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.