Fighting Jointly Now Norm for U.S. Military
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 19, 2005 Servicemembers joining the military today are not joining just the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps they are joining a truly joint force.
The American military has reached unprecedented levels of joint operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom, military officials here said.
"When I joined the Army, you seldom even saw a member of another service," said Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of Joint Task Force Olympia based in Mosul. "Now I have platoons go out and they may have a Navy SEAL with them, an Air Force forward air controller and Marine air providing air cover. And the young lieutenants and sergeants think that's normal."
Multinational Force Iraq officials said there have been few breakdowns in communication among the services. "We do train as we fight," said an official. "In instances where systems do not speak with each other, we have come up with 'workarounds.' This can be as simple as a new command or as complex as designing a software patch.
"The important thing is these (solutions) were developed well before we arrived in Iraq," he continued. "We could see the writing on the wall and trained together at the National Training Center (in California) or in joint exercises."
The United States has engaged in joint operations since the Mexican-American War. For example, the Navy delivered the Army force to Veracruz and helped the soldiers take the fortress.
In the Civil War, "riverine navy" operations in the West helped the Union take Forts Henry and Donelson and the bastion of Vicksburg.
During World War II, Army, Navy and Army Air Forces cooperated in amphibious invasions. And during the Persian Gulf War, all services cooperated. But even in 1991, the services "deconflicted" the battlespace. This means, for example, that commanders assigned the Army a sector and the Marines a sector and they conducted operations separately.
Today, advances in communications, situational awareness and familiarity with each other's tactics, techniques and procedures enable U.S. forces to work closely together. "They really are inseparable now," Ham said.
On the staff level, the higher headquarters have members from all services. At the corps and Multinational Force Iraq level, members of all services work next to and with each other. At the division level, there are members of the other services, but soldiers or Marines predominate. At brigade and battalion level, there are aviation specialists and liaison officers as needed, officials said.
Special operations forces also are integrated into most plans in this theater. Searching for insurgents and training the Iraqi military are at the core of special operations capabilities, said an official. They work independently, but often are supported by more conventional forces. For example, conventional forces may cordon off an area while special operations forces go in to kill or capture an insurgent.
In training, the special operations forces train small numbers of Iraqis to then go back and train their own countrymen.
Conventional forces -- such as the Army Reserve's 98th Training Division -- provide the bulk of basic training and professional military education to the Iraqi army. The line is getting blurred, however. The 98th Division also is providing advisory teams to "embed" with Iraqi units and continue their training in the field, officials said. This was typically a special operations forces mission in the past.
The American military is working together in ways past generations of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen could not have imagined. It is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, officials said. "I would advise new lieutenants and young sergeants to learn about the other services early in their careers," Ham said. "They will need it."