After the September 11, 2001 attacks, and especially after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Individual Augmentee assignments increased dramatically. Initially, most of these assignments included Navy or Air Force personnel assigned to Army units to fill specialized roles that the Army had either trouble filling or had limited expertise in. Some of these personnel were already combat trained by virtue of their existing skills, while others went into combat zones in Aghanistan and Iraq with little or no combat training. As a result, a formal program soon developed that ensured a minimum level of training for all members deploying to combat zones.
As of October 1, 2006, United States Joint Forces Command has responsibility of the Individual Augmentee training program. In January 2006 the McCrady Training Center at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, became the central training facility for Navy and Air Force personnel assigned as Individual Augmentees. The center, operated by Task Force Marshall, is also a South Carolina Army National Guard facility, and the Individual Augmentee training program is modeled closely after the refresher training conducted for drilling reservists. Prior to using this centralized facility personnel were trained in several other locations including Fort Lewis, Washington, Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Benning, Georgia. The McCrady facility is capable of processing up to 600 students at once with an annual budget of $16.7 million.
Curriculum at McCrady includes basic combat skills. The three week course is not designed to build Army infantrymen since even for Army personnel a significant amount of training occurs not in Basic Combat Training but in the experience of years on the job. Instead, the program is designed to teach individuals assigned to Army units the basic skills required to stay alive should the worst scenario occur. In keeping with this, topics covered in the training include basic marksmanship (Navy and Air Force personnel must qualify at the same skill level as Army personnel), combat first aid, land navigation, urban operations and an introduction to Army culture. Perhaps most important is training in convoy and counter-IED operations since these subjects are crucial to survival in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It's important to note that the vast majority of Navy and Air Force Individual Augmentees are assigned to combat support or combat service support roles, and only a small percentage of Individual Augmentees have seen combat. While some risk exposure in a war zone is inevitable, most joint commands in Iraq and Afghanistan have specific controls in place to limit the exposure of personnel who are not trained for such high risk operations.
Even with the additional training and limited combat exposure of most Individual Augmentees, deaths have occurred. While the Navy has sustained 73 casualties in the combined efforts of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, many of these individuals were SEAL, EOD, Hospital Corpsmen, Master at Arms, or Seabee members whose roles were not typical of most Navy personnel.
There has also been criticism in Congress about the program due to issues of oversight and financing, as well as mission readiness. Congress has expressed concern that the Navy, with a traditionally sea-centric role, may be spreading itself too thin (some units have up to 40% of personnel on IA duty) and in the process may lose some of its core competency in traditional seagoing warfare. Members within the Navy have expressed concern about the increased focus of IA assignments, especially as to how they relate to promotions, advancement and awards, with some members interpreting new Navy instructions on the subject to mean that Individual Augmentees are to receive preferential treatment.
Although Congress and the Department of Defense have increased the Army's troop strength authorization by 7,000, the Army and Navy have both admitted that it may take as much as five years before Individual Augmentee requirements draw down to pre-Iraq War levels.