Navy Doing The IA Thing Better Now
Navy NewsStand has a story of the CNO dropping in on Individual Augmentee (IA) training at Ft. McCrady in South Carolina. From the story:
The Navy currently has more than 10,000 Sailors in IA duty assignments all over the world. Personnel officials estimate that nearly half the 4,300 Sailors serving in Iraq are IA’s. Mullen said he does not expect those figures to change dramatically in the next year or so...I was one of the earlier IAs, and I sure didn't get 80 days notice. Back in August '03, they sent out the message that they were looking for someone on a Wednesday, and I was on a plane to Tampa the next Tuesday (the day my written orders arrived).
...The Navy’s top leader described the positive attitude of IA Sailors he recently visited in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying they felt proud to be serving and knew they were making a difference. He also pointed out ways the Navy is trying to improve the entire IA assignment process.
The recently-established Task Force Individual Augmentation, for example, has increased notification time for Sailors ordered to IA billets from under 30 days to a high of 80 days in December 2006. The notification window begins when a Sailor receives written orders of IA duty, and ends when that Sailor leaves the area of permanent duty station.
The Navy also announced late last year a series of new IA incentives. These initiatives include flexible advancement exams and award points towards advancement. The Navy will also pay for families of Sailors deployed on IA duty to move from their area of permanent duty station to an area of greater family support during the deployment. These initiatives are designed to ease the burden of the family and Sailor during the separation.
Please note that I'm not saying this to complain -- just to point out that the Navy is doing things better now. You see, I volunteered to be an IA. I had just transferred from Groton to be the AOIC of what was then NAVSUBTRACENPAC San Diego -- everyone still called it SubTraFac -- about three weeks earlier. I was pretty bummed; not because I was in San Diego, but because my career was ending in such a non-important job. [Short story: I'd had orders earlier in the year to be XO on USS Hartford (SSN 768), but lost them when I had to go see the Doc for a relatively minor but submarine-disqualifying medical condition. Since I wasn't on the first team anymore, the O-5 board was only too happy to pass me over -- although my 24% BF did make their decision a little bit easier.] The OIC of STF had let me know that he wasn't going to be having me teach any classes because of my weight -- after all , during the GWOT, it wasn't important that we be smarter than the enemy; it was important that we looked better than the enemy in uniform. (No, I'm not at all bitter.) When the message came out saying that NPDC had to provide an O-4 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom for CENTCOM, I jumped at it. I figured I still had a contribution to make, and going to Iraq would be the best way for me to make it.
It turns out that going to Iraq wasn't in the cards for me. I flew straight to Tampa -- they didn't start the Army-style training until about 3 months after I got picked up as an IA. (They did it in Ft. Benning then.) When I arrived, I asked when I'd be heading for Iraq; they told me that they decided they needed me to stay in Tampa. They set me up in a two BR apartment in St. Petersburg and had me take over the "Coalition Financial Ops" desk in the Iraq Coalition Coordination Center from a Navy CDR who was leaving in three days. As I was turning over, I found out that I was basically in charge of figuring out how to set up a system for handling over $500M of funds to help support the 30-odd countries getting set to provide troops in Iraq in August '03. I had a memo from Condoleezza Rice saying we could use the money, a four page memorandum of understanding between us and Poland that was mostly generalities, a slightly longer MOU between Poland and the other countries that had even more generalities, and an E-mail cache -- and that was about it. Needless to say, it concerned me a little that there weren't any procedures set up ahead of time, and I was even more concerned that a Navy O-4 with no real financial training was supposed to come up with these procedures.
It all ended up working out OK -- it turns out that I was a natural for the job. The Army and Marine colonels I was working for were scared to death of what I was doing (but even more scared of what would happen if I didn't get my job done in time -- the Ukrainians really wanted to be reimbursed quickly), so they basically signed everything I told them to sign and let me work in peace. While I was in Tampa, quite a few officers I worked with would get sent off to Iraq on short notice -- since they arrived about when I did, they hadn't gotten any special training. They basically went down to the armory, qualified on the 9mm, got issued a sidearm and some extra uniform stuff, and got stuck on a plane to the Middle East. (They lost their extra TAD money too, which sucked.) A buddy of mine from college came back and told a story of how they'd gone off on a beer run and gotten pinned down in an alley by a couple of guys shooting at them with AK-47s. Some of the guys who went to Iraq E-mailed that the Green Zone had been hit by mortar fire within a few minutes of them arriving. At that point, I decided that it was probably good I didn't get sent to Iraq, especially within a year of retirement.
My point? I'm glad the Navy IAs (including this submariner) are out there on the "tip of the spear" defending our freedoms. I'm also glad the Navy is doing a better job preparing the IAs for what they'll be dealing with, and the story is probably right that it will pay dividends by having more Sailors with "joint" experience -- as long as they make it home safely. Some don't, and they will be greatly missed.
Update 2239 25 Jan: Here's more on improvements being made to the IA process.