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Horn of Africa Exercise Sharpens Command Skills

May 2009
By Henry S. Kenyon

 
The goal of the Joint Warfighting Center’s Mission Rehearsal Exercises (MRX) is to train the headquarters staff of joint task forces to operate effectively when they deploy. Lessons learned from previous deployments are applied to provide realistic training scenarios for the MRX.
Event confronts regional issues, humanitarian operations under difficult circumstances.

A simulation exercise is providing U.S. military personnel with vital operational skills before they deploy to East Africa. Designed to provide headquarters staff with the knowledge and experience they will need to operate in a politically complex theater, the event models real situations such as disasters and humanitarian crises.

The Horn of Africa is a strategically vital region bordering major shipping routes from the Red Sea. U.S. forces operating in the region must deal with a variety of issues such as piracy, the ongoing instability in Sudan and regional tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Commanders must be aware of the area’s dynamics and work closely with diplomats to maintain stability and humanitarian assistance in the theater.

The responsibility to train command staff before deployment resides with the JointWarfightingCenter, Suffolk, Virginia. Part of U.S. Joint Forces Command, the center trains three major joint task forces focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. Command staff are instructed through mission rehearsal exercises (MRXs) that simulate situations common to the region in which they will deploy.

The MRX for the Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) is the culmination of months of preparation and training, explains Col. Michael Rose, USA, chief of the JointWarfightingCenter’s operations group.

The Horn of Africa MRX differs from the center’s other mission rehearsal exercises because it is an ad-hoc headquarters consisting of a core group of Navy personnel supported by individuals from the other services and civilian agencies such as the U.S. State Department. Col. Rose notes that the other MRX events usually are based on staff from an existing unit such as the 82nd Airborne Division who then are trained to operate as a joint task force. “That’s really our charter, as the JointWarfightingCenter, to train joint forces. We take an Army, Marine or even Air Force headquarters staff and we train them to be a joint task force,” he says.

Although the exercise itself ran for a week in January, it was preceded by nearly six months of preparation. The MRX cycle began in June 2008 with a concept development conference conducted with U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the current staff personnel serving with CJTF-HOA. This initial meeting focused on the concept design for the training session, with real-world events from the previous year examined to provide material for the next iteration of the MRX.

After this initial meeting, the event’s design phase was launched with scenarios based on the June criteria, says Earl Eaddy, AFRICOM desk event planner for the Horn of Africa MRX. In October 2008, the Navy standing command element was formed with Rear Adm. Anthony M. Kurta, USN, designated as the incoming commander for the CJTF-HOA. The rest of the command staff then was brought in and assigned key roles for intelligence, logistics, strategic communications, planning and operations. “That’s the first time that they’ve come together as a command element,” Eaddy explains.

In the fall of 2008, the Navy staff and representatives from AFRICOM began planning the exercise in earnest. Goals and training events were examined as were all of the other various elements for replicating command and control in the region. These requirements were analyzed and combined to provide the new command element with the experience necessary to transfer authority.

During the same time period, Adm. Kurta and his staff underwent academic training to familiarize themselves with the theater, the command and control structure of CJTF-HOA and its interaction with the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti. Additional training covered a range of skills from basic marksmanship to learning how to drive in the region.

A second phase of academic training that occurred in December consisted of classes examining the details of operating a joint task force. Regional experts were brought in to educate the staff, and the standing commander of CJTF-HOA provided his assessment of the situation. Personnel from AFRICOM and all of the regional service components provided briefings about their operations in the theater. Eaddy notes that this second academic phase provides the staff with a “nuts and bolts” understanding of the region.

 
CJTF-HOA Commander Rear Adm. Anthony M. Kurta (r), USN, participates in the training exercise with his staff prior to deploying to the region.
This second academic phase also led into the MRX, which ran from January 8 to 16. Eaddy says that this year’s event was an improvement over the previous event because the outgoing CJTF-HOA commander lent his staff and resources to help train their replacements.

