'Sand-box sailors' saluted
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
Petty Officer 1st Class David Hutto worked on computer systems in southern Afghanistan and found himself in the middle of a mortar and rocket attack on a 20-person U.S. outpost.
As a trauma nurse at a hospital in Afghanistan, Lt. Rodolfo San Juan saw firsthand the wounds suffered by fellow service members in combat and the physical exhaustion from being in the field.
Master-At-Arms 1st Class David Taylor, meanwhile, was part of the personal security detail for Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The three Navy personnel, all based in Hawai'i, are part of a ground-based contribution to the war effort by the sea-going service that goes largely unnoticed.
All were "Individual Augmentees," or IAs, sailors who deploy mostly singly to fill Army and Marine Corps shortages in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The Navy has 11,000 "boots on the ground" individual augmentees, or "sandbox sailors." About 400 Hawai'i sailors are currently serving in IA positions.
Yesterday, the Honolulu Council Navy League and Navy leaders gave that effort some recognition.
About 145 Navy and Marine Corps IAs who served overseas were thanked, along with their spouses, by U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Patrick M. Walsh and the Navy League at the Ala Moana Hotel.
About 370 people attended the event.
Walsh said he was pleased to be at the recognition "because we're in the presence of some very dedicated sailors and their families."
The IAs train, deploy, and serve in combat zones without the camaraderie and unit cohesion that usually comes from deploying on a ship, squadron or as part of some other Navy unit, Walsh said.
Because they deploy as individuals and not as a unit, the IA's don't get the attention garnered by a large unit returning from war.
"The IAs go away alone, they come back often alone, and they just disappear back into their commands," said Don Morrison, immediate past president of the Honolulu Council Navy League.
Last year, the Navy League had its first IA recognition. Yesterday, the IAs were individually called up on stage and received a command coin from Walsh.
The recognized sailors and Marines came from surface ships and submarines, and shore and aircraft commands. Some Hawai'i-based IAs have been wounded in combat.
At least one has been killed. Lt. j.g. Francis L. Toner IV, who was with Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawai'i, died March 27, 2009, when an Afghan National Army soldier opened fire on U.S. personnel at Camp Shaheen in Afghanistan.
Taylor, 35, from Springfield, Ill., was in the country from late 2008 to July of 2009, providing security first for Gen. David McKiernan, and then McChrystal, who took over as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
"It was probably one of the most rewarding deployments I've ever been on," Taylor said.
Hutto, 32, was in the country from 2007 to 2008. He was a network systems technician, but volunteered on missions as a driver and gunner and experienced more than a dozen rockets and mortars exploding around him at one small outpost.
Hutto said he learned on the deployment how he'd react to combat.
"You know how you say, 'I would do this and I would do that in that situation?' " he said. "You simply cannot know how you are going to react (to combat) unless that situation comes upon you."