By way of the Military.com Early Brief.
Navy Expeditionary Combat Command proves its worthiness
VIRGINIA BEACH — Just over a year ago, the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command existed as a broad concept worked over by a dozen busy senior Navy officials.
That small group has swelled to a 200-person headquarters at Little Creek Naval Amphibious base that is responsible for 32,000 sailors around the globe.
Their tasks include building roads and schools in war-torn countries, guarding ports and oil terminals, and defusing scores of roadside bombs in Iraq, The command also established a riverine force from scratch to patrol waters in hostile countries.
“Obviously, it’s been a challenging year,” Rear Adm. Donald Bullard, commanding officer of NECC, said in an interview.
The growing command has pushed to consolidate training and forces, and ultimately prepare its sailors to move closer to combat. It will further seek to expand training for sailors in their new combat roles, Bullard said.
“It’s about the Navy contributing however it can in the war on terrorism,” Bullard said.
The command has collected various Navy specialties – maritime protection, interdiction, civil affairs – under one umbrella to standardize training and equipment for ground and brown-water missions.
The command has re-established the Navy’s riverine force, which was largely abandoned by the active-duty Navy after the Vietnam War. The new so-called “River Rats” are expected to deploy to Iraq this spring to relieve a Marine Corps unit.
The riverine force has one mission-ready squadron of about 220 sailors and 10 boats and will eventually add two more squadrons. The second squadron is expected to stand up next month.
The command also has been challenged to train and support the growing number of “individual augmentees” – reserve and active duty personnel called from their units to relieve strained Army and Marine Corps forces. The Navy has 7,000 sailors from its active duty and reserve units as augmentees.
Capt. Bob McKenna, the command’s training director, said the Navy needed to standardize combat skills for the augmentees. Many reserve sailors received different small arms and combat training before deploying, he said.
McKenna said that besides training for ground combat, the curriculum will eventually include more advanced skills such as convoy security, communications and tactics for small unit combat.
It will also add language and cultural skills for sailors in frequent contact with foreign troops and vessels, he said.
During its first year, sailors have deployed to ground combat and security posts around the world.
Bullard has pinned sailors with Silver Stars and other decorations for valor and merit, and also has consoled families at the funerals of expeditionary sailors killed in the wars. The command has lost about 10 sailors and 20 more have been wounded during fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re asking a lot of these sailors,” he said, “and they perform.”
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