Besides its ad-hoc staff structure, the CJTF-HOA is unique among the center’s task forces because it is not primarily combat-oriented. “They’re not there to fight. They’re there to prevent conflict,” Col. Rose maintains, noting the task force’s mission statement is to prevent conflict, promote regional cooperation, protect U.S. and coalition interests and prevail against extremism.

Because of its primarily humanitarian mission goals, the MRX takes a “whole government” approach that includes experts from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). The joint task force must work with a number of U.S. country teams in the region and with the U.S. ambassadors stationed in each of the region’s capitals. Col. Rose stresses that operating in the region requires developing and maintaining personal relationships between the command staff and a variety of U.S. and international personnel. “It’s those personal relationships that can allow a commander to influence events in a particular country,” he says.

A range of real-world events is used to provide story lines for the training. This may include floods in Tanzania, pirates off the Somali coast or any number of events in the region. It is a different operating environment than Southwest Asia or other parts of the globe. However, the colonel notes that while the environment and the problems may differ, many staff processes and best practices from operations around the globe are put into the MRX. “We have exposure to training worldwide. If we see something that works really well in SOUTHCOM [U.S. Southern Command], we can roll that into an MRX for the Horn of Africa,” Col. Rose says.

Although the Defense Department has some responsibility for regional security, Eaddy notes that the lead organization for development is the AID. When the regional scenarios are established for the MRX, the day-to-day operational issues are examined. He explains that these scenarios all involve issues such as drilling wells, moving personnel and communicating with them across a region that can be very difficult to communicate and move across.

Two contingency events occurred during the 2009 MRX. The first involved a noncombatant refugee situation resulting from a conflict on the Ethiopian and Eritrean borders. This situation caused the State Department to request U.S. Defense Department assistance from CJTF-HOA. Eaddy explains that the staff had to work out how to move Americans and third-country nationals out of Eritrea.

The second event was a flood in Tanzania. This situation required task force personnel to interface with representatives from the Red Cross and nongovernmental organizations. “The nature of the challenge in the Horn of Africa really centers around security and stability. For this event, we really emphasized the stability and development aspects,” Eaddy says.

AFRICOM had a leading role in helping to design the MRX. Eaddy notes that the command provided input about the region and humanitarian scenarios. Members of AFRICOM’s staff also were embedded at the JointWarfightingCenter for the training sessions. Col. Rose notes that Gen. William E. Ward, USA, AFRICOM’s commander, spent two days at the center during the exercise and participated in the event’s after-action review. The event also included representatives from special operations forces, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy.

The MRX is held in an office space that replicates the joint operations center in Djibouti. The staff has the same daily operation and work requirements that it will encounter in the region, such as 12-hour crisis management shifts. The CJTF-HOA personnel also receive a stream of incoming data, including embassy cables and intelligence updates from AFRICOM.

International participation also is part of the training and preparation. During the simulated Eritrean military incursion into Ethiopia, the event stressed interaction with coalition and local military forces. The MRX included the French liaison officer attached to the CJTF-HOA, who helped the incoming staff work through the situation. The event also included another French liaison officer and a Canadian liaison officer, both of whom are attached to the JointWarfightingCenter. Eaddy notes that future iterations of the MRX will include more officers from the region’s host nations. “The whole intent of the problem sets we presented to them [the CJTF-HOA staff] was to get at the multinational, interagency nature of operating in the Horn of Africa,” he said.

Although the current MRX did not have the level of multinational involvement that the colonel would like, Eaddy explains that the goal is to increase the participation on the next event. He observes that such participation is difficult to schedule because foreign officers have important roles in the region. However, he notes that some previous MRX events have very good international representation.

An important feedback effort for the MRX is an annual staff assistance visit in May, where personnel from the JointWarfightingCenter visit the Horn of Africa and spend time with the new command staff. The center’s personnel will observe and discuss how the new headquarters staff is acclimating to their assignment. Eaddy notes that by this time the headquarters personnel will have been on the job for about 90 days, and their insight will provide input and data for the next MRX for the Horn of Africa.

Web Resources
Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa: www.hoa.africom.mil
U.S. Africa Command: www.africom.mil
U.S. Joint Forces Command: www.jfcom.mil
Joint WarfightingCenter: www.jwfc.jfcom.mil