I have to wonder WHY?
After reading about the first guy described in the article I'll bet 10 to 1 that he was a shitbird in the Navy. Is this the type of person you want looking out for your back?
Issue Date: October 04, 2004
A different stripe
Some sailors are jumping ship to save their careers
By Gina Cavallaro
Times staff writer
FORT KNOX, Ky. — Spc. Phillip Franken positioned himself in a sunken concrete turret and trained his weapon downrange. Squinting in the hot midmorning sun, he waited for targets to pop up.
Up and down the firing line, the cracking sound of live ammunition rebounded off the tree line as he and his fellow soldiers practiced shooting their M16 rifles.
Franken leveled his weapon, aimed and squeezed the trigger. The round sailed beyond the target and into the dirt, kicking up a puff of dust, like an exclamation point on his failure. The E-4 tried again and again:
Aim ... squeeze ... puff.
Aim ... squeeze ... puff.
It was Sept. 15, his second day at the range, and he wasn’t scoring many hits.
“I don’t have steady aim. I never shot when I was in the Navy,” said Franken, 30, of Norfolk, Va., an engineman third class, who little more than a week earlier jumped ship to join the Army.
After eight years wearing Navy crackerjacks, he was facing involuntary separation under high-year tenure rules for not making E-5. So he decided to wear the Army’s battle dress uniform and retrain as a medical logistics specialist.
The decision to switch services, he acknowledged, would carry new responsibilities, even some uncomfortable ones.
“I’m not into guns. But I have to do it because it’s part of the course and if I go to Iraq, I’ll need to know how to shoot,” said Franken, one of 26 trainees in the Army’s Warrior Transition Course, a modified version of basic training, or boot camp, as it’s known in the other services. The course compresses the nine weeks of basic into four weeks, designed specifically to take sailors, airmen and Marines and re-train them to walk, talk and fight like soldiers.
The course is part of Operation Blue to Green, through which the Army is recruiting members of those services in grades E-5 and below. Those who agree to go Army must first complete their initial service obligation, then receive an honorable discharge and transition directly without losing rank, pay grade, promotion opportunities or benefits.
The Army’s goal is to recruit 3,500 sailors and airmen through Blue to Green in fiscal 2005, in addition to its mission to recruit 80,000 new active-duty soldiers and 22,175 for the Army Reserve. The Army is in the midst of a busy campaign to increase active end strength by 30,000 soldiers through the end of fiscal 2006, for a total force of 510,000 troops. The soldiers are needed to support a sweeping reorganization of combat forces and to meet the Army’s hectic operations tempo, which includes chasing terrorists in Afghanistan and fighting a war in Iraq.
In stark contrast, Navy and Air Force leaders are deeply cutting the ranks. The Navy is slashing 60,000 sailors over the next seven years as part of the service’s move toward a leaner, meaner fleet, one with fewer ships, for which the Navy plans to outfit with increased warfare capabilities. As envisioned, those ships will be manned by sailors with multiple skills, particularly high-tech know-how. Technological advances are rapidly making many sailors’ jobs obsolete.
The Air Force, meanwhile, is lopping 20,000 jobs as it moves to get back to its authorized active-duty end strength of 359,700.
Franken and the 25 other students in this Warrior Transition Course are the leading edge of a migration of tens of thousands of sailors and airmen who, over the next several years, will scramble to salvage their careers. Some will re-train in their own service. Some will go civilian. Some will go Army.
Ups and downs of shooting
Of those 26 trainees on that rifle range in mid-September, only six came through the new Blue to Green program. The rest were prior service soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen who had left the military, but for various reasons wanted to get back in uniform.
None were doing particularly well on the range; this gang couldn’t shoot straight. Good enough with a gun in the Navy or Air Force doesn’t cut it when you want to be a soldier. So after some intensive re-training in target acquisition, they all qualified as marksmen the following day — except for two former airmen who, to the mild dismay of Army trainers who might have felt a twinge of rivalry, scored the highest and qualified as sharpshooters.
One of those ace shooters was Pfc. Joseph Mansfield, who joined the Air Force in June 2002 and became a heavy equipment operator. He made airman first class (E-3), but decided to go Army as an opportunity to do what he’s always wanted: become a military intelligence officer, which was not a career option for him in the Air Force.
Once he got boots on the ground in the Warrior Transition Course, he quickly rose to become the best land navigator, the best shooter and someone to beat on the road marches.
Mansfield says making the move to Army proved to be more in step with his own skills.
“I love serving the country and I wanted to serve my country in other ways more fitting my abilities,” said Mansfield, an energetic 20-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla., who plans to go to Officer Candidate School as soon as he finishes Advanced Individual Training to become a psychological operations specialist. He was motivated as well by his cousin, a Ranger who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mansfield’s fellow sharpshooter and ex-airman is Pvt. Steven Scott, 24, who joined the Air Force in October 2000 to become an explosive ordnance disposal technician, but received an entry-level separation from the service after he dropped out of the school. EOD ended up not being what he wanted to do and he couldn’t agree on an alternate job. Now he will train to be a food service operations specialist in the Army.
