The U.S. Navy has once more tweaked its promotion rules, to allow sailors who have been serving with the army in Iraq and Afghanistan, to get maximum benefit for that service when they are up for promotion.
In the last eight years, over 50,000 sailors have served as "IAs," (individual augmentees), to assist the U.S. Army in combat zones. While most of the IAs are volunteers, many who have not been IAs, and are up for a new assignment, are being told to do an IA tour, or not be able to re-enlist. The navy has been downsizing over the past few years, so they can get away with this. The navy still has no problem getting the recruits it needs. But early on, the navy had to modify its promotion system so that IA service counted towards the "points" a sailor needed to qualify for promotion.
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 sailors never get out into combat, but concentrate on support tasks in well protected bases. This ranges from maintenance to handling logistics. Many navy EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) technicians serve in the danger zones, taking care of roadside bombs, and other dangerous devices. But mostly, the sailors free up army personnel for things like base security. The IAs also help army morale, as they make it possible to not send key army technical people overseas so much. Most sailors 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 naval action.
The navy has been constantly tweaking the IA program, to make it less disruptive to a sailors career. This includes awarding a lot of Combat Action Ribbons. This is an award established in the 1960s, but not seen much, at least for ground combat, since the Vietnam war ended. Now, with so many sailors seeing ground combat (usually as EOD technicians clearing roadside bombs, or working convoy escort duty), the blue-yellow-red-white ribbon has now appeared on the uniforms of thousands of sailors.
The navy personnel procedures have also been adjusted several times to accommodate IAs. The latest wrinkle is to select sailors for IA duty at the end of a tour of duty (on a ashore or on a ship), so that they have more time to arrange their next regular assignment. By the time the fighting dies down in the sandbox, 15-20 percent of sailors will have had the experience of serving with the army. No telling what long term effects that will have, but at least it's not preventing these combat experienced sailors from getting promotions they deserve. The navy has found that sailors who have served with the army usually get a chance to show how they can perform under stressful conditions, often while being shot at. The sailors who perform well in these conditions are the ones that the navy wants in leadership positions.