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Navy Masters-At-Arms are specially trained to protect Sailors and Navy civilians from a wide array of potential threats and to respond effectively during any emergency. U.S. Navy graphic by Mass Communications Spec. 1st Class Paul L. Archer/Released

Masters-at-Arms: Protecting the Fleet

By Master Chief Master-at-Arms Melissa Old

It’s been a difficult few weeks for the U.S. Navy family. We have lost three young Sailors at Naval Air Station Pensacola, another at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story and two civilians at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

The question has been asked: What is the Navy doing to protect our Sailors and Navy civilians? The answer is force protection.

Force protection (FPCON) entails the measures the Navy takes to protect Sailors and civilians, deter threats, and defend Navy installations and equipment. There are five FPCON levels every Sailor learns at boot camp. These dictate the posture as our security forces stand their watch and any additional measures put in place, from more watches to closure of a base. But the security of the U.S. Navy is not as simple as declaring an FPCON level.

The safety of Navy bases and personnel is our highest priority, and there are extensive programs, detailed processes and procedures to protect Sailors, civilian employees, family members, facilities and equipment. This protection is accomplished through the planned and integrated application of training, qualifications, law enforcement, anti-terrorism activities, physical security, and operations security.

Master-At-Arms 2nd Class Nichole Lowery instructs Sailors during a sunrise yoga session on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) as a part of Suicide Prevention Month. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Liaghat/Released)
Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Christopher Henderson and military working dog Mark, forward deployed to the security department here, practice on an agility course on base, Jan. 4, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joe Rullo/Released)

The professionals who execute Navy force protection are the masters-at-arms (MAs). An MA is a security specialist who performs antiterrorism, physical security and basic law enforcement duties. Each master-at-arms goes through various force protection training courses, from engaging ship-born threats to active-shooter scenarios. This extensive training and preparation gives our MAs (and other Navy security personnel) the knowledge to counter possible threats and neutralize them. MAs also train with base police and local police departments to ensure Sailors and law enforcement understand procedures so we can work together to quickly respond to any threat.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 14, 2012) Master-at-Arms 1st Class Nicholas Fessler, left, instructs Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Christy Nevarez how to perform a security pat-down during a non-combatant evacuation drill aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Adam D. Wainwright/Released)

Each year, senior leadership looks at all the training completed and revises the curriculum based on new information or situations that have come up throughout the year. Lessons learned become new procedures, which are then taught and practiced until they become second nature.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor Bowie, a mess deck master-at-arms, adjusts holiday decorations after a meal aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alora R. Blosch)

It’s too soon to know what changes may come from the events of the past few weeks, but  I can tell you this:

We are armed, qualified, and trained to provide security and safety for our people. As these threats evolve, we as a community will counter them. It is our mission to protect those who serve, and the U.S. Navy security forces have the watch.

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