With heavy combat in the Middle East taxing the Army and Marines, the Navy wants to put more boots and force into the fight. The Navy estimates it has 7,000 sailors on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sailors guard ports and oil platforms, build roads and buildings and run customs operations, among other duties.
The Navy also will re-establish a riverine combat force to close a gap in providing force and protection along rivers in hostile countries. The “brown water Navy” has not been widespread since swift boats fought in Vietnam, although Navy SEALs perform specialized river operations.
Bullard expects a force of more than 700 sailors to fill three units of river combat forces, with the first unit to become operational in 2007.
He said the riverine force could be used around the globe, particularly in Niger and Colombia. A home port or ports for the new force has not been decided.
The forces also could be used to secure ports after the facilities have been seized by Marines or SEALs. Bullard insisted the force would be used to supplement but not supplant the work of the infantry.
Everyone’s reorganizing to maximize the number of combat boots on the ground. Naval troops performing more security and routine land operations will free up Marines for more-pressing duties.
The force is stretched, for sure. But it’s difficult to tell if this move is an attempt to relieve pressure on an over-worked military or simply an adjustment made to be better-prepared for the battles of the future.