- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2008

PENSACOLA NAVAL AIR STATION, Fla. | Chief Warrant Officer Bob Turner spent most of the past year at an Army base in Afghanistan, far from his fellow sailors and the sea. The 28-year U.S. Navy veteran was one of thousands of sailors attached to Army and Marine units, groups that trained together stateside — without them.

These solo sailors and their families lack the usual support groups for deployed personnel, and the costs of that can be considerable.

The stress for “individual augmentees,” as they’re called, can be greater than shipboard assignments because sailors deploy alone for six months to a year and are doing entirely different jobs than they’ve had throughout their careers, said Cmdr. Tracy Skipton, a psychiatrist at Pensacola Naval Hospital. Chief Warrant Officer Turner, for instance, was providing electronics support for a special operations team working outside the base.

“It was a whole new life for me,” he said.

It wasn’t easy working his way into the unit, either. Even though Chief Warrant Officer Turner wore an Army uniform and worked closely with soldiers, it took him months to feel he was part of the team.

To stretch the military’s taxed resources, thousands of sailors with electronics, communications, medical or other skills have been sent one by one to Iraq and Afghanistan in the last several years to assist Army and Marine units in a new era of warfare and cooperation among military branches.

Navy leaders acknowledge, however, that the families face different stresses.

“Units that come and go together have their colleagues to talk to about the experience when they get back. They can watch out for each other and if they have problems talk to each other,” Cmdr. Skipton said. “When groups deploy as a unit, the families work together as a support group and help each other.”

The Navy offers counseling before and after augmentees deploy, and support programs for families. Attendance at those groups has been sparse because families are scattered and augmentees have deployed from several installations.

“You cannot get a big group together all at once to give a presentation,” he said.

Chief Warrant Officer Turner’s wife, Rosina, wept recalling the explosions she heard in the background when her husband called home.

“You can go online every day and see that their base is being shelled and that bothers you,” she said.

Her husband wouldn’t talk about the dangers of his work because of security concerns, but said it was among his most rewarding and important.

“I’ve never been that close to the tip of the spear,” he said.

Returning to their old jobs in their units also can be a struggle for augmentees. Capt. Maryalice Morrow, commanding officer for Pensacola Naval Hospital, said sailors returning to the hospital find it tough because they have so much freedom with medical decisions while deployed as corpsmen in combat zones.

“Their roles are very different over there because they are the only medical person and they do everything they can to save lives,” she said.

Chief Petty Officer Brian Brown, who returned from a year in Iraq in October, joked that the Navy has become “the NArmy.”

“Pretty much everybody, when they join the Navy, they think of ships and being at sea,” he said.

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