Our theme for BALTOPS 2016 was straightforward: “Baltic Unity and Strength bring Security.” “Unity,” though, is a word tossed around quite a bit without much thought given to the actual definition. So what unifies 15 Allied nations and 2 Partner nations in these Baltic Operations, and — now that BALTOPS is over—how is what we did here relevant to the problems Europe is facing today?
The strength of the assets represented in this year’s iteration of BALTOPS was evident from the earliest stages. Forty-three ships and submarines along with eight hundred troops from fifteen Allies and two Partners of NATO speak for themselves even when presented in the sterile form of a Power Point slideshow at a mid-planning conference. Once the ships were steaming in formation for the Photo Exercise (PHOTOEX) or deploying LCACs and AAVs to storm a beach, the message became even clearer. These force offerings showed a unity of resolve, a common purpose and commitment to security which will no doubt be a major theme within the upcoming Warsaw Summit. The nations of NATO are unified in their commitment to the defense of the whole.
Seven hundred troops from Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, and Finland made up the assault force. Within the short period of ten days they stormed the beaches three times, in three different countries. While talking to Marines of different nationalities it became clear to me that their perspective on unity was a little different; the unity they felt comes from relationships on a personal level. Parliaments and Congresses and Summits can talk about unity and friendship, but those friendships between military Allies and Partners are worked out in ships at sea and in the mud and sand ashore. There is a saying I heard once which I believe came from the British military, “We sweat in peace so we do not have to bleed in war.” We work hard now to be better prepared for anything that may come. In BALTOPS we are sweating together.
There is another sort of unity at work in BALTOPS and that is a unity of effort. BALTOPS 2016 is the largest live, NATO-led, joint air-maritime exercise in Northern Europe. At first that distinction may seem to contain a few too many qualifiers to actually be relevant. The level of integration, though, between the air, surface, and subsurface assets in this year’s exercise is really unprecedented in recent memory. BALTOPS 16 stressed complex coordination between units.
From waterspace and airspace management to radio communication, each piece of the puzzle had to fit together. First, the mine countermeasure vessels swept the operating areas to locate and neutralize any mine threats. Submarines and surface ships conducted anti-surface and anti-subsurface warfare to obtain local maritime superiority, protecting the high value units. Sailors and Marines boarded other surface vessels and searched for prohibited materials during Maritime Interdiction Operations. Ships assigned to the surface task units worked with friendly aircraft to provide air defense coverage over the high-value units.
The sequence of events was designed to be rigorous. The first landing in Hanko, Finland, was only one day after we sailed from Tallinn, Estonia. Training intensified as the forces in Sweden met opposition forces and prepared for the final exercise phase in Poland. I am continually impressed with the cohesion achieved in such a short time. Unity of effort is not just a plan. It is a common purpose that serves as guide when the plan falls to pieces.
Unity of effort is what allowed the forces from the seventeen participating nations to adapt and move forward. This unity is not built on common principles alone; it is not just built on friendships; it can be discussed at tabletop exercise, but it is really developed and put to the test in places like BALTOPS. Raw power is not enough to guaranty the security of the Alliance because that power can be misdirected. It is when power is guided by a common effort, each part working together, unified, that NATO really delivers on its obligations to defend peace in Europe.
The NATO Alliance and Europe in general is beset on all sides: a leadership in Russia that oddly seems more interested in burning than building bridges, a migrant crisis of epic proportions not seen since World War II, and barbarians that are not only at the gates but have actually come inside in the form of Daesh. The Baltic Sea is center stage for some of these challenges, while others are being played out in the Black Sea, Mediterranean, and greater Atlantic. The answers to each, though, are heavily dependent on the maritime domain.
Unity on the operational and tactical level is necessary to achieve the goals which have been agreed upon at the strategic level. If the Alliance is not unified, the message it sends is muddled and its strength, wasted. During BALTOPS 2016 we saw a force unified at every level. We honed our skills in amphibious, anti-submarine, anti-surface, and mine counter measure warfare and are now better prepared to ensure regional security in whatever way we might be needed. What we have done in the Baltic Sea for the last two weeks reverberates far beyond this body of water…even the Pacific. The ramifications reach every part of the Alliance.
“In the context of the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) challenge, does what we are seeing unfolding with BALTOPS represent a credible, operational scenario, really?” Mr. Nick Childs, of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, asked me this question last week in a phone interview via satellite while on board USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), the command ship for BALTOPS 2016. Great question! To answer it, you have to consider the elements of an adversary’s A2/AD strategy.
First of all, it is easier to keep someone out of an area in the maritime domain than it is gain access. The proliferation of asymmetric weapons systems, easily obtainable on the open arms market, exacerbate the problem. An A2/AD network may consist of a series of radars situated along a coastline to provide early warning and cueing to a variety of anti-ship cruise missiles with ranges far exceeding recognized territorial limits of 12 nautical miles. Likewise, we have seen a rise in asymmetric weapons systems such as diesel electric submarines, unmanned underwater vehicles, and “smart” mines that pose a significant and unseen threat in the underwater domain.
To get to at least one aspect of Nick’s question in the time allotted, I chose to focus on the proliferation of the mines as a pillar of A2/AD. I was reminded of a recent post in this venue by MNCS Jacob Mazurek: “Ten Mining Campaigns That Shaped Mine Warfare.”
In his piece, Senior Chief Mazurek states: “History tells a different story about naval mine warfare. When naval powers fight, mines can be a game changer. They can keep enemy warships locked in port, they can restrict an enemy’s movements, and they can destroy an enemy’s shipping. When the enemy depends on the sea for supplies, mines can be used to choke their industry and to drive them out of a war.” That is truly the essence of an A2/AD strategy.
While the threat of mines at sea may seem far, far away to the general public, the fact is that the danger is actually very close. In fact, right here in the Baltic Sea, there exists a host of historic minefields from World War I and World War II. Naval mining can happen everywhere from rivers to deep water, and in all kinds of environments. Should the enemy succeed in laying a major minefield, mine countermeasure (MCM) forces can expect to work for months or years clearing mines. In the course of long, dangerous operations, ships will be lost and the job will become much harder.
While practicing to deter future conflicts, the mine countermeasures portion of the BALTOPS has had the opportunity to clear both exercise and actual historic ordnance—real threats that are here right now. During a portion of BALTOPS 16, meant to simulate the clearing of a beach before an amphibious landing, German, Norwegian, and Estonian MCM units not only found the dummy mines intentionally laid for training, but also real-world historic unexploded ordnance including aircraft bombs, old maritime mines, an anti-submarine depth charge, and a torpedo.
Photos show that the weapons have remained largely intact for the better part of a century—a German commander joked that he immediately recognized the fine engineering of his countrymen from a different era. The observation articulates the progress we’ve made with allies and partners over the last six decades and displays ideals inherent in NATO. Now former belligerents are working together as Allies and Partners to dismantle the mines laid by both sides of past wars, practicing skills that will ensure the communication lanes are open for all in the Baltic Sea.
There is a saying in the mine warfare community: “Our wake is the fleet’s path . . .” MCM operations during BALTOPS 16 are no different. 15 MCM ships from 11 countries with over 700 sailors have worked diligently over the course of the first phase of this exercise to clear approximately 40 square nautical miles of water space leading up to planned large-scale amphibious operations. Clearing the path of mines is a critical precursor to mitigate risk of any naval operation, exercise or otherwise. We used some dummy mines in the simulation, but for the mine countermeasure vessels, this isn’t just an exercise…the consequences of overlooking historical ordinance could be very real indeed.
