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NAPLES, Italy — U.S. Navy leaders are ready to pluck more sailors off ships and deploy them to Iraq to bolster U.S. efforts in training Iraqi forces, the chief of the U.S. Navy Reserve said Wednesday.

“Are we going to take some sailors from the sea and put them ashore to answer this call?” Vice Adm. John Cotton said during an interview in Naples on Wednesday. “The answer to that is a resounding yes.”

Last week, Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, urged Pentagon leaders to add Navy and Air Force members to ground elements in Iraq to speed up training of Iraqi security forces.

“Our NATO partners have promised to lend their efforts to training Iraqi security forces,” Skelton said. “They must get more engaged and soon. We have embedded trainers in transition teams with the Iraqis. We must commit even more trainers to this effort.

“If that means moving more Air Force and Navy personnel to Army billets to free them up for this mission, we need to do this,” Skelton said. “We need to accomplish this mission as quickly as possible because time is not on our side.”

Cotton did not elaborate on when more sailors may be sent to Iraq, but he pointed out that the Navy Reserve already has added cargo handlers to ground missions in Kuwait. And reservists recently trained 450 customs inspectors who are operating in Kuwait and Iraq, Cotton said.

Of course, “we have to maintain a balance of what the Navy does at sea, with 130 ships forward around the world, as well as putting sailors ashore to help out with the war effort,” said Cotton, who is wrapping up a a 12-day tour of six countries within the U.S. Central Command’s area of operation.

He will hold a town hall meeting at Naval Support Activity Naples on Thursday.

The naval reserve is comprised of about 77,000 sailors, officers and enlisted, of which about 3,300 currently are mobilized, Cotton said.

A huge challenge is mitigating the stress put on personnel who repeatedly fill key Navy jobs and have been activated and deployed time and again, Cotton said, citing Seabees, intelligence officials, coastal warfare specialists and civil affairs as examples.

The Navy’s general guideline of having reservists activated for about six months every three years “currently works” and does not need to be changed, Cotton said.

“But we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We don’t know the status of the world. The current force obligations in Afghanistan and Iraq are currently working for the Navy Reserve.

“What we’re doing now is focusing recruiting efforts on the communities that are stressed — so a hospital corpsman, a Seabee, an intel professional — these are the kind of people we want to recruit, either from the active component or directly off the street to relieve the stress.”


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