Navy Strives to Build on Expertise Gained Since 9/11

WASHINGTON, June 3, 2011 — Com­mit­ted to pre­serv­ing and build­ing on exper­tise gar­nered dur­ing the past decade of con­flict, the Navy is hard at work insti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing lessons learned as the mil­i­tary draws down in Iraq and looks toward a draw­down in Afghanistan as well, one of the fleet’s top train­ing offi­cers report­ed.

aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan
Sailors erect a crash bar­ri­cade dur­ing flight deck drills aboard the air­craft car­ri­er USS Ronald Rea­gan, deployed with its embarked Car­ri­er Air Wing 14 to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of respon­si­bil­i­ty con­duct­ing close-air sup­port mis­sions as part of oper­a­tions Endur­ing Free­dom and New Dawn. Navy offi­cials say they hope to retain skills gained dur­ing near­ly a decade of con­flict as the Navy faces the future.
U.S. Navy pho­to by Sea­man Joshua Cas­satt
Click to enlarge

Navy Capt. Michael White, chief oper­at­ing offi­cer for Naval Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing Com­mand, said the Navy is bank­ing on increased use of sim­u­la­tion and real­is­tic oper­a­tional sce­nar­ios admin­is­tered by a cadre of expe­ri­enced sailors to ensure lessons learned since the 9/11 ter­ror attacks don’t fall by the way­side.

“As the con­flict draws down, clear­ly we may not be doing some of the same mis­sions as we do today,” said White, a rear admi­ral selectee. “So the ques­tion becomes, ‘How do you keep that in reserve?’ And essen­tial­ly, we believe that is the lega­cy of our sailors” who will draw on expe­ri­ence they are gain­ing now to train the future fleet.

Unlike gar­ri­son-based ground forces, the Navy always has been a for­ward-deployed orga­ni­za­tion, White not­ed. That requires con­stant vig­i­lance and readi­ness to respond to con­di­tions as they arise.

“As our sailors are going through train­ing and learn­ing from their instruc­tors, the end goal is to join a unit — a ship or squadron or con­struc­tion bat­tal­ion, what­ev­er that unit might be — that will be for­ward-deployed and ready for any action that might come up,” he said.

And with plen­ty of exam­ples of deploy­ments that began in peace­time, then changed based on world sit­u­a­tions, White said, there’s clear recog­ni­tion through­out the Navy of the need to be ready to exe­cute the mis­sion, regard­less of its nature, on a moment’s notice.

“It’s that for­ward-deployed men­tal­i­ty that will keep our folks sharp,” he said.

Fac­ing the future, White said, the fleet is as com­bat-hard­ened as it’s ever been, enriched by new capa­bil­i­ties devel­oped dur­ing the past 10 years. The Navy’s 15 learn­ing cen­ters, estab­lished sev­er­al years ago as part of the Navy’s “Rev­o­lu­tion in Train­ing” ini­tia­tive, is ensur­ing the spe­cial­ized career train­ing pro­vid­ed remains aligned with activ­i­ties being con­duct­ed with­in the fleet, White said.

In addi­tion, human per­for­mance require­ments reviews rou­tine­ly bring togeth­er the cen­ters’ learn­ing spe­cial­ists with sub­ject mat­ter experts from the fleet to keep their pro­grams as cur­rent and rel­e­vant as pos­si­ble.

“Our goal is to make sure that as things evolve, we can con­tin­u­ous­ly adapt and improve our train­ing process,” White said.

Explo­sive ord­nance dis­pos­al divers, for exam­ple, have incor­po­rat­ed counter-impro­vised explo­sive device tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures into their core cur­ricu­lum. In addi­tion to eval­u­at­ing the threat, they have become expert in post-blast analy­sis and inves­ti­ga­tions, and con­tin­u­al­ly evolve their train­ing to reflect cur­rent oper­a­tions, White said. Navy secu­ri­ty forces have under­gone a trans­for­ma­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly with­in the mas­ter-at-arms and gunner’s mate rat­ings. Rather than focus­ing on basic weapons train­ing that empha­sized weapons han­dling and employ­ment in rel­a­tive­ly benign train­ing sce­nar­ios, the train­ing has been amped up to incor­po­rate the all-impor­tant deci­sion-mak­ing process.

“The Cen­ter for Secu­ri­ty Forces has real­ly stepped that up to include judg­ment and engage­ment in the base train­ing,” White said. “It’s not only in how to employ a weapon, but what deci­sion process do you use in deter­min­ing when you should employ it.”

This includes not just sta­t­ic weapon employ­ment, but also the abil­i­ty to “shoot, move, com­mu­ni­cate and sur­vive,” he said, whether the sailor is oper­at­ing on the ground in Afghanistan, or pro­tect­ing his ship from attack.