Mines are also an economic weapon. Often their desired effect is multi-faceted and not only the destruction or disabling of warships, but also the disruption of commercial shipping. NATO has been down this road before. During the 2011 Libya campaign, Gaddafi’s special forces sewed four mines in the approaches to the port of Misurata and closed the besieged city to humanitarian aid for two weeks as NATO mustered the right capability to eradicate the threat.
The technique was not sophisticated. The Libyans had no mine laying ship. They simply floated the Cold War era mines into position inside Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBS) and then the frogmen slashed the sides of the hulls to sink the boats and deploy the mines.
Now multiply those four mines by 2,500 and you have an idea of the known historical ordnance that remains in Baltic waters. Imagine what those four mines could do if placed somewhere like the Straits of Hormuz or Malacca or the Danish Straits and you get a sense of how integral BALTOPS MCM training is in defeating A2/AD strategies.
Mines protect coastlines and often fit into a country’s greater scheme of maritime defense in order to deny access to or control a region. Repeatedly, history has proven that due to their low cost, high availability, and deadly outcomes, mines are effective force multipliers and battle space shapers. Mine warfare has progressed significantly from the simplest contact mines; modern mines use acoustic, magnetic, and pressure sensors and can fire rockets or torpedoes against ships or submarines. Any future naval war will involve maritime mines. Minesweeping goes back to the basic functions of the Navy: keeping the sea lanes of communication open. It is my view that, as an Alliance, we cannot let the skills of mine warfare atrophy or it will be at our own peril.
For Minemen, it is not enough to have a myopic perspective on their warfare area. They must operate in conjunction with each phase of an operation. During BALTOPS, MCM is in lock-step with amphibious and surface warfare operations. Among the different disciplines, though, Mine Countermeasures is an underestimated warfare area. Within most navies around the world, mine warfare is a specialized career path, often undermanned. Mine countermeasure vessels are smaller and often overshadowed by their larger surface counterparts. The substantial MCM footprint at BALTOPS 2016 bucks this trend, representing the third biggest task group in the exercise. MCM must remain a critical element in our planning for any contingency operations worldwide.
MCM is an excellent example of how we are stronger together. By combining resources and dividing responsibilities the BALTOPS flotilla has been exponentially more effective than each unit would have been alone. Together, differences in expertise and budget difficulties are overcome, a simple but powerful example of the strength of the NATO Alliance and Partnerships.
The Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG-1) has been operating in these waters since its inception in 1973. As an example of the effectiveness of NATO MCM efforts in the Baltic, during the international NATO maneuver Open Spirit 2015, in which SNMCMG-1 participated, 172 mines were found and 38 countermined.
There work has continued as part of BALTOPS. I recently observed a demonstration of the MCM capabilities led by SNMCMG-1 and was blown away. The capabilities these ships bring to the fight are incredible—ships that practically hover over the water to reduce their pressure signature, unmanned drones as large as a small ship under computer control, electronic arrays, robots that can set underwater charges. The technology is being put to good use. When an officer of Danish command operating mine-hunting Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) was asked how often his ships found historical ordnance the answer was “every time we go out.”
Surveying the rugged coast of Finland, rocky beaches guarded by an army of small islands and towns once scarred by wars, I am reminded of the resilience and tenacity of the people who call this place home. These attributes were on dramatic display on the shores of Hanko, Finland today as Marines from five nations conducted their first of three amphibious landings. NATO’s inclusion of Finland and Sweden in the BALTOPS 2016 exercise as “Partnership for Peace” nations underscores the fact that their regional security interests in the Baltic are in sync with the 28 members of the Alliance.
Just two days ago on 4 June the exercise participants assembled as an entire group for the first time in Tallinn, Estonia, for the Pre-Sail Conference. On 5 June we set sail from Estonia. On 6 June we hit the beach running. . . Literally! The rapid assembly and deployment of forces in the first few days of BALTOPS 2016 is a powerful testament to the strength and agility of the Alliance. Even more striking is the longevity of the exercise. BALTOPS began in the 1970s as a U.S. exercise with U.S. assets affirming the right to sail in international waters. In the mid-1990s the focus shifted toward building trust with Partnership for Peace nations with the understanding that working together to enhance regional security is beneficial for every nation with interests in the Baltic Sea. In 2015 the exercise took an important step when, for the first time, it was planned and executed by a NATO headquarters and commanded by a NATO commander.
BALTOPS 2016 continues this trajectory today, emphasizing cooperation with full-Alliance members and aspiring partners. Of the nearly 550 marines landed on the Hanko beaches today, more than half were Finns and Swedes. And let me tell you, from their fierce looks I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of them.
Finland and Sweden are already closely integrated within the Swedish-Finish Naval Task Group (SFNTG); however, they do not have large amphibious assault ships. NATO provided the amphibious ship capability with USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and HNLMS Johan de Witt; Finland and Sweden provided over 300 Marines. For this day of BALTOPS 2016 (a day which happens to be Sweden’s National Day), it was as if NATO was participating in a Swedish-Finnish joint exercises rather than the other way around. To enhance the quality of training there was a great deal of cross-decking. When one Lance Corporal from Wyoming was asked what he thought of the Finnish assault craft that took his Band of Brothers to the beach, he answered, “Awesome,” and continued to describe the assault craft as “the fastest boat I’ve ever been on.” Others—Germans, Italians, Swedes, and Finns echoed this review of the opportunity to train together. On a personal level that’s what it’s all about—learning from one another and building lasting relationships.
Talking to the international contingent of young Marines after they charged ashore reminded me of photos of another amphibious assault seventy-two years ago on June 6, 1944, during Operation Overlord (D-Day). Today, our exercise was conducted in peacetime. The participants are well-trained. Many are veterans of BALTOPS 2015. In 1944, the Normandy landing was the beginning of the end of the last great powers war. Many of the soldiers storming Omaha, Juno, and Sword Beaches had never seen combat. Thousands died on both sides. We are training today so that scenes like those on the Normandy beachhead will never be repeated.
There is talk in the news about heightened tension between the West and Russia. I have written about it myself. Russian media has claimed that NATO’s posture is provocative, although we are a defensive alliance, and BALTOPS represents a series of naval maneuvers designed to hone the skills of the allies and partners to deter (or to prevent war). It is important to remember that Russian and Western interests are not mutually exclusive. We are both fighting terrorism in the Middle East. We have worked and trained together in the past and that sort of cooperation is possible in the future, but Russia is not participating in BALTOPS this year. Security, economic prosperity, and freedom of navigation in the Baltic are in the interest of all nations whose commercial ships plow these waters. That’s why NATO is here . . .
“The Battle of Anzio shows both the agony of command decisions and the heroism of men who carry them out.”
—Gen. William H. Simpson (U.S. Army, Ret.)
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. These words, spoken by the philosopher George Santayana, have enduring truth. Though daily operations claim much attention in a dynamic Europe-Africa theater, it is important to revisit the battles of the past, to contemplate the critical decisions made by military commanders, and reflect on the will of those who fought these battles. With Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2016, the premier Baltic maritime exercise that will feature amphibious landings in Finland, Sweden, and Poland, just around the corner, the staff ride was especially fitting as we applied the lessons learned from Anzio to our final exercise PLANORD.
There is no substitute for walking the beachhead like those who came before us. More than 50 members of my U.S. 6th Fleet staff and I conducted a Staff Ride in early May of Anzio and the battle fought there during World War II, code-named Operation Shingle. We visited X-ray beach and the Sicily-Rome Cemetery, incorporating stories of bravery along the way.
