Infantry: Sailors as Soldiers


August 22, 2007: Four years ago, the navy decided to vastly increase its master-at-arms (MA) force, from 1,700, to over 10,000. This was mainly to improve security for ships in port, especially foreign ports. This also enabled the navy to provide 600 of these naval security troops for guard duty at Guantanamo. The sailors went through additional training so they could handle the hard core terrorists who comprise a large fraction of the prisoners held in Cuba. The army MPs could then be sent to places like Iraq or Afghanistan, where the terrorists are armed, and even more dangerous. Army MPs are trained to deal with that, as well as guarding prisoners.

But many of the 11,000 MA sailors now serve as infantry (in the new riverine squadrons), as well as providing additional ground troops for the army in Iraq. The MAs don't replace army infantry, but provide armed men in situations that frees up army infantry. For example, sailors serve as convoy escorts. It's a dangerous job, and requires people who know how to use infantry weapons.

Organizing sailors for ground combat is an ancient tradition. In World War I, there were entire divisions of sailors in the trenches on the Western Front, and in World War II, some navies still took a fraction of ship crews, armed them, and put them ashore under the supervision of marines, to fight on land. This happened as recently as the Vietnam war, where sailors served in the "Brown Water Navy" in the Mekong Delta, and often found themselves fighting on dry land. And then there are the Navy SEALs, a small, but potent force of sailors who are fighting mostly ashore against terrorists all around the world.

Because of the war on terror, master-at-arms have become the second most common job category in the navy.


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