Jointness key to command afloat during JTFEX 08-4

Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen exercised jointness aboard a Navy ship along the eastern U.S. coast from Virginia to Florida July 21-31 for Joint Task Force Exercise 08-4 “Operation Brimstone.”

Aboard the USS Bataan, U.S. servicemembers and some coalition forces are working together in a Joint Task Force Capable Headquarters sustainment event, giving many onboard a first-hand look at warfighting afloat in a multiservice environment. The Bataan serves as the JTF commander’s flagship for the exercise.

“This is a major staff sustainment exercise concerning our ability to operate as a JTF,” said Army Lt. Col. Mark Murphy, civil-military operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 950.

“We do exercises like this since we are a U.S. Joint Forces Command-designated JTF-capable headquarters and we report as such through the Defense Readiness Reporting System, said Navy Capt. Steven Zaricor, CJTF 950 director of operations.

More than 150 command staff and 30 observer-trainers headed out to sea, where the JTF staff coordinated with different components taking part in the exercise and kept the JTF commander updated on operations. The exercise brought together more than 15,000 U.S. and allied servicemembers to serve as a ready-for-deployment certification event for the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TR CSG) and the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group (IWO ESG).

“This was a pretty complex, ambitious exercise, considering this was a major certification exercise for the carrier strike group, expeditionary strike group and for Second Fleet,” said Colonel Murphy, who admits this is his first time on a major naval ship participating in an exercise or deployment.

“At the operational level of war, it’s important to fuse all effects; you have to pool all services and abilities to have a JTF with expertise and command and control to effectively fight a joint war,” said Lt. Col. John Voorhees, Combined Forces Air Component Commander liaison officer for CJTF 950. “I was impressed with what they were able to do.”

Colonel Voorhees represents the voice of the CFACC on the CJTF 950 staff. He is deployed aboard the USS Bataan from the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where he serves as Air Force Southern Command Combat Operations Division chief.

Captain Zaricor, 2nd Fleet Command director of operations and plans, said having a headquarters afloat can be beneficial in dealing with an instant crisis anywhere around the world.

“If you need to get a staff forward with no footprint, you can reach back to your main support in the rear,” he said. “I think we had a good, solid joint team, both here and back at Norfolk.”

“An obvious advantage to this is the admiral can be here with a large part of his staff, while back in Virginia a large group is getting work done in support of expeditionary operations,” said Marine Lt. Col. James Griffin, CJTF 950 and 2nd Fleet Joint Fires chief, who has spent much of his career working with the Air Force and Navy as an EA6B Prowler tactical warfare officer.

Conducting command and control out at sea isn’t without challenges, with distance and communications across the joint operating area being just some of the issues to overcome.

“It’s a challenge; definitely one of the big learning points is how to do distributive ops and we’ve demonstrated we can do it,” Colonel Griffin said. “Working in a joint arena makes it more difficult, but once you get the processes and procedures it’s easier. People brought a lot of experience to this exercise.”

Not only were all services branches represented, but all types of components as well. The staff includes active duty, reservists, guardsmen, government civilians and contractors all playing a part.

One of the ways 2nd Fleet Command develops a joint construct for the JTF is through the Joint Manpower Exchange Program, which assigns Airmen and Soldiers to the Navy staff.

“Having these guys bring the expertise that a Navy-centric staff doesn’t have pays big dividends,” Capt. Zaricor said. “We have some very talented mid-grade officer – majors, lieutenant colonel types — and we plug them into key billets in our staff.”

Colonel Murphy said the joint team working together has some operational benefits.

“The biggest advantage of having interaction with the other services is seeing how other services operate,” Colonel Murphy said. Goldwater-Nichols has taken about 20 years to take hold but I think the concept is valid and it’s working very well.”

The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 restructured the way service branches organize for warfighting, establishing centralized control and decentralized execution for operations, integrating services into warfighting components and streamlining how the U.S. force fights.

“It’s very interesting seeing this from a joint perspective,” said Capt. Gordon Bryant III, chief of personnel-services or J-1 forward on the Bataan. “The great part is everyone understands there are different cultures and works together to bridge that gap.”

“I think it’s a good thing,” Colonel Murphy said. “Combined, Joint and interagency operations are here to stay. The more we can learn about each other’s culture service and history, the better prepared we will be to defend American interests and freedom when required.”

Nicholas J. Sabula (AFPN)

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