Anzio native Alfredo Rinaldi is a living history of the standoff at the beachhead in Anzio and was the cornerstone of this staff ride. The only way to understand these battles is to step in the shoes of those that have gone before—and hear directly about what they experienced. And Alfredo gave us that essence in a truly touching way.
In 1944, Alfredo was an adventurous soul, a 16-year-old with an insatiable desire to live all that life had to offer. To him, in the thralls of a German occupation, war was a playground, an open door for new experiences. Alfredo Rinaldi and the many residents of the Italian seaside town of Anzio were relocated to Rome when it became obvious that the shorelines were going to become battlegrounds. Alfredo became sort of a transient in Rome, a teenage wanderlust hoping to see action and aimlessly roaming the cobbled streets of Rome in search of it. He was lucky to avoid the ranks of the German Army, apparently because he was young and scrawny; his brother had been drafted into the Wehrmacht, but he deserted and was hiding somewhere in Italy. And then the news came in that the Americans [and British too] had landed at Anzio.
With the Allied Italy campaign at a standstill, Allied Forces struggling to gain ground up the Boot, an amphibious operation—Operation Shingle—was hatched to land behind enemy lines. On Jan. 22, 1944, at an H-hour of 0200, a combination of U.S. Army, British Army, and British Special Forces came across a 15-mile stretch of beach between Anzio and Nettuno.
As the reports flooded the hopeful Roman populace, vibrant with excitement that liberation was at their doorstep, Alfredo chose to start marching toward Anzio, a 20-kilometer journey roiled with barbed wire, snipers and German booby traps. He left in the early morning and arrived late that night, somehow steering clear of German munition dropped from above and well-laid land mines. Alfredo’s first contact with Allied Forces was with an African American U.S. army soldier who said, “What in the world are you doing here kid?,” and ultimately gave Alfredo a ride to Anzio in his jeep. Alfredo told us that until this point in his life, he did not realize that America included “people of color” and that this man had changed his life forever . . . Along the way, Alfredo saw his family’s abandoned house, unscathed despite the wreckage from the German air bombing campaign, elevating his mystical belief in America and its forces even more.
Alfredo ended up introducing himself to a group of soldiers, an infantry company, and instantly befriended them. Without any formal paperwork or agreement, he was essentially enlisted. The soldiers told him it was unsafe to for him to go back to Rome, and he preferred to stay anyway. And so he became their translator and their ‘mascot,’ a cheerful soul in a grim and beaten war.
Alfredo retells his story of those days on the beach in great detail. He remembers crouching in what where manmade fox holes as shells from “Anzio Annie,” the German 218-ton railway gun, pounded the beach. He describes hearing the whistling sound of the big rounds as they screeched by his makeshift bunker.
Alfredo was most likely the only Italian patriot embedded in an American unit, but he was not the only one from a fractured Europe to join the ranks for the Allies. Gunnar Erik Mettala was a Finnish-born U.S. Army combat engineer with the 345th Engineer General Service Regiment and the grandfather of my Deputy N6 Cmdr. Erik Pittman. Gunnar left Finland for the United States just before Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union invaded Finland in what was then known as the Winter War in 1939. He would join the U.S. army shortly after immigrating, enlisting in 1941, around the age of 23.
Gunnar landed on Anzio the second day of Operation Shingle landing with the 36th Combat Engineers and alongside the 45th Infantry Division. From the landing until the German counter attack on Feb.11, Gunnar’s Treadway Company was engaged in repairs near the port. He would later pass on to his son, who passed on to Erik: “Every day the German Luftwaffe would strafe and bomb the port; every day we’d rebuild and resurface the docks and the roads leading to the docks. Such was the tit-for-tat, hold-your-ground fighting that was the essence of a long period of entrenchment at Anzio.”
Gunnar was wounded after taking machine gun fire to his thighs, as he and others of his company were pushed to the front lines to defend the Allies extended perimeter from German counter attack. He recovered and would serve out the rest of the war in Allied Forces Headquarters in Naples as a staff judge advocate—ironically in the same place his grandson would serve 70 years later…
Despite the attrition faced by Treadway Company and a handful of other companies on the front lines during the initial German counter attack, four months passed with neither side giving or getting an inch. An Allied breakthrough occurred on May 23, 1944, in an operation known as Operation Diadem. While a combination of forces from Britain, Canada, Poland, and the U.S. broke through the Gustav Line, the United States’ VI Corps, controlled by 5th Army, took advantage of a reeling German force to race somewhat unfettered to Rome.
Meanwhile, our man Alfredo traveled with his unit, returning to his exiled home of Rome to raucous cheers from fellow Italians. Alfredo lived a storybook life from there, transitioning from military service to become a driver/caretaker at the American cemetery in Nettuno, constructed to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Italian campaign. From there, he drove buses for ten years, then opened up a photography business with his son, and ended up returning to the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery as an official photographer, where he met then President George H.W. Bush during the cemetery’s annual Memorial Day commemoration.
Alfredo, now 88 and retired, continues to come every Memorial Day to the commemoration at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery at Nettuno. And this is where I first met him and became enchanted with his story, just as those Army men were enchanted with him in 1944. Alfredo still has that spark in his eye and spring in his step.
Walking through the cemetery—either on Memorial Day or just a beautiful spring day in southern Italy as was the case for our staff ride—one is reminded of the sacrifices made on behalf of freedom. The cemetery sits in the zone of advance of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division as part of Operation Shingle. The perfectly cut lawn now dotted with headstones sits beneath a mountaintop – the same perched position that allowed the Germans to hold so tightly to position with their counter attacks.
There are nearly 7,861 Americans memorialized in the Nettuno cemetery, a majority from the landings on Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio.
During our time at the cemetery, my deputy Executive Assistant, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Tony Bates had the privilege of reading the citation of Sgt. Sylvester Antolak, who heroically stormed a German machine gun nest on day two of the Anzio invasion, racing into enemy fire despite warning from his own troops. His heroics allowed the Allies to secure a perimeter and save countless others.
Tony is sixty years removed from these men but is a living hero in his own right. He was an advisor team leader for the Afghan National Army serving in Sangin district of Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2011 working to equip Afghan forces to defend their homeland from the Taliban. Much of the work was patrolling and clearing neighborhoods of the Taliban, while working to build trust from communal leaders. From their Forward Operating Base in Sangin, they would often experience Taliban machine gun fire but withstood multiple ambushes through determination and combat skill. Improvised explosive devices were a common tactic used by the Taliban in this time as Marines and Afghan troops would set off IEDs while conducting routine patrols or even in the vicinity of where kids were playing, as it was common for children to lay parts and pieces of the IEDs. Tony’s unit discovered the maker of these IEDs in a remote village in Sangin and sought to apprehend him. During that mission, Tony stepped on an IED, which resulted in serious injury and his left leg being amputated below the knee. Tony was awarded the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor device for combat action and Purple Heart for his resolve in leading those Afghan forces, and he continues to serve with the utmost pride and honor.
We started the staff ride at X-ray beach and finished at with lunch at a restaurant that sits beside the beach, a picturesque spot where the waves ever-so-calmly splash over the rocks and sand. Standing there, looking out on the beach of Anzio with Alfredo brings so many thoughts to mind. You imagine each Soldier coming across the beach, uncertain if they’d immediately take enemy fire or if death lay over the horizon.
For my friend Alfredo, he considers himself—and rightly so—a U.S. Army World War II veteran. His patriotism is remarkable for someone that doesn’t claim any official nationality to America. As we part ways, he extends a sentimental, “God bless America.” We in America have come to make this saying cliché but I can tell that Alfredo truly means it, a reflection of the appreciation that he and thousands of other Italians expressed as they were liberated from Fascist and Nazi hands.
