CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Marines with 1st Marine Logistics Group participated in the Department of Defense’s annual exercise Ardent Sentry, a joint program focusing on Defense Support of Civil Authorities, from March 27 through April 3, 2014.
During the exercise, U.S. Northern Command, the lead agent for DoD, worked with its interagency partners to prepare for a federal military response. As thousands of servicemembers joined their interagency partners to fine-tune their disaster-response processes in Alaska, MLG planners started work, locally, to identify assets and capabilities I Marine Expeditionary Force would be able to provide for the effort, without compromising the various other missions being supported around the world.
This notional command post exercise required 1st MLG to serve as the lead Marine Air Ground Task Force planners for I MEF. This year’s training scenario required response to an earthquake in Alaska, which caused significant damage and created a corresponding tsunami that impacted the Pacific Northwest.
“This DOD level exercise is a major event,” said Maj. Thomas Warren, G-3 plans officer with 1st MLG. “It really prepares the MLG headquarters in crisis-action planning.”
As soon as the base was notified of the earthquake, 1st MLG staff started their planning, along with planners from the other I MEF major subordinate commands - 1st Marine Division and 3rd Marine Air Craft Wing.
“We need to build a task organization, or a force list, that allows NORTHCOM to see what capabilities I MEF would be available to support,” added Warren. “So where the civilians have gaps in capability, we could potentially fill in those roles.”
I MEF has a number of assets such as command and control, medical, rotary wing aircraft, ground transportation and engineering capabilities that can provide disaster response support. For this scenario, 1st MLG worked in concert with U.S. Third Fleet, which leads naval forces in the Eastern Pacific and the West Coast of North America, to provide a maritime response in order to get Marines and equipment, embarked aboard ships, to Alaska.
Exercises such as Ardent Sentry are the key to ensuring the military has the procedures and decision-making processes in place to support civil authorities when they have exhausted all other options for disaster relief. Additionally, this exercise helped build the relationships necessary for future coordination in order to support the local, state and other federal organizations providing relief efforts.
“It was a great exercise, said Col. Joseph N. Raftery, 1st MLG operations officer. “Once you get those command relationships set you can understand who it is that you are supporting. Real-world this would be chaos. That’s why we train to it, so we can understand who does what.”
According to Raftery, the main mission for the MLG was to exercise the crisis-action response plan. After notification of the Disaster Declaration, the Marines came together and organized a contingency response within about 10 hours. They strategized and planned, down to estimating how long it would take to load equipment onto ships for transport to the disaster location. The Marines could potentially arrive in the joint operation area within one week of notification.
The DSCA national response frame work requires the military be the last in and first out and paints a clear picture of how DoD forces can be used to support civil authorities. Raftery added that at the end of the day, I MEF would support however it could.
While this is an annual exercise practicing different scenarios, there are continued collaborative efforts. According to Raftery, senior leaders will take the lessons learned and shortfalls identified from this exercise and continue to work on the solutions and training, to include seminars that will foster the relationships established in preparation for the 2015 Ardent Sentry, which is expected to be more robust.
“This was a great stepping stone to understanding how our capabilities align with the requirements of disaster relief response and what is available to be requested by civilian authorities,” said Warren.