Apr 1

The Insular Force: Adapting to Local Conditions

Friday, April 1, 2011 12:01 AM

During the Philippine Insurrection, the U.S. Navy employed dozens of gunboats in “brown water” operations in and around the Philippine archipelago. The boats conducted maritime patrols, inspected coastal shipping, delivered mail and supplies to Army garrisons and assisted local government officials in bringing the rule of law to the provinces. Beginning quite early, gunboat commanders sought local assistance to complete these missions, hiring coastal pilots and other guides to work their way through hazardous waters as well as dangerous cultural barriers. Filipinos also served as mess attendants, musicians and in engine rooms. This local adaptation led to long term changes for the Navy, and for Filipinos.

On 5 April 1901, President William McKinley formalized the ad hoc arrangement by creating the Insular Force of the U.S. Navy, authorizing the Secretary of the Navy to enlist up to 500 natives of Guam and the Philippines. The force was unique, in that the men enlisted to serve only in their home areas, “to which they were particularly adapted or suited.” They served on ships to be sure, but only when they were assigned to that local command area. The force grew slowly, in part owing to the drawdown of forces after the insurrection ended, but by 1906 there were 285 Filipinos and 28 Chamorros from Guam in the Insular Force.

The regular Navy, meanwhile, saw the Philippines as a source for mess attendants, as “long-established tradition” held that Asians made the best officer servants. As the Pacific insular possessions were an exception to the 1907 citizenship rule for enlistment, Filipinos soon joined the Navy as messmen, with about 6,000 in the ranks at the end of World War I. At the same time, the Insular Force remained a better though numerically limited option, as recruits were trained as machinists, radiomen, storekeepers, yeomen and hospitalmen – all rates prohibited to Filipinos in the regular Navy. This proved especially true in the 1930s, when Congressional legislation temporarily curtailed all regular Filipino enlistment.

The last class of the Insular Force joined the Navy in 1941, with the future of the force in doubt after Imperial Japan conquered the Philippines in mid-1942. True, wartime opportunities abounded, and under the pressure of war expansion Filipinos became gunner’s mates, pharmacists and boatswains in the regular Navy, shucking off the limits and restraints of the messmen rate. It was not an easy life, over 1,000 died in naval service, but they played their role in full to liberate the Philippines from Japanese occupation.

Following the establishment of an independent Philippines after the war, a 1954 agreement allowed the Navy to recruit up to 2,000 Filipinos a year into the Navy. Initially eligible only for mess ratings, it was not until 1971 that they regained their wartime opportunities, now eligible to fill up to 30 rates. Surprisingly, during these same decades, the Insular Force struggled on, with those Filipinos who survived the war remaining on duty in the Philippines. In the late 1960s some 30 sailors – radiomen, boatswains, musicians and yeoman – remained in service, mostly out of Sangley Point. As Chief Yeoman Restituto Pugeda told Navy Times “I can think of a lot of people that have come and gone, but I intend to stay around just as long as the Navy likes me.”

The Insular Force veterans finally retired in the 1970s and the regular Navy stopped the special recruitment of Filipinos in 1992, ending a 91-year era that saw over 35,000 Filipino nationals serve the colors. Opportunities to join the Navy did not end there, however, as the service remains wide open to immigrants and naturalized citizens, who make up almost 5% of the armed forces. Standing on the shoulders of the immigrants who served before them, these future citizens play a crucial role in today’s wartime Navy.

“The Insular Force” Adapting to local conditions During the Philippine Insurrection, the U.S. Navy employed dozens of gunboats in “brown water” operations in and around the Philippine archipelago. The boats conducted maritime patrols, inspected coastal shipping, delivered mail and supplies to Army garrisons and assisted local government officials in bringing the rule of law to the provinces. Beginning quite early, gunboat commanders sought local assistance to complete these missions, hiring coastal pilots and other guides to work their way through hazardous waters as well as dangerous cultural barriers. Filipinos also served as mess attendants, musicians and in engine rooms. This local adaptation led to long term changes for the Navy, and for Filipinos. On 5 April 1901, President William McKinley formalized the ad hoc arrangement by creating the Insular Force of the U.S. Navy, authorizing the Secretary of the Navy to enlist up to 500 natives of Guam and the Philippines. The force was unique, in that the men enlisted to serve only in their home areas, “to which they were particularly adapted or suited.” They served on ships to be sure, but only when they were assigned to that local command area. The force grew slowly, in part owing to the drawdown of forces after the insurrection ended, but by 1906 there were 285 Filipinos and 28 Chamorros from Guam in the Insular Force. The regular Navy, meanwhile, saw the Philippines as a source for mess attendants, as “long-established tradition” held that Asians made the best officer servants. As the Pacific insular possessions were an exception to the 1907 citizenship rule for enlistment, Filipinos soon joined the Navy as messmen, with about 6,000 in the ranks at the end of World War I. At the same time, the Insular Force remained a better though numerically limited option, as recruits were trained as machinists, radiomen, storekeepers, yeomen and hospitalmen – all rates prohibited to Filipinos in the regular Navy. This proved especially true in the 1930s, when Congressional legislation temporarily curtailed all regular Filipino enlistment. The last class of the Insular Force joined the Navy in 1941, with the future of the force in doubt after Imperial Japan conquered the Philippines in mid-1942. True, wartime opportunities abounded, and under the pressure of war expansion Filipinos became gunner’s mates, pharmacists and boatswains in the regular Navy, shucking off the limits and restraints of the messmen rate. It was not an easy life, over 1,000 died in naval service, but they played their role in full to liberate the Philippines from Japanese occupation. Following the establishment of an independent Philippines after the war, a 1954 agreement allowed the Navy to recruit up to 2,000 Filipinos a year into the Navy. Initially eligible only for mess ratings, it was not until 1971 that they regained their wartime opportunities, now eligible to fill up to 30 rates. Surprisingly, during these same decades, the Insular Force struggled on, with those Filipinos who survived the war remaining on duty in the Philippines. In the late 1960s some 30 sailors – radiomen, boatswains, musicians and yeoman – remained in service, mostly out of Sangley Point. As Chief Yeoman Restituto Pugeda told Navy Times “I can think of a lot of people that have come and gone, but I intend to stay around just as long as the Navy likes me.” The Insular Force veterans finally retired in the 1970s and the regular Navy stopped the special recruitment of Filipinos in 1992, ending a 91-year era that saw over 35,000 Filipino nationals serve the colors. Opportunities to join the Navy did not end there, however, as the service remains wide open to immigrants and naturalized citizens, who make up almost 5% of the armed forces. Standing on the shoulders of the immigrants who served before them, these future citizens play a crucial role in today’s wartime Navy.

 
 
 
  • Jim Valle

    A few of the gunboats of the original Insular Force were taken over from the Spanish and served in the U.S. Navy under their original Spanish names. After the Philipine Insurrection was neutralized these boats were sent to China and patrolled the major river systems there until a new class of gunboats replaced them in 1927.

  • freudian fernandez

    What is your source reference for the above article?

 
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