Navy to build ties with Marines and Coast Guard

Admiral says sailors can expect to be involved in closer relationships under new maritime plan

By Scott Schonauer, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, October 27, 2007

MANAMA, Bahrain — Sailors might want to put aside any rivalry they have with the Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Adm. Gary Roughead, the new chief of naval operations, said sailors can expect to be involved in “closer relationships” with the other two services.

The greater integration among the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard is part of a new maritime strategy that emphasizes fighting terrorism, protecting international commerce and providing humanitarian assistance around the globe. The jointly released planning document is called “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”

“And what that would mean, just on the surface, is that our sailors would become more comfortable more involved in operating with the Marines and Coast Guard than, perhaps, in the past,” Roughead said.

The top officer in the Navy visited the U.S. Navy base in Bahrain on Friday during his first trip outside the continental United States since taking over the top spot about a month ago. He had breakfast with sailors based at Naval Support Activity Bahrain before sitting down for an interview on various topics.

The Navy is already working closely with the Coast Guard patrolling the Persian Gulf and has sailors on the ground in Iraq to ease the strain on the Marine Corps. The Navy chief said he didn’t know if the number of sailors now serving in Iraq would go up or down because it will largely depend on the number of American troops in the region.

The Navy has about 6,000 sailors in Iraq. There are about 15,000 sailors on the ground in the U.S. Central Command area of operations, which includes the Middle East and parts of Africa. Those figures do not include the thousands of sailors serving aboard ships in the region.

While some military analysts have expressed concerns the military has been over stretched and strained by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Roughead said the impact overall on the Navy is “not that significant” compared to the Army and Marine Corps. He said those with special operations, explosive ordnance disposal, intelligence and medical units have been strained, but the rest of the Navy is not.

“Apart from some specific communities, I’m quite comfortable with where we are,” he said.

Recruiting and retention of sailors with those skills have been a challenge for the Navy, but Roughead said incentive programs, such as the ones that offer bonuses, have helped.

Back home, wildfires in southern California have displaced dozens of families threatened by the disaster, but Roughead said sailors have answered the call to help. The Navy shifted single sailors and officers onto ships to make room for families who had to move. Sailors also have volunteered to help with the relief effort, and the Navy put the fleet on its own power to alleviate the load on the electrical grid.

“The leadership in place, the responsiveness of our sailors and families, the great attitude that they had in contributing to the community, I couldn’t be more proud of what is going on down there,” Roughead said. “But I feel for the folks who lost their houses.”

Roughead, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1973, is the 29th chief of naval operations. He is one of only two officers to command fleets in both the Pacific and Atlantic. He last served as commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

He said it is important to make this overseas trip to “see the nature and the pace and the flavor” of operations in the region. His tour includes visiting sailors deployed to Iraq to see how they are doing and thank them for their service.