The courage of those that took up the call for freedom on the beach of Anzio, and so many other beaches across Europe and the Pacific, should never be forgotten. So many, like Sgt. Antolak paid the ultimate sacrifice, and for this, we must continue to pay homage to their legacy of heroism. As we always do, this Memorial Day, we remember . . .
In 2008, just before the official stand-up of the new Combatant Command in Stuttgart, Germany, I listened to General “Kip” Ward, AFRICOM’s first Commander, discuss his first trip around the continent to talk to key leaders of African nations, militaries, and government organizations like the African Union. He made an important observation during this presentation that I never forgot.
I’ll paraphrase his comments as follows: He said, you know, we in the military have a lot of acronyms and terms. We just throw them out in conversation and expect everyone to get it . . . But you have to be careful what you say and understand the full impact of your words. When I met people and told them I was the incoming Commander of AFRICOM and my “AOR” would include 53 African countries, the first question was, “What’s an AOR?” Well, it’s my Area of Responsibility he said, to which African leaders responded, “Who’s Area of Responsibility? Yours . . . or ours?” There’s a lot to think about here in the way we approach partnerships.
Likewise we have another favorite acronym in our military vernacular known as ASAP—As Soon As Possible! A versatile term . . . I’ve been using it all my life, and if you’ve served in the military I suspect you have too. On the other hand, ASAP means something different to our African partners. The African Union interprets the acronym ASAP to mean: “African Solutions for African Problems.” This is not to suggest that Africans want to solve their problems and challenges in isolation. Rather, I believe that African leaders would prefer to cultivate partnerships with the international community in order to explore solutions to African problems.
And so, under the leadership of AFRICOM, the Commander Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) has endeavored to assist our African partners through joint programs such as the Africa Partnership Station (APS), the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Program (AMLEP), and our signature series of exercises around the four quadrants of the African continent known as the “Express” series.
Having had the benefit of hindsight during my time as the Deputy Commander U.S. 6th Fleet from 2010 to 2012, I can tell you that my observations of the progress made from 2010 until my arrival as Commander 6th Fleet and Deputy Commander NAVAF in 2014 has been like night and day.
Africa is a continent that includes about 35 percent of the world’s land mass and during my previous assignment, the African Partnership Station was frequently frustrated by the phenomenon of “sea blindness,” or an underappreciation for the importance of the maritime domain. Africa, after all is a big island surrounded by water and although we still have much work to do, I don’t hear that term as much anymore. Instead, I hear the term “sea vision” as applied to our work with African navies and coast guards.
The most recent example of our work together culminated just last week in the opening ceremony of Obangame/Saharan Express (OE/SE) 2016. This is the first year the two exercises were combined into one larger exercise. Previously, Saharan Express focused on the waters from Senegal to Guinea, and Obangame Express was from the coast of Côte d’Ivoire to Angola.
Creating a multi-national exercise with 32 participating nations allowed us to challenge ourselves to practice the zone framework outlined by the Yaoundé Code of Conduct. The Senegalese Navy hosted the main OE/SE opening ceremony in Dakar, with local ceremonies held in other participating countries. For OE/SE 2016, service members from Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States joined 21 West African nations for the 10 day exercise.
This was my first trip to Senegal, and I was reminded of the incredible land mass of Africa as I flew from Naples to Dakar for hours over the vast, red sands of the Sahara Desert. The historic nature of the ceremony was palpable as senior leaders addressed the audience, U.S. Navy Band members played alongside Senegalese musicians, and national media asked questions about the nature of our relationship.
In fielding the reporters’ questions, Admiral Cissoko and I both underscored the fact that it takes teamwork to counter piracy, stop illicit trafficking, and combat illegal fishing, and teamwork is a huge part of OE/SE. The word “Obangame” actually means “togetherness” in the Central African Fang language. Like any good team, the earlier we start working together, and the more we practice together, the more proficient we become.
Africa Partnership Station and Obangame/Saharan Express are nothing more than an extension of the Global Network of Navies. Our work is made easier by relationships established in our Coalition Force Maritime Commander’s Conference (CFMCC) run by the Naval War College and the Gulf of Guinea Conference recently held by the Secretary of the Navy in Annapolis Maryland for senior African naval leaders. Other relationships were revealed and reinforced during this opening ceremony. In Dakar, I met a Senegalese Officer who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1992, and now serves as the Chief of Logistics for the Senegalese Navy. He was a classmate of my Chief Engineer when I was in command and the two men had served in the same company in Annapolis. Both had maintained a deep and abiding friendship.
The Senegalese recommended that we visit Gorée Island before our departure. President Obama and his family had visited this place, which was the last stop in Africa for men, women and children forcibly taken from their homes and sent to America during the slave trade. It was a sobering experience, but just before departure, the head of the port authority approached me and wished me well. He was a retired Senegalese naval officer, who had also attended the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. We found common ground in our shared experience as well as our common interest in security and stability.
Indeed, with 52 ships, 13 aircraft and more than 1,000 people participating in Obangame/Saharan Express 2016, we were determined to improve interoperability in order to enhance African maritime security and regional economic stability. OE/SE 2016 is the largest maritime exercise ever held Africa.
We’ve come a long way since the Express series exercises began in 2011 and we’ll continue this commitment to our African partners for years to come. While my time in Senegal was short, Commodore Heidi Agle, Commander Task Force 63, positioned herself in Cameroon to supervise the operational and tactical aspects of the exercise from the Maritime Operations Center in Douala and onboard the Expeditionary Patrol Vessel, USNS Spearhead (T-EPF-1). I asked Commodore Agle to share her perspective with you as well.
From Commodore Heidi Agle, Officer-in-Charge of Exercise:
I came to U.S. Naval Forces Africa after serving four and a half years in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations where I worked frequently with island nations that had unilateral control of their borders. The area still had territorial disputes, but individual nations exercised great autonomy within their territorial waters and economic exclusion zones. When I first started working with West African countries, I quickly realized how close the Gulf of Guinea nations are to each other, both geographically and economically. Their proximity makes regional cooperation essential as they work toward greater economic viability.
There is too much shared space among too many countries for conversations not to occur on a daily basis. In the main OE/SE 2016 exercise hub, Douala, Cameroon, I observed these necessary country-to-country conversations during the exercise and am encouraged by the commitment of their leadership to continue this interaction long after the exercise ends.
My Cameroonian counterpart, navy Capt. Sylvestre Fonkoua, gave me a tour of his Douala-based maritime operations facility. I was most impressed by the progress they had made in reducing the zone’s illicit maritime activity in just a few years. In 2009, Zone D recorded 40 incidents of piracy attacks. The Zone D navies of Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and São Tomé/Príncipe then set up a maritime operations center in Douala and committed ships to provide maritime security in their combined waters 24/7, 365 days a year, with communications readily available among all participating militaries and government agencies. In 2015, they recorded only two incidents, proving the effectiveness of their information sharing and teamwork.
“It is obvious that asymmetric threats such as piracy are likely to move from one maritime border to another, and the seas are so wide that this kind of dynamic threat can’t be addressed by only one country,” said Fonkoua. “That means that we cannot overcome these scourges alone.”
The Gulf of Guinea has almost reached a positive tipping point; they are poised to exponentially grow and progress. In support of their vision, executing OE/SE helps the region toward its goal of effectively policing its own waters.
A recent regional success is the rescue of the pirated fuel vessel, M/T Maximus in February. Ghanaians and Americans were patrolling Ghanaian waters aboard expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) as part of a real-world Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership Operation, when they were tasked to locate a suspected pirated vessel. The Ghanaian-American team found M/T Maximus and relayed the location to the maritime operations center in Ghana.
