that despite years of rising death tolls from the devices, the response has not been sufficiently focused or coordinated at the highest levels. And it comes in addition to recent spending to get more and better armor for troops and their vehicles, spurred by concerns expressed by Congress and the American public.

... Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Task Force, had its origins in a 12-person Army office in October 2003. The organization soon was elevated to a Pentagon office, and its budget grew from $600 million in 2004 to $1.2 billion last year. The details of this year's budget are still being refined, at about $3.5 billion, but senior officials say they essentially have a blank check.

"We will have the resources we need to pursue the programs that we need to pursue," said Brig. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn of the Army, the task force's deputy director.

Allyn said the changes include creating a subordinate organization in Iraq, called Task Force Troy, that would coordinate the activities of several existing but previously disparate military efforts.

(Emphasis mine)

So, while Matt's report may still be based on rumor, all the pieces are there to suggest that the rumor mill is alive, well and very accurate. It is also significant that regular and reserve US Navy and Air Force personnel are doing non-traditional jobs in Iraq already, as reported here, and that they have not received the proper training to deal with ground combat situations.

While some may suggest that they're all in the military and they're all subject to those kinds of things, keep in mind that the sailors who are now being issued orders for Iraq are on rotations ashore after having completed several years away from home, some of them flying over Iraq. And, as Matt points out, the military is a very specialized organization. Taking an NFO and putting him/her in a humvee looking for IED radio signals is analogous to putting a pediatrican into an operating room to perform brain surgery. Given the current recruiting shortfalls in the US military, this will only serve in robbing Peter to pay Paul.

What this demonstrates is that the Pentagon is getting desperate. The army and marine people at the front of the IED problem have reached their limits. Recruiting is crashing. Training is being rushed and in some cases, truncated or ignored.

In the meantime, the 101st Fightin' Keyboarders continue to bitch about veteran's having nightmares while they sit in their basements free of any combat liability.

Matt can be excused for asking,

... wonder how long till people like me in the IRR get activated. I also wonder how long till people like YOU get drafted.
Indeed. He's done his service, as have the NFOs who's recuperative duty rotation is about to be spent looking for homemade bombs in a war zone.

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