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NEWS | Sept. 12, 2022

5th Fleet Reserve Sailors complete maritime operations center exercise in Norfolk

By Cmdr. Michael P. Cody

Members of the 10 Navy Reserve units that support U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and U.S. 5th Fleet completed a maritime operations center exercise Sept. 8-11 in Norfolk -- the third in a series of exercises developed by Reserve Sailors and hosted by Naval Warfare Development Command (NWDC).

By preparing Reserve Sailors to meet the responsibilities of their mobilization billets, the exercises fulfill the intent of the Navy Reserve Fighting Instructions – Design, Train, Mobilize and Develop – envisioned by Vice Adm. John Mustin, Chief of the Navy Reserve.

The fighting instructions call for designing a force that contributes operationally in a high-end fight, trains urgently toward that purpose and mobilizes rapidly with a prolonged conflict in mind. It also call for developing a force with what Adm. Mike Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, terms the “three C’s”: character, competence and connections.

“The creation and continuation of the exercise series speaks to force design and training,” said Rear Adm. Robert Nowakowski, NAVCENT/U.S. 5th Fleet Vice Commander. “While an exercise is in progress, participants grapple with the kinds of problems they would see if mobilized. “

5th Fleet’s iteration of the exercise provided a forcing function, keeping the competency and training levels high for Reserve Sailors. The exercise also provided opportunities for mentorship and to build relationships.

The three C’s were evident on the morning of Sept. 10, as participants spoke honestly and openly with one another about ways to improve their performance and the exercise itself.

As a result, “I know who people are,” Nowakowski said. “They’re not afraid to say something to me.”

Ultimately, as Navy Reserve Sailors transition between numbered Fleets, they apply common principles and share best practices. “The maritime operations center exercises will strengthen the entire Navy,” said Nowakowski.

“It’s much bigger than 5th Fleet,” he said. “When we show up to the game, we’re warfighter-ready for the commander, whatever the fleet might be. We’re showing up on day one, ready, rather than showing up and saying we’ll be ready in two weeks.”

In 2021, the 5th Fleet Reserve units laid the design groundwork for the exercise, reorganizing to align with their mobilization billets and the active staff.

“Now, we’re organized the way they are in their maritime operations center,” said Capt. Patrick Newbrough. Newbrough became a commanding officer of a new headquarters unit in October, whose mobilization billet is maritime operations center director, or MOC-D.

In April, the planners at NWDC said they had time available for an exercise in September. Newbrough and the other unit leaders accepted the offer and consulted with their active counterparts on training objectives and materials.

“The exercise design phase alone delivered value,” said Newbrough. “The active staff members provided us with the most up-to-date instructions to make sure that we were using the real procedures and the real processes that they follow.”

From there, Navy Reserve Sailors on active duty at NWDC generated a battle problem tailored to the objectives and the area of operations.

“We had to take a look at what’s going on in 5th Fleet, the missions 5th Fleet does ­– and what others don’t,” said Cmdr. Sean Marvin, the leader of the group.

Fitting the training objectives into a four-day window was a particular challenge, but the goal for participants was clear. Marvin said, “When they get activated and roll into a MOC, they know what the job is and how the job is done.”

The planners assembled classified materials, allowing participants to put theory into practice in ways they could not do at their Reserve centers. As much as possible, they assigned seats on the battle watch floor in Norfolk to match the layout in Bahrain.

As the exercise approached, planners engaged Senior Chief Operations Specialist Nathan Lerch, a member of the 5th Fleet operations unit at Navy Reserve Center Tampa, to fill in granular, fleet-specific details, such as daily intentions and messages from the battle watch captain to officers and enlisted members on the watch.

Noting the logistical and cost efficiencies of gathering related units in Norfolk, Lerch described himself as a fan of the exercise.

“My only complaint is that it’s not longer,” said Lerch. “Everyone participating in the exercise has said it’s as realistic as you can get without being there.”

During the exercise, multiple storylines required participants to respond by specialty and collectively as events unfolded. The standard procedures were carried out by intelligence and logistics officers. Crisis action and operational planning teams formed, then evaluated and presented courses of action.

Among the participants was Operational Specialist 2nd Class Emily Miller, cross-assigned out of the 5th Fleet operations unit to a unit supporting littoral combat ships.

Miller, who has never served on active duty, used the Global Command and Control System-Maritime to manage the common tactical picture during the exercise.

As the culminating event unfolded, she ensured that each of the participants saw accurate locations for every platform of interest.

 “This was my first opportunity to get hands-on with one of these systems, so it was a really good learning experience,” Miller said.

The payoff: If mobilized, she would do essentially the same job at sea.