October 28, 2009:
After decades of U.S. officials trying, and failing, to get the different services (army, navy, air force) to standardize lots of basic procedures and practices, the war on terror is providing opportunities for some real progress. That's all because of the IA (individual augmentees) program. For example, most Americans are unaware of how involved the U.S. Navy is with the ground war in Iraq, Afghanistan and places like Guantanamo Bay. A small army of sailor "augmentees" have been assigned to fill army support jobs overseas. In the last eight years, some 60,000 sailors have served as "IAs." Another 30,000 or so U.S. Air Force personnel have also served as IAs, meaning that nearly 100,000 IAs have worked directly with several hundred thousand army troops. Thus in the course of the war, over 20 percent of the active duty personnel have worked closely, often for months, with men and women of other services. These people then move on to other assignments, carrying with them the knowledge of how the other services operate.
Thus as a result of the IA program, most U.S. military personnel now have a more detailed sense of how the other services operate. This has made it easier for homogenization to get moving. With so many people now having personal experience with how the other services operate, there is no longer as much opposition to changing bureaucratic, and even operational, procedures a bit so that there is some uniformity. This, as any military historian will tell you, becomes a necessity in wartime (to avoid confusion during combat, or other stressful situations.) But that uniformity does not survive decades of peacetime. This time around, it is different, and the services are staying in touch, and making some long lasting changes.
The IA work involves six, or, more usually, twelve month assignments. Most of the IAs possess skills similar to those performed by soldiers. The IAs get 17 days of training at an army base, to familiarize them with army procedures, weapons, and the specific dangers they will encounter. Most of the IAs never get out into combat, but concentrate on support tasks in well protected bases. This ranges from maintenance to handling logistics. Many navy and air force EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) technicians serve in the danger zones, taking care of roadside bombs, and other dangerous devices. But mostly, the IAs free up army personnel for things like base security. The IAs also help army morale, as they make it possible to not send key technical people overseas so much. Most IAs volunteer because they want to get involved. As the old saying goes, "it's the only war we've got," and this one does not involve a lot of work for the navy and air force.