Eight nations helped track the suspect vessel as it transited southwest through the Gulf of Guinea. When the ship entered the waters of São Tomé/Príncipe, São Tomé coordinated with the Nigerian Navy, who conducted the first ever opposed boarding by a West African Navy. Nigeria and São Tomé have a maritime agreement giving Nigeria the authority to conduct law enforcement activities in São Tomé waters.
The Nigerian Navy re-captured the vessel, rescued the hostages, in the process killing one pirate and taking the remaining pirates into custody. This joint operation, morphed into a successful, multi-national, real-world counterpiracy mission, and clearly demonstrates how working together across cultural lines, defending the sea-lanes leads to maritime security. This is the application of African Solutions to African Problems in its truest form.
The Navy’s new “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” was released for public dissemination in January 2016. Upon its public unveiling at the Navy Flag and Senior Executive Service (SES) gathering in Wash., DC, CNO John Richardson was quick to explain that this is not ‘my’ Design, it’s yours . . . the ‘Fleet’s’ Design . . . take it and run with it!
The fourth Line of Effort in our Design is to “Expand and strengthen our network of partners.” This is further defined as: Deepen operational relationships with other services, agencies, industry, allies and partners – who operate with the Navy to support our shared interests.
So, how are we going to do that? There are several avenues of approach, but let me articulate one particular idea—leveraging the Olmsted Scholar Program.
For more than 50 years, this prestigious program has partnered with DoD to educate young officers in foreign language fluency and foreign cultures, which are becoming more and more important in today’s world.
With the selection of the 57th Olmsted scholar class in March 2015, 618 scholars have completed, are completing or are preparing for two years of study abroad. Their studies to date have been in 40 languages, in 202 different foreign universities, spanning 60 countries worldwide.
I was privileged to participate in the program in 1987 at the University of Strasbourg, France, the birth place of the European Union. I have been a strong advocate for the program since my matriculation, but I have also opined that although it is one of the best graduate education programs available for young officers, it is not as widely known as it should be and therefore some highly qualified and career motivated officers may not be taking advantage of such an opportunity.
That is apparently changing for the better and I credit the CNO, the Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP), the Naval Education and Training Professional Development and Technology Center (NETPDTC), and the leadership of the Olmsted Foundation and its strong alumni association for the increase in Navy participation over the last year. The Olmsted Foundation Board of Directors just selected the new Olmsted Scholar Class of 2017: 6 Navy, 5 Army, 5 USAF and 2 Marines. A banner year for the Navy and Marine Corps including four submariners, one SWO and one EOD officer. According to the Olmsted Foundation, the quality of Navy applicants was just that good! It is my sincere hope that next year, we’ll see an even broader distribution of Navy scholars among ALL the warfare specialties.
So why is this so important and what linkage does the Olmsted Scholar program have to the “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority? Well, here’s my two cents worth: like Cecil Rhodes, founder of the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, whose goal was to promote leadership marked by public spirit and good character, and to “render war impossible” by promoting friendship between the great powers, Major General George Olmsted, USMA Class of ’22, had a similar vision when he said that “the world’s greatest leaders must be educated broadly.” But General Olmsted’s legacy and generous endowment to establish the Olmsted Scholar program is distinguishable from the Rhodes Scholarship because it is designed only for people in uniform. Throughout his active duty service in both WWII and the Korean War, General Olmsted learned that understanding foreign cultures could be an asymmetric advantage that would lead to friendships, partnerships and alliances — especially in times of crisis. Furthermore, I believe he subscribed to the philosophy of Sun Tzu: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. . .” Understanding our allies and partners is one thing; understanding peer competitors and potential adversaries is equally as important prior to the outbreak of conflict. In fact, understanding your adversary might avoid mistakes and miscalculation, thereby avoiding conflict.
So where do you get this type of situational awareness? As attractive as American graduate schools can be, there is no substitute for immersion in a foreign culture and study aboard. But who is the “training audience?” What a great military phrase you hear aboard ship and ashore in our training programs Navy-wide. The training audience for the Olmsted Scholarship program is YOU—yes YOU, the Lieutenants in the Fleet! If you ask people who work for me, they’ll tell you they hear some distinct mantras, often repeated over and over again like a broken record. One of these mantras is “Empower the Lieutenants!” In reply, I sometimes hear that a Lieutenant is a small fish in a big ocean; so what do you want us to do? Those who ask that question usually get a passionate response from me along the following lines: “John F. Kennedy was a Lieutenant on PT-109 and look what he did during WWII; so was John Kerry in Vietnam! Every Department Head on my fast attack submarine was a second tour Lieutenant—they ran the ship and stood Command Duty Officer underway on deployment on the “pointy end of the spear!” Lieutenants have energy, Lieutenants are malleable, Lieutenants are intelligent and they are “current”—i.e. they have the most recent educational experience and have been exposed to the latest theories swirling around in the academe–as compared to those of us who have been out of school for many years. Empower yourself . . . educate yourself! Go for broke! The Olmsted Scholarship program is a stepping stone to empowerment. Apply now, you won’t regret it!
Let me give you some examples of how you can put this education to work in support of the Design and Line of Effort #4–Expand and strengthen our network of partners.
Anecdote Number One:
First, I will tell you about the most famous Air Force Officer at 6th Fleet Headquarters, and he doesn’t even work here. When it comes to detailing and the assignment of qualified officers to our N51 (Europe Engagement) or N52 (Africa Engagement) organization, the name LTC Leo Kosinski frequently comes up. Leo was the Japanese Desk Officer at JCS J5 when I worked for ADM Mike Mullen, as his Executive Assistant, during his tenure as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS). In the run-up to the Chairman’s first visit to Japan as CJCS, as ADM Mullen did for all of his counterpart visits, he studied hard. He was famous for taking home “helmet bags” of books and papers to his residence to continue to work after dinner and late into the night. This upcoming trip was no exception and ADM Mullen let us know that it was very important because he was going to see his friend and counterpart, ADM Saito-san, one last time before he (Saito) retired. ADM Saito, the Japanese CHOD had been a great ally and friend. He and ADM Mullen had grown up together as fellow Fleet Commanders, CNOs and now their respective country’s Chiefs of Defense (CHOD = CJCS in our parlance). This was an important visit as the Japanese had acquired and were using our AEGIS technology in their warships and they had been very supportive to the U.S. Navy in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). ADM Mullen read his trip book, full of facts and figures and questions and answers on “all things Japan.” He called me into his office and asked, Who put this book together?
“LTC Leo Kosinski, USAF, JCS J5,” I said.
He said, “tell him to come down for a chat . . . it’s excellent work.”
The Chairman liked talking to the Iron Majors, Lieutenant Colonels and Commanders on the staff. He found their outlook honest and refreshing. The 1MC call went out to Kosinski. He appeared a few minutes later.
I introduced Leo to the Chairman. “Sir, LTC Leo Kosinski, the guy who compiled the book.” Air Force Academy graduate, Olmsted Scholar and graduate of the University of Tokyo—he’s fluent in Japanese and a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy to boot.
Leo stood tall in front of the Chairman’s desk.
“Let me get this straight,” the Chairman said. “You’re a graduate of the University of Tokyo, you speak Japanese, you’ve served in the region and you are my Japanese Desk Officer?”
“Yes sir!,” said Leo.
“Well,” said ADM Mullen, “how in the world did that happen?”
Leo wasn’t quite sure how to answer the question, but I had come to really appreciate the Chairman’s dry sense of humor. How many times had we all been in a command whereby someone is a highly qualified officer, but placed in the wrong job. Detailers call this “fit” and “fill.” In Leo’s case, he was “the perfect fit” for the Japanese Desk Officer position.
