Services train as joint battle staff at sea

USS MOUNT WHITNEY, Mediterranean Sea — About 150 U.S. personnel left their Italian headquarters and boarded the command ship USS Mount Whitney to conduct joint task force training.

The at-sea JTF training that took place in early February is part of the ongoing warfare certification process that will culminate this September during exercise Austere Challenge.

"This training is another step in our staff process to be certified as a joint task force headquarters for full deployment," said Navy Rear Adm. Carl Mauney, director of U.S. Naval Forces Europe Plans and Operations. "We do very little anymore as a solitary service at sea, so having the ability to stand up as a JTF is critical to our future success to plan and execute joint operations."

Working with U.S. European Command teammates from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and special operations units, the Navy staff is combining capabilities from the different services under the JTF umbrella to create an effect that is greater than the sum of the component parts.

"We live in an unstable world, and crises emerge all the time, particularly in the EUCOM area of responsibility," said Army Maj. Craig Linderman, a joint planner. "[Naval Forces Europe] is looked at as one of the core JTF headquarters within the EUCOM combatant commander's toolkit to resolve these crises.

"Some of these crises we may see coming months in advance, but many times, such as noncombatant evacuation operations, we may get little to no warning," he said. "We have to be able to stand up this headquarters at sea on a platform like Mount Whitney and be able to operate efficiently and effectively within a given set of days. That doesn't happen by accident — it happens with hard work, prior planning and training."

Part of the training also included four days of classroom instruction on effects-based operations prior to the underway.

Effects-base operations represent "a transformational way of thinking about our business," said Marine Lt. Col. Mark Felske, an expeditionary planner. "[It] allows us to plan first with the end goal in mind and a focus on the specific effects and objectives we are trying to achieve. It also allows us to assess how well we are doing at achieving those objectives. We used this underway period as the first opportunity to integrate the effects-based approach into our planning process."

Linderman said that while the training period was relatively short, it was valuable.

"I think it's been a good start," he said. "We are taking our existing joint standing operating procedures and trying to become more knowledgeable on how they work but, at the same time, improve them by integrating an effects-based approach."

Navy Cmdr. Roger Plasse, a joint planner, said that although there is much more work to do, the classroom and training are paying big dividends.

"This has been a very productive last couple of weeks because the concepts we learned in the classroom back in Naples were applied directly to the efforts that we had out here underway," Plasse said.

With this training period now behind them, the staff can now focus their attention on the next phase of Austere Challenge, a weeklong pier-side event aboard USS Mount Whitney in April.

U.S. Naval Forces Europe will provide the core of the joint headquarters staff, but about half of the personnel will come from the other services' active and reserve components in EUCOM, Plasse said.

"Our biggest challenge during future training periods remains synchronizing everybody into a cohesive unit," he said.

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