His transition to the Army has been good, he said, except for the day he called a drill sergeant “sir.”
“I got chewed out,” Scott said. Later, when the drill sergeant learned he was former Air Force, he backed off. “ ‘Oh, that explains it,’” Scott recalled the drill sergeant saying.
But his fellow soldiers are still ribbing him about “bicycle PT” in reference to an old Air Force physical training test that involved a stationary bicycle.
Aside from such occasional quips, interservice rivalry is practically nonexistent, said Capt. Tom Oakley, commander of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment, which is leading the training for this first batch of students.
In the early days of the course, some terms were interpreted differently, but were soon worked out.
“They come with a set of skills and as far as military bearing, there are a set of customs and courtesies in the Navy that are different from the Army,” Oakley said. Where “at ease” in the Navy means “carry on,” in the Army it means “relax, but pay attention.”
The first time “at ease” was uttered, half the group kept working while the other half stood at attention.
Now, they are all soldiers and freely use the traditional Army word that’s an acceptable answer to most questions: “hoo-ah.”
One of the new soldiers said the term “hoo-ah” at first was Greek to him.
“I didn’t even know what it meant. I just heard everyone saying it and I just said it, too,” said Spc. Kevin Jackson, who was an aviation structural mechanic third class until Aug. 4 when he left the Navy after five years and joined the Army. He will soon be on his way to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to become an Army medic.
He had wanted to be a rescue swimmer, but the Navy wouldn’t let him go to the school and if he had joined the Coast Guard — which also is seeking people from other services — he’d have lost rank, pay and benefits. Now, even though he’s “not too happy” about the prospect of going to Iraq, he’s happy to have been able to switch careers.
“There’s patriotism involved, but it’s ambition, too. You’ve got to do something with your life,” remarked Jackson, 37, of Huntington Park, Calif., who said he likes the warrior aspects of soldiering, such as bayonet training, hand-to-hand combat and shooting.
“In the Navy we shot guns, but it was more for recreation than for combat,” he said.
Another sailor-turned-soldier, Spc. Michel Irizarry, came to the Army after a two-year break in service from the Navy. The Bronx, N.Y., native said that three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the ubiquitous reminders of that day became part of her larger decision to return to service.
“I went to the Army because the Air Force wasn’t taking prior service. I missed being in the military, but not going out to sea,” said Irizarry, 30, whose last assignment was as an aviation administrationman third class.
When she went to her recruiter, the Blue to Green message had just come out. Instead of going through the nine-week basic combat training course, she was slotted for the shorter Warrior Transition Course, for which she is grateful — especially when it comes to physical training.
“They’ll tell us, and they’re right, that it’s all mental,” she said. “But, my body’s telling me otherwise.”
The Warrior Transition Course is modeled after the Army’s newly overhauled basic combat training, the nine-week “boot camp” that new recruits go through at five Army sites: Fort Knox; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Sill, Okla. and Fort Jackson, S.C. Female recruits go through basic at either Jackson or Leonard Wood. The training that Blue to Green troops go through might be called basic lite. Unlike new recruits, the transitioning warriors get Sundays off, are allowed to smoke and have fair access to phones and the Internet.
“It’s moderate deprivation,” said 1-46 Commander Lt. Col. Jim Larsen. It’s too early to tell what the course’s pass-fail rate will be, he said, and the graduation standards are still emerging.
The modified basic training course is nevertheless tough. The four-week course includes hand-to-hand combat, bayonet training, weapons training, field marches, physical training, first aid, and a variety of field exercises.
The average age of these Blue to Green soldiers is 31, so the demands take a harder toll than on the 18- and 19-year-olds coming into the Army as spanking-new recruits. “For this group, sleep [deprivation] is not a problem, but physical training is extremely challenging for them,” Larsen said.
And because these soldiers-in-the-making have military backgrounds and are spun up on customs and courtesies, drill sergeants dial back on the in-your-face tactics used to break rambunctious teenagers just off the bus.
Some of the wannabe soldiers here dared to take their helmets off while in the bleachers at the firing range. In basic training, a drill sergeant likely would light into them for that particular sin.
In this case, a drill sergeant walked by, pointing a finger — the index finger — at his own head, a gentle reminder to the warrior transition troops that they were lacking headgear that could save their lives. It was a rare sighting of a kinder, gentler drill sergeant.
“We’re not as strict. These guys all have basic military knowledge,” said Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Coolidge, a drill sergeant with Charlie Company. “We find ourselves having to tone it down.”
Larsen said the prior-service soldiers learn faster and solve tactical problems more quickly and efficiently than the average basic combat training soldier. They have more life experience and, he noted, they are sure of their commitment to the Army.
“They understand. They all truly want to be here. They’re two-time volunteers,” Larsen said, calling the Warrior Training Course the “right program at the right time.”
sounds like a fine idea to me.
Hell, if someone is happy being an e-4 forever, and is proficient at their job, who cares if they have 18 years in.
I have to wonder: HOW? Time travel isn't possible. Today is only Sept. 28, 2004......
Marksmen and Sharpshooters? On that candy ass 300 meter popu up target range the Army uses?