The Chairman went on to tell him that his was the best prep book he’d read to date and gave him a BZ!
Leo accompanied us on the trip to Japan and like his book, the interaction with ADM Saito and the rest of the trip was perfect in execution. Leo’s hard work, education and experience had paid off. ‘Nuff said.
Anecdote Number Two:
One of my classmates at the University of Strasbourg was a budding young graduate student with a new wife and family named Mario Ayelou. Mario was quite an engaging young man and a native of the island of Mauritius. He was fluent in French and well educated, as was his young wife Genevieve. We were both a little older than the other students at the Institute and we enjoyed one another’s company as foreigners in the French graduate education system. Mario had a small stipend from his government and hoped to go back to Mauritius and work his way up the chain in public administration. Neither of us realized how successful he would be.
Twenty-eight years later, I would find myself at 6th Fleet Headquarters as the sponsor of Exercise Cutlass Express—our signature series exercise involving partners in East Africa and the Indian Ocean. For political reasons beyond our control, the lead nation for Cutlass Express 2015 dropped out at the last minute. The island of Mauritius agreed to step in and take on the responsibility for lead nation duties—no small task.
Since the little island of Mauritius had agreed to play such a significant role at the last minute, I wanted to reach out and thank them. I had lost touch with Mario Ayelou over the years, but I assumed his affable personality and his education had taken him far and I was not disappointed. Mario had worked in many agencies of government, from environment to law and he had served in the cabinet of the Prime Minister. When I reached him in Mauritius, he was thrilled to hear that the U.S. Navy was coming to Mauritius and that we would put a ship in port with my Vice Commander, RDML Tom Reck on board to show our appreciation. I asked Mario to stir up some interest on the island and invited him and other key leaders to the ship for a reception. Mario came through and delivered the President of Mauritius, Mr. Kailash Purryag, along with about 100 other distinguished guests. It was the least we could do to say thank you to this small island nation for their big contribution to Cutlass Express. All made possible by relationships that began a quarter of a century ago in graduate school.
It is my sincere hope that the Olmsted Scholar Class of 2017 will establish like-minded relationships and foster common interests with allies and friends that may last over a career or a lifetime. When crises arise, it is much easier to pick up the phone and talk to someone with whom you have an established relationship than with someone you’ve never talked to before. Trust me on this.
Accordingly, populating the Olmsted Scholar program with our best and brightest in uniform is one small way of achieving LOE #4 of the Design– Expand and strengthen our network of partners!
For more information on the program, consult NAVADMIN 034/16.
Good luck shipmates! I’ll be looking for your name next year!
Many of you are familiar with the popular Navy recruiting poster that showcases one of our big-deck carriers and the caption: “90,000 TONS OF DIPLOMACY.” Warships send a strong message of resolve and by their very presence–they deter conflict. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the Black Sea, where our freedom of navigation operations, reassurance measures, and annual exercise plan contributes to the safety, security and prosperity of the Black Sea Region. However, under the terms of the Montreux Convention, an international treaty, a 90,000 ton aircraft carrier is prohibited from transiting the straits into the Black Sea, so we use our Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) in Europe and other deployed units to fill the void.
Despite how some nations in the region might behave, the Black Sea is in fact a body of international water, no different than the Mediterranean Sea or Baltic Sea, and is subject to customary international law and the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea defining the rights and obligations of both coastal states and non-coastal states — chief among these are the high seas freedom of navigation and overflight and the right of innocent passage through the territorial seas of a coastal state. Ever since the citizens of Troy guarded the entrance, the straits and sea have been a major thoroughfare for international trade and we must ensure that they always remain so. In 1936, the Montreux Convention was agreed to by all the Black Sea nations, to include the former Soviet Union. It ensured the continued freedom of navigation through the straits and in the Black Sea; while giving Turkey the right to some control over traffic through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus and putting in place a set of tonnage limits on both non-Black Sea and Black Sea nation naval vessels, to include a restriction on all aircraft carriers. Less than ten years later, but a whole world war apart, the shores of Crimea would host the Yalta Conference, an expression of the Great Powers’ desire for peace following the second war to end all wars. How ironic that Yalta, once a gathering place of world powers who would determine how to rebuild post-war Europe is now in “occupied” territory . . .
Of late, the Black Sea Region has been through some tumultuous times. A nasty border war between Georgia and Russia took place in 2008 causing significant setbacks to the Georgian economy, military and infrastructure. The United States was the first to come to Georgia’s aid. In 2014, Russian illegally annexed Crimea in Ukraine, occupied its main port of Sevastopol and confiscated over 50 percent of Ukraine’s Navy. Throughout the conflict, which continues today, the United States has maintained its support for Ukraine, especially in the Maritime Domain. In fact, we are currently in the detailed planning phase for the next multi-national Sea Breeze exercise, hosted by Ukraine and involving other NATO and Black Sea nations in 2016.
ADM Mark Ferguson and I have made several visits to the Allies and partners in the Black Sea Region. We arrange our visits to coincide with exercises and events that occur in Fleet concentration areas and we always receive a warm welcome from our Black Sea partners. Just recently, however, we tried something different. We brought five of the six Black Sea nations to our Headquarters in Naples, Italy for the first-ever Black Sea Forum. The CNOs of the Romanian, Bulgarian and Ukrainian Navy, the Commandant of the Georgian Coast Guard and the Chief of Staff of the Turkish Navy were all in attendance. They were joined by me and ADM Ferguson, Vice-Admiral Clive Johnstone, Commander, NATO Maritime Command (MARCOM), and Flag and General Officers from the European Command (EUCOM), U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe/Africa (MARFOREUR/AF), and U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR). The Black Sea Forum was a first-of-its-kind event to discuss maritime security in the Black Sea region which faces growing threats from terrorism, massive migration flows and asymmetric threats from the Russian build-up of Anti-Access/Area Denial systems in the Crimea, to include plans to homeport six new Russian Kilo-class submarines in the Black Sea (two of the six have already arrived). The coalescence of all these allies and partners at the Black Sea Forum speaks volumes about their desire for increased security cooperation in the region.
Our aim in bringing these nations together into one room was to create an opportunity for meaningful dialogue on how to proceed as maritime nations to secure the Black Sea in the face of a rapidly changing security environment. We were able to stitch together a program that allowed each nation to address the forum with their views of the region. All of the nations agreed that the sea afforded them the benefits of commerce, economic prosperity, and energy independence. They further agreed that increased Russian military presence in the region was a serious concern and potentially destabilizing. We concluded that operating together at-sea and in the air, with common systems and operating procedures, to build capacity and capability was the first step in ensuring we maintained that stability.
I have written frequently in this forum about the importance of partnerships in maintaining maritime security. From my posts about the revision of the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21R), to my experiences during BALTOPS 2015, and my travels in an around this complex and increasingly important area of operations, I have stayed true to the notion that the presence of strong navies afloat across the globe underwrites the safety and security of the international system. With the CNO’s “Design for Maritime Superiority” now hot off the press, building the global network of strong partnerships necessary to realize those aims is a priority. The idea of a global network, though, does not imply that each member has to view their own interests in a global sense. The network is comprised of individual navies whose contribution is, more often than not, regional. By fostering regional cooperation, however, we can make inroads that will have global impacts.
In Europe and Africa, we are building this network on a regional level in exercises like BALTOPS in the Baltic Sea and the Express Series Exercises around the continent of Africa. The Breeze and Sea Breeze exercises accomplish the same broad objectives in the Black Sea region. The Symposium in Naples last month was just another data point of how we are helping to build cooperation between the navies that call the Black Sea home. The goal of stability within the region cannot be reached by one navy or one nation alone—we are indeed stronger together.
