YORKTOWN, Va. - As Hurricane Sandy roared toward the Jersey Shore Oct. 28, Expeditionary Training Group (ETG) wrapped up its final certification exercise of the year, leading to Maritime Security Operations (Ready) certifications for four Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) units.
This was the first time ETG conducted a staff certification exercise for four units at one time.
NECC Integrated Exercise (NIEX) 13-1 was a live and synthetic, scenario-driven simulation designed to assess and certify Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 6, Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadrons (MSRON) 2 and 12, and Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 2 as ready to deploy overseas.
ETG conducted the exercise at two locations in Hampton Roads. MSRONs 2 and 12 and RIVRON 2 set up operations centers at Cheatham Annex on Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, Va.; EODMU 6 played virtually and constructively at Expeditionary Warfare Training Group, Atlantic (EWTGLANT), on Joint Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach.
Other NECC forces in the exercise included West Coast-based Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5, who participated remotely from their Port Hueneme headquarters, and cargo handlers from the 4th Navy Expeditionary Logistics Regiment (4th NELR) at Cheatham Annex.
“The most important thing about this exercise was integration,” said Capt. Michael Napolitano, ETG’s commanding officer. “It’s important that these guys learn how to operate together in the future, and we designed an exercise that gets as close as possible to how they’re actually going to operate in theater.”
These forces typically deploy to the Central Command area of responsibility to support the U.S. Fifth Fleet, ETG’s exercise designers built live, virtual and constructive scenarios based on situations Navy expeditionary forces have faced in the region. Designed with increasing complexity, the scenarios tested how well the training audience could plan and execute maritime security or EOD missions and run operations centers in a foreign country. Weaving so many commands into a number of escalating scenarios was a huge challenge for ETG.
“This is our most ambitious exercise yet,” said Cmdr. Paul Rufo, exercise lead and ETG’s assistant director of training. “We had to integrate the West Coast, merge the live and synthetic pictures into one COP (common operating picture), and role play as the NEF (NECC Expeditionary Force) headquarters staff, while being geographically dispersed across Hampton Roads. We’ve never done anything like this before.”
Hurricane Sandy was due to arrive in full force on day two of the four-day exercise. As bases in Hampton Roads started hunkering down for the storm, ETG’s leadership had to decide how long to continue the exercise, balancing the storm’s potential impact with the need to meet training objectives for the units to get certified for deployment.
They decided to compromise on the first day of the exercise as Hurricane Sandy’s winds started to pick up. The boats and tents set up at Cheatham Annex were taken down and secured, and those operation centers and planning cells moved into buildings at Cheatham or EWTGLANT.
“We had to consider safety as we planned our response to the storm,” said Rufo.
Once the staffs were safely inside, the exercise continued through day two, even as the outer fingers of the hurricane swept over Hampton Roads. The the storm intensified on day three. ETG’s leadership determined they had met enough training objectives to recommend certification and canceled the last two days of the exercise so participants could safely prepare for the storm.
Despite the storm, ETG met their objectives and still had time to test out a new exercise initiative. For the first time, they had Iridium Tracking Units installed on boats to add their movements to the live/synthetic COP and increase situational awareness throughout the NEF.
Expeditionary Training Group conducts staff training for NECC forces during the integrated phase of the Fleet Response Training Plan.