By Coalition Task Force SENTINEL Public Affairs
Confidence in a rules-based international system is essential to the stability of the global economy. Without it, commerce could not flow as freely as necessary to keep up with the world’s demand. For this reason, eight partner nations work together within the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) to cultivate that confidence in the Middle East region. Partner nations include Albania, Bahrain, Estonia, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States.
Serving as the operational arm of IMSC is Coalition Task Force (CTF) Sentinel, a group of 85 staff members created to deter state-sponsored malign activity throughout the Middle East region’s international waters. Over half of the CTF Sentinel staff are from the United States, and 55 of those are mobilized Selected Reserve (SELRES) Sailors, providing operational support in keeping sea lines of communication open for business.
A primary component of CTF Sentinel’s collaboration is key leader engagements, or KLEs. Responsibility for planning, coordinating and executing the frequent KLEs falls to Navy Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Kate Gardener.
Gardener performs her KLE role in addition to serving as the command’s protocol officer and planner of multiple major command evolutions; however, she says her KLE responsibilities are the highlight of her assignment.
“Interacting with foreign navies and being in the room during many of these high-level talks is simply inspiring,” she said.
Transitioning to the Navy Reserve after more than eight years on active duty, Lt. Cmdr. Morgan Hill, CTF Sentinel’s future operations lead, has seen her command’s international presence through her recent travels to Souda Bay, Crete, Djibouti and Mozambique.
“The Navy has been a part of my life, my identity and soul since I left for college at the U.S. Naval Academy over 10 years ago,” she said. “Sentinel’s mission is unlike any I've ever been a part of — in that we are directly affecting global commerce by providing reassurance to the merchant community in strategic chokepoints like the Strait of Hormuz. Some days I have to take a pause to realize how cool my job is and how unique of a position I’m in. Who else can say that they sit in meetings with people from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates on a weekly basis?”
CTF Sentinel’s joint force efforts to monitor and provide support to merchant shipping is integral to the mission and is the primary task of Quartermaster 3rd Class Alesha Greene as a CTF Sentinel Maritime Trade Officer (MTO).
“After working here for six months, I can see how much we are needed,” Greene said. “It feels good to be part of something purposeful and that causes tangible change in the world.”
As a Reserve Sailor, Greene says the experiences she’s had overseas with CTF Sentinel have been eye opening.
“What a learning experience this assignment has been,” Greene said, “I can see how we all play a part in the big picture of how merchant shipping affects the world.”
Lt. Cmdr. Danielle Centeno provides leadership to the CTF Sentinel’s MTOs and serves as a vital connection between the task force and the maritime shipping industry as the MTO lead. She is also one of the few CTF Sentinel officers who commissioned through the Navy Reserve’s Strategic Sealift Officer program, bringing essential experience with the maritime industry to the team.
“My biggest contribution has been raising the shipping industry’s awareness of IMSC’s mission,” she said.
Knowing where merchant vessels are, where they are going, and when they will arrive is central to the MTO team’s success. For U.S. flagged merchant vessels, one important source of information is through U.S. Naval Forces Central Command’s (NAVCENT) Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS).
Now on his sixth assignment in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Navy Reserve Chief Operations Specialist Timoteo Gonzales initially worked at NCAGS as a maritime domain awareness analyst and senior enlisted leader. He now serves as the leading chief petty officer for CTF Sentinel’s operations department.
“This is a very necessary mission,” said Gonzales. “It’s in the international community’s interest to ensure that this mission of partnership is pursued.”
Alongside Gonzales, Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Peter Jackson also works closely with the NAVCENT team to analyze the information space to effectively support decision makers with timely and relevant input.
“The value of the knowledge gained here is hard to imagine,” Jackson said. “Considering the qualifications, training, certifications and experience in working with coalition nations afforded to us on this assignment — it is mind blowing.”
One of the most active parts of developing CTF Sentinel partnership capabilities has been through Sentinel Shield naval exercises. The exercises are designed to allow coalition partner navies to train together with realistic scenarios simulating state-sponsored behavior that threatens freedom of navigation and how they would respond with direction from headquarters
Lt. Cmdr. Martin Schricker serves as the command’s exercise planner and accounts for all of the details from the creation of the exercise concept of operations to the post-exercise wrap ups.
Schricker said his experiences as an exercise planner has shaped his understanding of the importance of having freedom of navigation in critical areas.
“Our global economy depends on that,” Schricker said. “That’s why these exercises are so important. We must be ready to work together at a moment’s notice.”
In addition to the regular exercises, Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Corey, CTF Sentinel’s training department head, coordinates frequent and rigorous training evolutions.
“Forming watch team cohesion in this multi-national, multi-organizational, and multi-industrial environment, considering the military and the merchant industries, requires robust training with buy-in from every watch stander,” said Corey. “Through our frequently held integrated training scenarios, we have to align cultures, mindsets and approaches to standing watch across our distinct partner nation perspectives to ensure we are all trained, drilled and ready.”
Before taking the reins of the training program, Corey qualified as one of the CTF Sentinel’s group watch officers, who provide oversight on the watch floor to enforce the commander’s intent and inform the commander’s decision-making.
“It has been challenging and rewarding as we all work to appreciate cross-cultural dynamics inherent to this watch floor, being sure to not only respect differences in perspective, but leverage them,” said Corey.
All of the training and coordination that CTF Sentinel’s Reserve team provides, supports the commands overwatch of approximately 200 merchant vessel transits a month through the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait — translating to more than 18,000,000 tons of merchant shipping combined carrying capacity traveling within the region monthly.
In March, 2021, before transferring command of CTF Sentinel to Royal Navy Commodore Adrian Fryer, Royal Navy Commodore Craig Wood explained that with support from the Navy Reserve team, Sentinels will continue to safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the Middle East region.
“The quality of the U.S. contribution to CTF Sentinel’s mission cannot be overstated. This is truly a special group of professionals and it has been a high honor to be a part of their synergistic momentum as our coalition makes a major contribution to the sustainment of the global economy.” said Wood. “When it comes to employing Reserve forces, this is what 'good' looks like.”