The new U.S. Navy
has, in two years built a new ground combat force, staffed by 40,000 sailors.
This is NECC (Navy Expeditionary Combat Command), which is capable of operating along the coast and up
rivers, as well as further inland. NECC units are already in Iraq, and ready to
deploy anywhere else they are needed. The 1,200 sailors in the EOD (Explosive
Ordnance Disposal) teams are particularly sought after, because of increased
use of roadside bombs and booby traps by the enemy. NECC has also organized
three Riverine Squadrons, and two have already served in Iraq. NECC basically
consists of most of the combat support units the navy has traditionally put
ashore, plus some coastal and river patrol units that have usually only been organized
This new navy organization, and the
strategy goes with it, 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 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 now provides 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 was created, over two centuries ago, they were sailors who trained and
equipped to fight as infantry, and 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. In
response, 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 its hostile locals wanting to attack sailors
there helping with reconstruction.
The ESC draws 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. Now the navy has its own ground combat training course
(the four week ECS), which will train 1,800 sailors this year, 2,500 in 2009
and 5,000 in 2010. In addition to EOD
and Riverine units, NECC also has combat construction units (SeaBees), divers,
civil affairs, security and support units.