The middle of the Iraqi desert may not seem like a normal location for a Navy deployment, but for enlisted personnel assigned to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Arabian Peninsula, at Camp Syverson, Iraq, the desert deployment offers a rare opportunity for these “Sand Sailors” to earn the Enlisted Expeditionary Warfare Qualification.
The Enlisted Expeditionary Warfare Qualification, or EXW, was established by the Department of the Navy in 2006 to recognize Sailors assigned to Navy special warfare and expeditionary combat commands who demonstrate a high proficiency in skills associated with coastal and inland warfare.
“It’s a really good perk to be able to earn the EXW here,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Damas Wilson, a gunner’s mate and EXW recipient assigned to CJSOTF-AP. “Earning the EXW is a big deal because it is a new pin that has only been out a couple of years. It shows that that you are a warfare specialist on the expeditionary side of the Navy.”
Sailors starting the EXW program at CJSOTF-AP begin by completing the Personal Qualification Standard, or PQS. The PQS is a book containing all the skills and information necessary to earn the EXW. Topics in the PQS cover a wide range of expeditionary field and administration skills, many of which are non-traditional skills for the Navy including land navigation, survival, convoy operations, weapons fundamentals, and camp security.
A few previous EXW awardees currently volunteer their time to serve as program managers and set up informal study groups and formal classes to prepare sailors prior to administrating the written exam.
“We have formal classes three times per week taught by personnel that are EXW qualified and are specialists in the section that they are teaching,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Alicia Bruggeman, a cryptologic technician at CJSOTF-AP and EXW program coordinator there. Bruggeman said due to the vast amount of subject areas, it takes the average person a couple months of classes until they are ready to take the written exam.
“When the exam is passed, the Sailor moves on to the ‘murder board,’ which can last three to six hours,” Wilson said. “During the murder board, they are tested on all the skills in the PQS book, including land navigation and escape and evasion.”
The murder board consists of EXW qualified petty officers who use the board to properly assess the Sailor’s skill level, and to determine which expeditionary skill areas the sailor needs additional training in before advancing to the final board.
“If you know the majority of the material in the murder board, we’ll go over areas that you need to work on and then we will recommend you to go to the final board,” Bruggeman said.
The last step of the EXW program is the final board, which usually consists of three senior enlisted EXW qualified personnel. It is a final questioning phase to ensure the EXW candidate is proficient in naval expeditionary skills. Upon passing this board, the Sailor is officially awarded the EXW.
“It takes the average person approximately two to three months to earn the qualification,” Wilson said. “Here at CJSOTF-AP we have about three to five Sailors per month earning the award.”
“Putting in the extra time earning the EXW is worth it,” Bruggeman said. “It gives you something to do in your off-duty hours that helps pass the time while on deployment, and it is also beneficial to your career.”