Lead Navy Large-Scale Exercise 2021 from a tent in Little Creek

Vice admiral. Andrew Lewis, commander of the U.S. 2nd Fleet, speaks with a group of Sailors as he intends to present a challenge during a visit to the US 2nd Fleet’s Expeditionary Maritime Operations Center (ExMOC ) Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story on Aug. 11, in support of Large Scale Exercise (LSE) 2021. (Jahlena Royer / US Navy)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (Tribune News Service) – Planners and operations personnel of the U.S. 2nd Fleet typically lead East Coast ships and units from the second floor of their headquarters. But a just completed Navy exercise around the world brought a team of more than 50 people to a tent in Little Creek to train in war conditions.

“You never really know what you can do until match day,” said Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, Commander of the 2nd Fleet and one of the five fleet commanders participating in the full-scale exercise. 2021, the first global exercise of its kind since the height of the Cold War.

Operating in an ad hoc maritime operations center – like the 760 square foot tent at Little Creek, where torrential rains bubbled mud through the floor – is a specialty of the 2nd Fleet. It was the seventh such operations center managed by the fleet since its reconstitution by the Navy in 2018.

More recently, this meant that the Vice Fleet Commander, Canadian Rear Admiral Steve Waddell, along with Norfolk personnel – including a French naval officer on temporary assignment – headed the maritime operations center in Europe.

The 2nd Fleet Group set up its temporary store on an unknown US Navy warship based in Italy and directed operations off the coast of Portugal.

There is a strong international flavor to the 2nd Fleet, as its commander is also in charge of the new NATO Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, which is responsible for operations in the North Atlantic “from Florida to Finnmark (north from Norway) and from the seabed to space, ”as Lewis likes to say.

“It was as if two start-ups were fully operational in just a few short years,” said Lewis, who took charge of the relaunch of the 2nd Fleet, while also taking on the task of leading NATO’s new command. .

The management of the operations center of this year’s NATO exercise was an intensive exercise on the management of ships, sailors, Marines and Airmen from 10 countries, including the world’s largest deployment of Fleet Air helicopters Arm in a decade.

“I can’t stress how important the alliance is,” Lewis said. “The difference with the United States is that we have friends and we keep friends.”

Working in the tent at Little Creek, Fleet personnel, Sailors and Marines simulated the rapid transfers of responsibility and reporting channels that arise when it comes to dealing with a global threat.

“It’s all about transparency… you have to know who is on the other end of the line,” Lewis said.

The large-scale exercise provided an opportunity for the 2nd Fleet and the Little Creek-based Navy Expeditionary Combat Command not only to practice setting up an ad hoc operations center, he said. stated, but it also allowed fleet personnel to work with reservists.

“This formation takes the Marines and Sailors out of garrison mode and puts us in a war scenario,” said Colonel Robert Clark of the US Marine Corps, the staff officer of the 2nd Fleet who was in charge of the Little Creek operations center.

Lewis’s role in the exercise included “multiple points of contact each day” with the naval air task forces based on the East Coast and the amphibious ships participating in the exercise.

Some were at sea. USS Kearsarge drilled on new concepts on combined Navy and Marine Corps operations. The destroyers USS Cole and Gravely conducted anti-submarine missions.

Some worked virtually, like the sailors of the USS San Jacinto, on a pier at Naval Base Norfolk. Their mission was the same as if they were at sea, providing air and missile defense for the strike force of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. And while they were physically in Norfolk, they were operating, virtually, off the coast of Norway.

A key task for Lewis was to coordinate operations with his counterparts from four other fleets, spread across 17 time zones. This part, as well as the operations center and communications throughout the chain of command, went well, he said.

But it took a lot of work.

With over 25,000 Sailors and Marines on 36 ships at sea and over 50 other participants docked, “it was a 24/7 exercise,” Lewis said.

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