"WASHINGTON — The Navy and Air Force are training their sailors and airmen for war duty far from the seas or skies: jobs typically performed by a strained Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Navy and Air Force personnel are replacing Army soldiers to carry out such duties as guarding convoys, patrolling bases and watching for homemade bombs, the top killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.
The Navy also is running a prison in Iraq, patrolling rivers and helping to clear and search buildings.
About 8,000 sailors are on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Rear Adm. David Gove, head of the Navy Personnel Command. By the end of the year, that number is expected to grow to as many as 12,000, he says.
Gove says it makes sense to tap into a broader pool of talent. 'There is a realization of capability in other parts of the services that we need to leverage,' he says.
The Air Force has not said how many airmen are doing Army jobs.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Carl Ey says the training gives commanders more flexibility and doesn't signal a shortage of soldiers.
Andrew Krepinevich, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, counters: 'If the Army wasn't having recruiting challenges and exceeding rotation rates, we wouldn't be having this discussion.'
Krepinevich authored a Pentagon-sponsored report earlier this year that found extended deployments were straining the military.
Frederick Kagan, a military historian at the American Enterprise Institute, says training sailors and airmen to do the jobs of seasoned soldiers is 'what you do only when you're desperate.'
The Navy's crash course on combat at the Army's Fort Jackson in South Carolina is staffed by Army instructors and trains about 200 sailors every two weeks. It stresses rifle skills, troop movements, first aid, convoy security and identifying roadside bombs.
Master Chief Doug Boswell, 46, who recently completed the course, says he'll rely on the skills to keep him and his sailors safe during their one-year tour in Iraq. "They're trying to get sailors ready for rigors of shore duty in potentially hostile overseas ports," he says.
The Air Force this year extended its basic training course to eight weeks from six. "I see our future as an expeditionary force in this long war on terrorism," Air Force chief of staff Michael Moseley says.