STUTTGART, Germany – When a cruise ship runs aground in a remote Greenland fjord, is set ablaze and springing leaks, injured passengers must be rescued.
The scenario used during SAREX 2012— a multinational exercise held recently in Greenland’s eastern sea – tested military and civilian capabilities for search and rescue missions above the Arctic Circle. Meanwhile, during exercise Northern Eagle, a U.S. Navy destroyer joined Russian and Norwegian vessels in the Barents Seas to prepare for similar rescues, plus anti-piracy operations and joint air defense.
Lessons from such exercises help U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Edward Westfall, who helps plan U.S. European Command’s involvement in upcoming partnership events involving nations with Arctic interests.
“It’s an area of ongoing change that is seeing an expansion of commerce,” Westfall said. “More activity going on up there raises the potential for disasters, ships sinking or oil spills.”
The U.S. military divides the Arctic region between two unified commands, Westfall said. U.S. Northern Command oversees Arctic frontiers in Alaska and Canada while EUCOM covers six Arctic nations within its area of responsibility. Any disaster, whether natural or manmade, might require EUCOM to support partner nations’ request for help, Westfall said.
Building strong relationships and creating informal bonds between officers within respective commands is one way EUCOM is working now to support any future contingency. In early September, Ambassador Lawrence Butler, EUCOM’s civilian deputy, met with fellow U.S. ambassadors in Reykjavik, Iceland, to discuss diplomatic strategy in Nordic areas. More specifically, Butler said, they talked about how U.S. and allied militaries might support response missions.
“How will nations respond to a maritime crisis? How will resources from the Danes, Russians, Icelanders and Norwegians be pooled to respond,” Butler said. “To have things in place, we have to start planning today.”
Response capabilities were tested during SAREX 2012. Crews from two U.S. C-130 aircraft -- one from the 109th Airlift Wing, an Air National Guard unit based at Stratton ANG Base, NY and another from the US Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, NC -- were among those who took part in the weeklong mission that concluded Sept. 14. In August, during Northern Eagle, the USS Farrgut, a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, trained together with a Russian destroyer and Norwegian coast guard vessel.
Watching closely is Westfall, 46, originally from San Francisco, Calif., who has spent 18 years afloat his nearly three decades of Coast Guard service, often commanding ships on missions for law enforcement missions, navigation aid maintenance and domestic ice breaking. He began Arctic studies last year at the National War College. In early September, he travelled to Bodo, Norway – about 1,100 miles north of EUCOM’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany and 750 miles north of the Oslo, the Norwegian capital.
There he attended the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable. Senior officers meet annually in an informal setting. Throughout the year, staff officers use working groups to address issues that arise, Westfall said.
“It’s a forum to share ideas, focusing on communications amongst security forces, domain awareness and just knowing what is going on the Arctic with the increase in traffic,” Westfall said. “It also offers an opportunity for the U.S. military to cooperate with Russia and other partners and allies in areas of common interest.”
Maj. Gen. Mark O. Schissler, EUCOM’s strategy and policy division director, took part in the event, which also included representatives Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Schissler said the roundtable was a good idea that should be continued.
“Arctic nations still have a long way to go in addressing communication and maritime domain awareness issues,” Schissler said. “The ASFR is a collective step in the right direction.”