By Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah
This photo of one of our Sailors from www.Navy.mil shows Petty Officer 1st Megan Garcia conducting a security operation in Farah province, Afghanistan. The picture likely was chosen to symbolize the heavy-lifting women continue to do in Afghanistan, and visually memorialize the end of the military’s combat exclusion policy toward women.
Besides gender, what is equally significant about this picture is that it uniquely captures Navy individual augmentee life, what IAs bring to the fight and the warrior spirit they will bring back to the Navy. For us dirt Sailors serving in Afghanistan, the context of Petty Officer Garcia’s picture is a much more compelling story of Navy life, regardless if you are a woman or a man.
One of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s key tenets is Warfighting First. From a Navy perspective, when we think of warfighting, we focus on employing Tomahawk missiles, conducting surveillance from beneath the sea and launching aircraft off of carriers, to name a few of the Navy’s capabilities. What we do not generally think about is the warfighting skills our IA Sailors have learned, used and honed over 11 years of war and how those skills will make the Navy better.
It is beyond the scope of this blog to argue the efficacies of the IA program writ large, but from the optic of a Navy Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan, our Sailors without a doubt will bring back skills to the fleet that will make them better naval warfighters.
In addition to conducting security missions in support of key leader engagements, such as the one pictured, Petty Officer Garcia also is a watch supervisor in the PRT Farah tactical operations center. Her duties in the TOC are not unlike what her duties would be in a combat information center in the Arabian Gulf. Sure, the battle space, weapons systems and command and control structures are different, but the purposes of our TOC and a CIC are not that dissimilar. Tracking enemy and friendly forces, controlling operations and helping the commander maintain situational awareness are aspects both a TOC and CIC have in common. An operational specialist like Petty Officer Garcia is learning important skills that will enhance her professional expertise in her rate, as well as help her be a well-rounded Sailor. These are tangible skills that will have a direct, positive impact on the Navy’s mission when she returns to the fleet.
Sailors, such as Petty Officer Garcia, with joint ground operations experience in a combat zone could very well end up having a unique advantage over their peers when they return to sea duty. They will have a better understanding of ground combat, and will have experienced stressful situations in a demanding and difficult environment normally foreign to shipboard Navy personnel. Put simply, if led and managed properly, combat zone experience will make stronger, more resilient Sailors who are more proficient in their rate.
No doubt, Petty Officer Garcia represents the honor, courage and commitment female Sailors bring to the vast majority of the Navy’s operational commitments every day. However, she also is a stellar example of what the IA experience for Sailors means in a practical way for the Navy. This often-overlooked benefit of the IA experience is worth pointing out and thinking about as we welcome our IAs back to the fleet.
Editor’s note: Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah’s mission is to train, advise and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district and provincial levels in Farah province, Afghanistan. Their civil military team includes members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the Agency for International Development (USAID).