Question: What do you get when you combine ballistic missile defense technology imported from Moorestown, New Jersey, with a former Soviet-Bloc Air Base in Deveselu, Romania?
Answer: The beginning of the next phase of a 135-year bilateral relationship with Romania and a brand new Aegis Ashore site designed to provide for the ballistic missile defense of NATO Allies in Europe.
Deveselu is part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach and the newest responsibility of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. The drive southeast of Craiova, Romania takes you through what has rightly been called Europe’s breadbasket. At harvest time, the crops are piled up in sheaves. Bucolic fields stretch like waves as far as the eye can see. Then a gray mass looms on the horizon, and you do a double-take at what appears to be an actual ship steaming on the horizon, its hull obscured by a sea of green. What you are looking at is the profile of the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System usually associated with the Aegis DDG but now firmly planted in Romanian soil, a concrete example of our commitment to collective defense in Europe.
Aegis Ashore is essentially the Aegis Weapon System built on land instead of on a U.S. Navy destroyer at sea. A major difference between the ship-based and shore-based systems is space. Hull space, size, weight, balance, and ballast are not limiting factors when installing equipment on a concrete pad in a warehouse that is quite literally in the middle of an old Warsaw Pact airbase.
This odd shaped deckhouse building is filled with the latest technologically and highlights the adaptive part of European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). The deckhouse was originally built in Moorestown, New Jersey, then packed into 156 forty-foot containers and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. The pre-fabricated pieces meant that assembly of the 900 tons of steel occurred faster than it normally would when building a U.S. Navy warship.
On December 18, 2015, my good friend and one of the finest engineers in the world, VADM Jim Syring, Director, Missile Defense Agency formally reached the Technical Capability Declaration (TCD) milestone and handed the “keys” to Aegis Ashore over to the Navy. Sailors will now be the ones operating the equipment and testing the systems, instead of contractors. Sailors will train and conduct exercises until they and the systems are fully certified, similar to conducting “sea trails” with a new ship.
Aegis Ashore-Romania has one extremely important mission: ballistic missile defense of the population and infrastructure of U.S. and NATO allies. We hope that we will never need to fire a missile from Deveselu because that would imply a ballistic missile from Iran had been launched against a target in Europe. That said, the US military and our NATO allies must always be prepared to conduct this sort of mission precisely because we hope we never need to execute them. Capabilities, equipment, and training give credence to the words of diplomacy. Aegis Ashore is a major component of EPAA, which is the U.S. national contribution to NATO Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) and the collective defense of Europe.
The singularity of purpose of Aegis Ashore means that it must always be ready. The designed redundancy is robust, taking advantage of the large space to add more backup equipment. The technology is impressive, but like anything in the U.S. Navy, Sailors are the true heart of the mission. The Sailors who live and work in Deveselu are pioneers in the purest form. They are simultaneously standing up the first Aegis weapons system at a new base–Naval Support Facility Deveselu–and training to operationalize this system into EPAA and the NATO Alliance. And they are doing an impressive job!!!
There has been a dramatic amount of progress made in the support facilities as well as the Aegis Ashore system since my last visit to Deveselu in February 2015. This month, Sailors are moving from CLUs (Containerized Living Units, pronounced “clues”) into new two-person barracks rooms that are comfortable but austere. Three of the nine rotational Aegis Ashore crews will be in Deveselu at any given time for six-month deployments.
The Sailors I met serving in Deveselu are extremely competent and highly motivated. I am confident that the perseverance they showed during the construction phase will continue as we move into the operational phase. I am proud of these Sailors, and appreciate all that they do on a daily basis to protect the United States and our allies. Think about them over the Christmas holidays. They are unaccompanied, away from family and friends, and keeping us safe. They have the watch…
Just a week after the horrific attack on ordinary citizens in Paris, the United States has been unequivocal in its support of our French allies. The motto of Paris is Fluctuat nec mergitur, which translates as “tossed but not sunk.” The crest of the city shows a ship in stormy waters. What an appropriate reflection of the strength and optimism that defines the spirit of a city that has endured so much in the last week. The tenacity of Parisians reminds me of that of New Yorkers after 9/11.
Before this incident, I would have told you that the bonds of friendship and partnership between the United States Navy and the French Navy have never been stronger. In fact, just a few days before the attack in Paris, I was in Toulon, France on a counterpart visit with VADM Yves Joly, French Commander of the Mediterranean Maritime Defence Region (CECMED). We discussed plans for exercises between our two Fleets in 2016 and the highlight of my visit included a trip to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, operating in the Mediterranean not far from Toulon. During my visit on 10 November, the seas were still calm… This would all change in a couple of days.
Those familiar with the Nimitz class might be surprised how at home they would feel aboard the French carrier. Although somewhat smaller than USS Harry S. Truman, also currently in route to the Mediterranean, the bones of the French carrier show a common pedigree: the way the flight deck control is arranged, the quality of the maintenance, the arresting gear and catapults which are fully compatible with US aircraft and even the jersey colors on the flight deck. I saw the French E2C Hawkeyes, Super Etendards and Rafale jet aircraft launch and recover onboard. As I stood next to the Air Boss during flight deck operations, I felt like I was on an American carrier. Likewise, I met with American pilots on exchange tours—two of whom were airborne that day—fully integrated into the air wing. I also met French pilots who had passed through Pensacola, the cradle of Naval Aviation, proud to be Top Guns in their own air wing. Just days before the attacks in Paris, the entire crew impressed me with their professionalism and unity of purpose, as they prepared for their third Arabian Gulf deployment in as many years. The French Sailors and Airmen had the same unwavering determination that characterizes the best of our breed regardless of which flag is stitched on their flight suits.
Beyond flight ops, I observed an impressive display of interoperability with the United States and allies at a time when the Global Network of Navies is needed now more than ever. The US Navy does not have a monopoly on power projection; it is heartening to know that the French Navy is also willing and able to set sail at a moment’s notice in defense of common interests and values.
The day after my visit to the Charles de Gaulle, I attended a solemn ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris that underscored the esprit de corps that was so evident aboard the carrier. On 11 November 2015 the Champs de Elysee was closed to traffic, an act akin to shutting down Broadway in New York City. The Arc which is usually an island in a turbulent sea of cars and honking horns stood eerily quiet, the giant Tricolour hung from the middle of the Arc and ranks of veterans stood as solemn guards around the eternal flame. Circling the monument, representatives from around the world stood out of respect in front of rows of unused seats. A video flashed images of French soldiers who had recently given their lives in the war on terror, followed by four solemn words: mort pour la France. President Francois Hollande arrived, but he offered no speeches, simply himself as a representative of the Republic and a witness to the human sacrifice that her citizens have made through the years. He laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and shook hands, pausing to speak with friends and family members of those who had fallen. In the United States, we call this day Veterans Day; in Europe it is called Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. Je me souviens…
Following the national ceremony, our delegation laid a wreath in a private event at the Suresnes American Cemetery overlooking the skyline of the city of Paris. Above the white crosses and stars of David the words are etched, “This memorial has been erected by the United States of America as a sacred rendezvous of a grateful people with its immortal dead.” Our rendezvous was one of generations. We were met by members of the VFW and boys and girls from the local scout troops. The veterans were Americans who had settled in France. One landed on D-Day plus three (D + 3) and stayed in France ever since. Many of the scouts had dual French and American citizenship. The skies were cloudy and a storm was coming, but as I looked over these young faces in the foreground and the crosses in the background, it was obvious that the future of the friendship that has bound our two countries together is bright. It is a friendship based on common ideals. It is a friendship that has been tested many times and will be tested again.
