By Cmdr. Scot Cregan, U.S. Southern Command
Navy Reserve SOUTHCOM Headquarters Staff Reserve Sailors found an innovative solution to support the COCOM despite COVID-19 restrictions.
Since March of 2020, COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented “non-local” reservists from traveling to SOUTHCOM’s Doral, Fla., headquarters. Globally, restriction of movement (ROM) measures also severely limited support for planned exercises and operations throughout the region. In an effort to provide consistent, meaningful support to the COCOM, a cadre of Washington, DC based reservists found a “workaround” solution by providing support at SOUTHCOM’s liaison office in the Pentagon. These reservists, with collective knowledge and expertise in the Area of Responsibility (AOR), were able to participate in time-critical briefings and contribute to emerging requirements for analysis as well as the creation of information products.
“It was amazing to see what was ‘just an idea’ expressed in an e-mail turn into a robust augmentation at the SOUTHCOM Washington Field Office (WFO)," said Capt. Ben Foyer, commanding officer, Navy Reserve SOUTHCOM unit. "In addition, with a significant reduction in the requirements to support exercises, and the increased need for real world analysis during the Presidential transition, we were able to tailor the type of support provided exactly to the needs of the command. When we took a hard look at how we could best engage, it turns out our reservists actually increased our support level despite the pandemic travel restrictions. Further, we have learned how to effectively use remote tools to a much greater degree in order to contribute directly to the COCOM from DC or anywhere in the world.”
The support opportunity was the brainchild of Capt. Billy Hall, who was then serving as the unit’s executive officer. He first encountered the SOUTHCOM WFO while working as an Air Force civilian in the Pentagon and had even provided limited support on an ad hoc basis. Hall knew and had traveled for years with other DC area residents to SOUTHCOM. He recognized that the unusual geographic coincidence of these non-local Selected Reserves (SELRES) Sailors and the COVID travel restrictions provided a unique opportunity to increase the Navy Reserve footprint at the WFO exponentially.
“For the past year, our geographically dispersed reserve team has been able to provide direct support to SOUTHCOM from the Pentagon office," said Hall. "This has allowed our team to log onto our commands information systems, participate in secure videoconferences, and other meetings for operational coordination."
The Reserve support wouldn’t be possible without the invitation of the Washington Field Office Chief, Col. Adrian Bogart, whose Army Special Forces background prepared him for Joint Operations. As the WFO Chief, he served as a critical liaison in SOUTHCOM's gateway to the Department of Defense, Capitol Hill and throughout the larger Washington DC beltway.
Bogart said he was grateful for having Navy Reserve Sailors aboard to lend a hand.
“Our reserve team is invaluable to the COCOM Commander," said Bogart. "They surged with critical support during volatile times in the AOR, from humanitarian assistance and relief operations during Hurricanes Eta and Iota, to critical analysis of malign threat actors in the region, as well as the Presidential transition and Commander visits. Whether the reservist specializes in maritime operations, supply, medical, HR, public affairs or as a Foreign Area Officer (FAO), they all provide a unique perspective that’s valued by our Commander."
While many Navy Reserve Sailors have been able to support the WFO on site under stringent pandemic protocols, many have flexed their time providing open source analysis and participation in unclassified think tank and interagency working groups. For example, Lt. Cmdr. Marc Schron, assigned to the NR SOUTHCOM unit, provided critical support remotely and was recently awarded a Joint Service Achievement Medal for helping develop strategies and policies to align with DoD, COCOMs, and partners to advance SOUTHCOM Missions.
“The opportunity to leverage my civilian skills as a consultant, along with my experience as a Surface Warfare Officer has provided an opportunity for me to make a direct impact to the command,” said Schron.
Supporting SOUTHCOM from the Pentagon has been a success story not just for the Reserve team, but for SOUTHCOM staff. Another DC local, Cmdr. Paul Selby, said: “It’s amazing to log into SOUTHCOM systems and integrate with the HQ team in real time on Secure VTCs and Commander engagements. Working at the WFO allows us to support coordination with government agencies on policy development and execution to improve the overall U.S. security posture.”
Selby recently took over as the unit’s executive officer and is a business leader and cybersecurity analyst in the Washington, DC region.
SOUTHCOM’s Deputy Commander for Mobilization and Reserve Affairs, Maj. Gen. Rafael A. Ribas, has also been a critical element in the creation of this support arrangement.
"I am extremely proud of not only the 'Can Do' attitude of our reserve team, but also the force multiplying capabilities they bring in direct support of the Combatant Commander's theater campaign plan," said Ribas. "They bring unique skills and diverse backgrounds that really give us a competitive edge, whether they work in the public or private sectors. Our reserve component personnel are successfully fully integrated at every level of the command."