The Navy also has refined its long­stand­ing vis­it, board, search and seize, or VBSS, mis­sion, par­tic­u­lar­ly in light of increased pira­cy off the coast of Soma­lia. “The train­ing for these teams has increased to not only include the basics of board­ing a ship and search­ing it, but to do it in a more tac­ti­cal man­ner, where you have per­haps a Navy boat crew and a Marine Corps team that might go aboard a ship,” White said. “We are con­duct­ing the train­ing today as part of the improve­ments in the adap­ta­tion to what we are see­ing in the fleet.”

Oth­er major changes have occurred with­in the Navy’s Cen­ter for Infor­ma­tion Dom­i­nance, where sailors are trained to use their com­put­er sys­tems and net­works as more than just tools. “We are teach­ing our infor­ma­tion tech­ni­cians to pro­tect net­works [and] to exploit net­works and real­ly to do it on a lev­el that we haven’t done before,” White said. He not­ed that many of the tech­ni­cians are get­ting com­mer­cial cer­ti­fi­ca­tions so they have the skills to employ com­mer­cial tools that have become crit­i­cal to Navy sys­tems and net­works. Through­out the fleet, White report­ed a big empha­sis on pro­mot­ing lan­guage, cul­tur­al and region­al exper­tise.

“We rec­og­nized the gap that our sailors had, where they would go into a coun­try to be part of the con­flict or human­i­tar­i­an oper­a­tions … and we had­n’t real­ly pre­pared them to be ambas­sadors, if you will, of the Unit­ed States,” he said.

So the Navy stood up the Cen­ter for Lan­guage, Region­al Exper­tise and Cul­ture at Cor­ry Sta­tion Naval Tech­ni­cal Train­ing Cen­ter in Pen­saco­la, Fla., in March 2006. This cen­ter helps to pre­pare sailors for the mul­ti­ple and diverse cul­tures they will encounter while con­duct­ing the full spec­trum of mil­i­tary oper­a­tions across the globe, White explained.

It has expand­ed to include cours­es cov­er­ing about 182 coun­tries, with spe­cial empha­sis on sub­jects such as Islam, Afghan cul­ture, Mid­dle East­ern eti­quette, and even the Tal­iban. “The idea is that as sailors deploy, we can give them a brief back­ground on what they might be exposed to so they don’t make those com­mon mis­takes that we would­n’t per­ceive in our Amer­i­can cul­ture that might be very offen­sive to our part­ners,” White said.

At the high end of this train­ing con­tin­u­um, the Navy is an active par­tic­i­pant in Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen’s Afghanistan-Pak­istan Hands pro­gram. This pro­gram, launched in 2009, pro­vides a core cadre of most­ly mid-career offi­cers with spe­cial­ized lan­guage and cul­tur­al skills.

Look­ing ahead to the end of the cur­rent con­flicts, White said, the Navy plans to make wide use of sim­u­la­tion to present sailors with real­is­tic, demand­ing train­ing sce­nar­ios. “To tru­ly repli­cate the chal­lenge of a wartime envi­ron­ment is tough, so what we are train­ing to do at Naval Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing Com­mand is to use tech­nol­o­gy to help us,” White said.

Bridge sim­u­la­tors, for exam­ple, train bridge teams to enter a threat­ened port or react to an attack at sea. A mock vil­lage at the Naval Explo­sive Ord­nance Dis­pos­al School at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., teach­es EOD tech­ni­cians to iden­ti­fy, defuse and dis­pose of IEDs and oth­er ord­nance. Sim­u­la­tors trans­form tra­di­tion­al class­rooms into set­tings that chal­lenge stu­dents to make judg­ments about the best way to respond to a par­tic­u­lar threat.

“It is absolute­ly amaz­ing, with­in a few min­utes of the sce­nario start­ing, how quick­ly you become immersed in it and for­get your sur­round­ings as your brain tries to work through these com­pli­cat­ed things,” White said. “It is not real com­bat, but we believe we can cer­tain­ly induce some stress. I can tell you from per­son­al expe­ri­ence that you feel it. The per­spi­ra­tion begins, and it real­ly is chal­leng­ing.”

As it strives to intro­duce the emo­tion­al, intel­lec­tu­al and phys­i­cal rig­ors of com­bat into its train­ing, the Navy is apply­ing anoth­er les­son of the cur­rent con­flicts and is help­ing to give sailors the tools to cope with those demands.

“We want to build bet­ter resilience into our sailors through the stress­es of com­bat and deploy­ment,” White said. “We are learn­ing a lot from sub­ject-mat­ter experts in indus­try and oth­er mil­i­taries, and real­ly try­ing to build that into an effec­tive train­ing tool to help our sailors cope with these stress­es so they can be resilient and ready to deploy when­ev­er and wher­ev­er they are need­ed.”

(This is the fourth arti­cle in a series about how the Defense Depart­ment and the mil­i­tary ser­vices, as well as NATO, plan to main­tain com­bat effec­tive­ness and readi­ness as the cur­rent oper­a­tional tem­po begins to decline.)

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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