When America was attacked in 2001, France came to our aid. At the Arc, many of the images of the departed soldiers listed “Afghanistan” as the place of death. The Charles de Gaulle will soon sail in harm’s way, filling a gap in carrier presence. Frenchmen and Americans have fought side by side ever since our Revolution. Like the United States, France defines itself by ideals. Ours are summed up in the Declaration of Independence. The French identity is crystalized in the Declaration des Droits de l’Hommes with the simple words liberté, égalité, and fraternité. These values, values which we as Americans share, are what were brazenly attacked last week. The flags in American outposts and ships at sea (see the yardarm of USS Carney below) have stood at half-mast in solidarity with our close ally. We mourn with our friends. We stand with our friends. And we in Sixth Fleet set sail with our friends in defense of what we hold dear.
The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis.
– from a post-war debriefing of a German General
Operation Avalanche—the code name alone gives an idea of the chaos surrounding the Allied invasion of Salerno and mainland Italy in September 1943. Earlier this summer my two commands at Strike Force NATO and the U.S. 6th Fleet experienced a small fraction of the fog of an actual conflict during BALTOPS 2015 which included a full-blown amphibious landings on the beaches of Sweden and Poland. Although we had an opposing “red force” operating against us in Poland, this was an exercise—no live rounds, no injuries, and a host of lessons learned for next year. An exercise can only take you so far; sometimes you need to walk the sand and taste the salty air of a battlefield’s beachhead to get a sense of the tactical decisions that affected a conflict’s outcome.
In an increasingly chaotic world, time is well spent to break from current ops and to gain insight into the way armies and navies confronted uncertainty in the past. The 72nd anniversary of the landings at Salerno, led by Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, offered 6th Fleet just such an opportunity.
Borrowing from the Army tradition of a Staff Ride, I accompanied 50 members of my staff on a tour of the Salerno battlefields. After hours of self-study and a classroom academic session, we walked the terrain and discussed the different phases of the battle to gain a glimpse of what the average Soldier or Sailor would have experienced 72 years ago. The mental exercise of putting ourselves inside the Commander’s decision cycle and thinking through the choices made, and potential alternate outcomes, was value added in honing our skillset in amphibious warfare.
Knowing what happened historically, it is sometimes easy to forget that military outcomes could have turned out much differently. In 1943, there was no guarantee that Operation Avalanche would succeed.
The political environment in 1943 contributed to the operational and tactical confusion of Operation Avalanche. In late July 1943, the Leader of the National Fascist Party and Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini was deposed. Marshall Pietro Badoglio was appointed Prime Minister of Italy. Throughout August 1943, new Italian leaders met covertly with the Allies to discuss an armistice, which they signed in secret on Sept. 3, 1943.
It was not until 6 p.m. Sept. 8, just nine hours prior to the start of Operation Avalanche, that both Italian Prime Minister Badoglio and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the armistice by radio. The German troops in Italy were surprised but acted quickly to disarm and neutralize the Italian forces. Thinking that the Italian surrender meant little or no resistance, and wanting to limit collateral damage, Lt. Gen. Clark made the decision not to prepare the battlespace with naval fires. This decision cost him dearly. The Germans were entrenched, well-armed, and waiting. Allied forces entered this cauldron when they waded ashore along the 23 miles of Salerno Bay.
The Salerno coastline is dramatic and vibrant. Although it makes for a beautiful postcard, this scene presented a formidable challenge to a Soldier or Sailor conducting an amphibious assault. In 1943, the Germans had the high ground, and could fire at will on the Allies below–long before they reached the beach while the Allies were spread across a large area fighting their way uphill. Luftwaffe forward operating bases were just 20 minutes away, providing near continuous air cover for bombardment and strafing of Allied forces.
At one point the Allied forces considered withdrawal, but like a dramatic movie plot, reinforcements arrived just in time. But this was not a movie; this was war at its most brutal. Salerno was the battleground and the last scene was still unwritten.
In the campaign maps of textbooks the blue and red lines always look matter-of-fact and determined. Standing in the sand of what was then Blue Beach and peering into the pillbox that was bristling with German firepower gives one a better sense of just what the Allies encountered. Here a group of “knee-deep Sailors” (so named because their amphibious boats got stuck on a sandbar, forcing them to wade ashore in withering fire) were stranded when armor and artillery could not make it on shore. The men fixed bayonets, awaiting the German infantry attack which was sure to come. Thankfully, it did not, because the German’s were blocked by their minefields. With the German tanks less than a football field from the surf, the Soldiers and Sailors were able to warn their comrades before more landing craft were lost.
Then, radio silence. Hours passed and the destroyers in the bay, assuming Blue Beach had been lost, concentrated their fire. In actuality, the waterlogged radio had died and the Sailors were caught between the German Panzers and friendly fire. In desperation Signalman Bingaman courageously stood up and used semaphore with white handkerchiefs to alert our ships. With their aim corrected, the naval gunners held off the tanks and protected the beachhead. Bingaman was awarded the Silver Star.
The human cost was high for both sides at Salerno: 5,500 British, 3,500 American, and 3,500 German soldiers died. The setbacks at Salerno resulted in a Normandy invasion that looked quite different—Gen. Eisenhower determined not to allow the same mistakes in Operation Overlord.
As soon as the Allies had secured the area, the town of Salerno became one of the most strategically important cities is Italy. Within a month, 190,000 troops, 30,000 vehicles and 120,000 tons of supplies we brought ashore at Salerno. With the benefit of hindsight, we see how important the beaches of Salerno were to the liberation of Italy. The allies secured Salerno, then Naples, then Rome, and the rest is history.
The staff ride was not the only way the command commemorated the anniversary of Salerno’s liberation. The U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band band showed our appreciation to the Italian host nation with a concert featuring the music of Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Glen Miller of the “Big Band Era.” The Italians picked the venue–Teatro Augusteo–home of the first headquarters to Lt. Gen. Clark’s Army and the seat of the first Italian government post WWII. The crowd sang along as the entire ensemble and a duet of trumpets–one Italian and one American—played “O Sole Mio.” As the Sailors stepped off the stage and mingled with the crowd after the performance, the scene reminded me of black and white photos of the citizens of Salerno greeting their Allied liberators in 1943.
The devastation of World War II has been erased by the passing decades. Today Salerno’s tree lined promenade and glorious waterfront are as beautiful as ever. Where the dark hulls of ships and landing craft once blocked the view of the water is today a pristine bay. The bucolic fields around the temples of Paestum, where GIs marched in the shadow of Greece, are quiet again. But the people of Salerno have not forgotten the lessons of September 1943, and it behooves us to heed their example.
Now 72 years later, the U.S. 6th Fleet maintains its headquarters less than an hour from Salerno in Naples, Italy. We now face many different threats that impact our national security and that of our Allies, including a resurgent Russia, illegal trafficking, terrorism on multiple fronts, lawlessness, and ungoverned spaces in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, which have contributed to a refugee crisis of epic proportions.
We train rigorously to address each of these contingencies. Using the lessons from the great battles of the past, we will boldly face our future challenges.
- On Midrats 28 August 2016 – Epsiode 347: Baltic Security with Bruce Acker and Dan Lynch
- The Next Card From the Migration Deck?
- On Midrats 21 August Episode 346: “The Farsi Island Incident – Is the Navy a Learning Institution?”
- Red Pill or Blue Pill in Syria & Iraq?
- American Billy Fiske — One of the Few