CAMP McGRADY, S.C. — Located in the backwoods of South Carolina outside of Columbia, Camp McCrady was not what I expected.
What I expected was Fort Jackson, a large sprawling Army postbase which graduates an Army basic training class every week and that 35,000 potential soldiers pass through each year. Instead as we drive through the security gates manned by civilian police, I saw an unassuming base centered on a quad where the Navy trains sailors bound for the war zone. sleepy and neat little base with a quad in the center and low slung drab buildings ever-present on most military installations lined each side.
There were no marching soldiers or convoys and the traffic (both afoot and vehicular) was light. For a brief moment, I wondered if we were just passing through, until Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Craagg, my military escort, circled a small modernish building with a giant anchor out front and pulled into a parking spot out back. The sign on front of the building said "Expeditionary Readiness Combat Center – NIACT." I had arrived.
As low-keyunassuming as the Navy Individual Augmentee Combat Training Center (NIACT) is, its numbers and accomplishments are not. The sole purpose of NIACT has been to prepare Navy sailors to deploy individually or in groups to mobilize as individual Augmentees to places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. Since its inception in 2006, NIACT has graduated nearly 30,000 trainees. The training itself is carried out by Army soldiers who oversee and direct the combat the training, which I had come to see firsthand while IA missions continue.
"The garrison commander is South Carolina National Guard and the Army Reserve supplies the training cadre," said Capt. Philip Green, NIACT's officer-in-charge.
"We’re here to help them speak Navy," chimed in NIACT’s Master Chief: Mark Seifert, NIACT's enlisted leader who is a Navy reservist and a recently retired Indiana State trooper. Green and Seifert are mobilized reservists who have done IA tours as IAs, giving them real-world experience as to what it takes to prepare to deploy. This base may sit next door to But even though the training is carried out by the Army and sits next door to the actual Army basic training, but this isn't basic training. it is clearly not basic training. There is an air of calmness and maturity that exudes from the NIACT staff. There is no yelling or screaming or frenzied running to and fro, that typifies so many training commands. Nowhere is The personality of the place matches the and atmosphere of NIACT represented then by the three men who lead it.
As I was ushered into NIACT’s main (and only) building, we are greeted by its affable No. 2, and unassuming Cmdr. Assistant Officer-in-Charge CDR Grant Staats. Although he is a Navy reservist Staats is Navy reservist and a SEALby training, and he looks the part — fit and with a boyish smile. He shakes my hand and scarfs a piece of pizza down with the other, and then we headed off to see the training he oversees. As he gives me a tour of the neat office space, Staats introduces me to the various staff working. It is clear he is as well-liked as he is low-key. Later, as Staats accompanies me through the NIACT training evolutions, he often does so without wearing his cover, waving a "thank you, that’s not needed" to subordinates who try to salute him — it is a small act, but one that brings humbleness to a man who once served in was attached to a SEAL team.
Our first stop is located in an open hangar-like building, where I see the sand-colored cabin of an MRAP and a Humvee. They're mounted next to each other on what look like rotisseries, huge cradles that can shake and swing the vehicle frames and even turn them which allow both to be turned completely upside down. Nervous yet Serious-looking sailors are loaded head-to-toe with body armor, helmets and rubber rifles, and listen to the civilian trainers, who bark give directions in an assertive semi-drill instructor tone. I watch as the group then loads up into the back of the MRAP, and one of the instructors motions me to video screens that show what's happening inside. motions me to his control panel at the front where he points out screens that show what is happening inside. Even though everything night-vision green, The apprehension is clear on the faces of the sailors inside in night-vision green.
The cabin begins to roll to the left almost parallel to the deck, and almost on cque the sailors begin yelling, "Rolling, rolling!" in unison. The cabin corrects itself, but only temporarily. Then it rolls upside down. as it continues to roll completely upside down.Grim-faced and serious looking the sailors emerge and take up defensive positions around the trainer, gripping rubber rifles and scanning the distance for threats. With that, they are finished. Helmets come off and a look of relief and accomplishment washes over their faces, as they make room for the next group of nervous yet serious looking sailors takes their place.
NIACT wasn't always like this. "Originally individual augmentee training was meant to be a shortened [Army] basic training," Seifert explained, "but it has clearly evolved tremendously from its early incarnation."
The training is a reflection of the changing requirements put on IAs, and after a decade NIACT has had a chance to help honed the curriculum. "They used to have students do formation PT and marches," said Staats. "Now we focus completely on skills that will make the sailor more competent in theater." Lessons learned from the battlefield, such as vehicle rollover egress training, have shaped the curriculum.
Lt. Cmdr. Iradj Stroble welcomes the change in training is welcomed by. I speak to him behind an MRAP after he completed his rollover training. This is Stroble’s second combat crawl through Camp McGradythis unassuming Army garrison here and it’s going a lot better this time through. "[tThe second time around] it’s a lot more organized…more relevant training," said Stroble, who spoke to me after finishing the rollover training. Originally a submarine officer, Stroble is a perfect example of how NIACT takes a naval force and hardens sailors for boots on the ground. it for shore duty in a combat theater and transitioning personnel from sailors to sand sailors.
However, The most basic element of NIACT is weapons familiarization and training. Bringing trainees to the same level of weapons proficiency is one of the main goals of NIACT and considering the trainees' wide background it can be a challenge. "Some trainees are [masters-at-arms] or are reservists with law enforcement backgrounds and have extensive experience around weapons, while others haven’t ever handled a weapon," said Army Capt.ain Kenneth Kaczmarek, who oversees the training. WHAT IS HIS TITLE?. Regardless of background, NIACT holds all trainees to the same standards and requirements.
With the exception of special operations sailors, IAs who are heading to billets for CENTCOM or AFRICOM all pass through NIACT, with the exception of special operations. The steady need for Navy IAs is reflected in the consistent class size and graduation pace. the regular pace classes are graduated. However, the one noticeable change has been percentage of reservists who make up classes. While NIACT does not track the percentage of reserve and active duty sailors it graduates, the current class (15-051) is made of almost 65 percent% reservists. Regardless of where the individual augmentees go, for the forseeable future, they will continue to pass through NIACT.
Naveed Jamali, a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, is the author of the memoir, "How to Catch a Russian Spy."
Three sailors on the deck required medical evacuation to a Manila, Philippines, hospital, where they were assessed as in stable condition. The other four were treated by medical personnel onboard the ship.