By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2006 – In addition to filling its traditional maritime security role, the U.S. Navy has been performing different missions on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, shouldering a larger part of the burden in the war on terror. Currently, more than 11,000 sailors are deployed at sea in the Middle East, and 12,000 sailors are deployed in U.S. Central Command countries, said Navy Lt. Trey Brown, a Navy spokesman. About 4,300 sailors are on the ground in Iraq, he said.
Sailors are performing many different missions in the war on terror, Brown said. Some are traditional Navy duties, such as those being carried out by Seabees conducting construction missions and Navy corpsmen deployed with Marine Corps units, Brown said. But Navy units also are doing very nontraditional Navy missions: customs inspections, medical operations, civil affairs and detention operations, among them, he said.
In carrying out these diverse missions, the Navy has lost 56 sailors in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 29 in Operation Enduring Freedom.
"This war to defeat terrorism is not something that is put directly onto the Army or Marine Corps; it's put onto the military as a whole," Brown said. "It's up to the military as a whole to win. With that in mind, our sailors have a lot of skills that are very useful and are very sought after by the commanders that are in Central Command and in Iraq."
This week, a group of 520 sailors is redeploying after running a detention facility in northern Iraq, Brown said. This unit is being replaced by another Navy unit, which will do everything from commanding the facility to overseeing its laundry operations, he said.
In Afghanistan, about 180 sailors are working on six provincial reconstruction teams working directly with the provinces, teaching the leaders how to work with the national government and local governments, he said.
Many sailors who deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan go as "individual augmentees," which means they are pulled from their home units to support the war on terror, Brown said. The 520 sailors coming back from Iraq this week, for example, are from more than 100 different Navy commands.
Every sailor sent to the Middle East goes through specialized training to prepare for the mission, Brown said. The level of training depends on the mission they will perform, he said. Those who will be in a staff position do two weeks of weapons and cultural training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and the sailors who work with detainees go through three months of training, he said.
"We're using the Army facilities and we're using a lot of Army personnel to help train them, but this is a Navy training set-up," he said. Only sailors go through the training.
The numbers of sailors on the ground has increased continually since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and has steadily grown to its current strength, Brown said. Future levels will depend on the requirements of the commanders on the ground, he said, but he added that he expects the Navy to continue to be a valuable contributor to the war on terror.
"Certainly we anticipate that our sailors are going to continue to be in high demand; the skills that we have will continue to be wanted over there," he said.
During a news conference Sept. 25, Navy Rear Adm. Raymond Spicer, commander of the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, outlined his unit's contributions to the war on terror. The Enterprise strike group has been deployed for almost five months, conducting maritime security operations to ensure security for commercial shipping and Iraq's two oil terminals in the northern Arabian Gulf, and setting the conditions for security and stability in the region, Spicer said.
Aircraft from the USS Enterprise have performed hundreds of missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, Spicer said. Over Iraq, the missions have centered on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and in Afghanistan, the aircraft have more actively supported troops on the ground, he said.
Sailors and Marines from the Enterprise strike group have been working long hours and have made critical contributions to the war on terror, Spicer said. Throughout their deployment, the troops have stayed motivated because they see the role they play in the war and the support they provide to the troops on the ground, he said.
"They're committed; they're motivated; they're proud to be contributing to maritime security operations and the war on terror," he said. "I think the American people would be proud too if they knew just how hard these sailors and Marines have been working and just how tremendously effective they've been at what they've been doing."