Marines: USN Naval Infantry School

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November 12, 2007: The U.S. Navy is establishing a four week ground combat course for sailors joining its new naval infantry force. This is NECC (Naval Expeditionary Combat Command), which already has nearly 30,000 sailors assigned, and will eventually contain 40,000 troops capable of operating along the coast and up rivers. NECC units are already in Iraq, and ready to deploy anywhere else they are needed. This new navy strategy still comes as a surprise to many people, especially many of those in Congress who get asked to pay for it. It came as a surprise to many NECC sailors as well. The navy called on the marines to provide infantry instructors for the few thousand sailors assigned to riverine (armed patrol boat) units. The navy already had infantry training courses for Seabees (naval construction personnel) and members of EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) teams. Now it's considering combining all that in the new Expeditionary Combat Skills (ECS) course, which will be conducted at a base in Gulfport, Mississippi.

NECC was officially established in October, 2005. This organization is to provide the fleet with sailors trained to work, and fight, on land. The U.S. Marine Corps has mixed feelings about this, for the marines have long been the navy's ground combat troops. The navy says that the USMC mission will remain.

But in the meantime, several thousand NECC sailors are already serving ashore in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are 7,000 more non-combat sailors, like construction troops (Seabees), medical and other support personnel, overseas. NECC is not exactly replacing the marines, but doing jobs ashore the navy feels it can handle. Some of these support jobs the marines don't even try to do.

Also keep in mind that the marines are not part of the navy, as they are often described. Both the navy and marines are part of the Department of the Navy (the Department of the Army and Department of the Air Force each have only one component.) Over the years, the marines obtained more and more autonomy from the navy. When the U.S. Marine Corps began, over two centuries ago, as sailors who were trained and equipped to fight as infantry, they were very much part of the navy, and part of ship crews. This changed radically in the late 19th century, when all-metal steam ships replaced wooden sailing ships. The new "iron ships" really didn't need marines, and there were proposals to eliminate them. The American marines got organized and made themselves useful. For example, the marines performed very well as "State Department Troops" in Latin America for half a century (late 19th century to just before World War II), where American troops were frequently used to deal with civil disorder and nation building. During World War I (1914-18), they provided a brigade for ground combat in Europe, where they demonstrated exceptional combat skills.

During the 1930s, as World War II approached, the U.S. Marine Corps really ran with the ball when the navy realized they would have to use amphibious assaults to take heavily fortified Japanese islands. During World War II, the marines formed their first division size units, and ended the war with six divisions, organized into two corps. The Marine Corps was no longer just a minor part of the navy, but on its way to being a fourth service. Over the next half century, it basically achieved that goal. But in doing that, the navy lost control of its ground troops.

The navy still wanted and needed land forces. So the navy has created NECC. The navy still considers the marines its primary "infantry force", but the NECC will contain sailors trained and equipped for land operations the navy believes it should be involved in. Some of these are still on the water, like "riverine operations" (small gunboats and troop carriers to control rivers and coastal waters against irregulars), and "naval infantry" to defend navy land bases in hostile territory. Yes, it's all about Iraq, all its rivers and all it's hostile locals wanting to attack sailors there helping with reconstruction.

The ESC will draw heavily on the Iraq NECC veterans, as well as the experience of sailors ("augmentees") who served with the army in combat support jobs. These sailors went through a special 17 day army course to familiarize them with the basics of ground combat, and army procedures in general. ECS will train 1,800 sailors next year, 2,500 in 2009 and 5,000 in 2010. The Gulfport training center will be fully operational by 2011.

 


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