the goal. Meanwhile, no U.S. convoy leaves a forward
operating based without at least one vehicle having
CREW gear aboard.
The equipment is defensive, which means it blocks
signals that would trigger detonations as convoys pass.
An offensive system would explode IEDs in advance of
a convoy’s passing.
Can the Navy use EW capabilities in this way?
“I can’t get into that,” Oliver said.
Navy explosive ordnance disposal teams had been
in-country, and protected by CREW systems, too,
before the JCCS squadron was stood up.
“They were always on the leading edge of this type
of thing. But now we have better systems than we ever
used to,” Oliver said.
More importantly, the Navy brought in the manpower needed to install CREW so all ground forces
have at least some IED protection.
U.S. forces also have drawn lessons from British
forces who sharpened their own skills at jamming
A LIEUTENANT’S REPORT FROM IRAQ:
‘MY SKILLS COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER USED’
BAGHDAD — Enough Navy personnel are serving on the ground in
U.S. Central Command — 12,500
at last count — that they’ve earned
a nickname: Sandbox Sailors.
Roughly 4,500 of these sailors are
on the ground in Iraq and
Afghanistan, most of them serving
in combat support roles.
Two-thirds are individual augmentees (IAs), which means they
serve apart from their parent command. The bulk of these IAs are
The intent is to help relieve the
strain of wartime operations on the
Army and Marine Corps. The
strongest advocate for putting
sailors in ground force roles is the
chief of naval operations, Adm.
“We are in a war out here that
isn’t an Army war or a Marine
Corps war. It’s a national war,”
Mullen said. That’s why the Navy
has had to deepen its involvement.
The fit isn’t always a comfortable one.
Last April, Lt. Joseph “Max”
Ernest, a Navy Reserve intelligence
officer with 11 years of law enforce-
ment experience, was mobilized to
Baghdad where the Army assigned
him as a logistics officer to Iraq’s
interior ministry. He had no former
experience in logistics and spent
his first months learning basic terminology and grasping the fundamentals of logistics.
“My skills could have been better
used,” said Ernest during an interview in Republican Palace inside
Baghdad’s Green Zone. But the
assignment did boost his confidence.
“If I can do this here, when I get
back to my world I can pretty much
handle anything,” Ernest said.
Sitting beside Ernest was another Navy Reserve intelligence officer, Lt. Jason Fickett. In civilian
life, he is an FBI agent.
“My experience has been excellent,” said Fickett, three months
into his tour. He, too, works with
one of the Iraqi ministries.
“The Army has slotted me into a
position where I am able to use my
FBI and Navy skill sets,” he said.
Before his deployment last
November, Fickett received two
weeks of combat tactics training in
Fort Jackson, S.C.
“It’s the Army’s show, and we are
here to augment them,” Fickett said.
“The fear is that because we are not
part of the group we’re not going to
be treated as such. I’ve heard a lot of
horror stories but so far my experience had been pretty good.”
One worry among IAs, he said, is
that they “might get the job no one
wants because you’re the odd man
out. Perhaps that’s what happened
to Lt. Ernest, I’m not sure. But it
seems like a misuse of resources.”
Mullen is sensitive to the complaints. The Navy is pressing
Central Command and the Army
to do a better job matching Navy
skills and seniority with actual
needs in theater.
During his visit to Iraq days
before Christmas, Mullen said he
heard feedback from some sailors
that they want more meaningful
work if they are going to spend
extra time away from their families
and their units.
“And some of them are telling me
that sitting behind a desk, producing
Power Point slides, is not what they
anticipated,” Mullen said. ■