|More than 26,000 U.S. military and NATO personnel successfully completed Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) 01-2 on March 25. The exercise, which took place in the waters off the U.S. East Coast and the Caribbean Sea, began March 16 and included the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Battle Group (CVBG), USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 18 NATO ships from Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and other countries. It also included the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, as well as ships from Destroyer Squadron 28.
Air Force participation included two E-3B AWACS aircraft from Tinker AFB, Okla., eight F-15E aircraft from Seymour- Johnson AFB, N.C., four F-16CJ aircraft from Shaw AFB, S.C., one RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft from Offutt AFB, Neb., two B-52 aircraft from Barksdale AFB, La., and one E-8 Joint Stars aircraft from Robins AFB, Ga. Ships of the Standing Naval Forces Atlantic also participated.
The exercise was scheduled by the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, and Commander in Chief U.S. Joint Forces Command, Gen. William F. Kernan, and was conducted by the Commander, Striking Fleet Atlantic and U.S. 2nd Fleet commander, Vice Adm. Michael G. Mullen.
The Joint Task Force Exercise, usually conducted every five months, was designed to prepare U.S. joint forces for future forward-deployed operations. It also serves as the final certification opportunity for U.S. carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups before deployment. It included 50 ships and military personnel from the U.S. Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, as well as more than 2,000 allied personnel.
During the exercise, forces were faced with a quickly developing scenario in the fictional nation of "Kartuna." A neighboring state called "Korona" threatened invasion, and coalition forces were called in to either deter hostile action, or defeat the Koronans should hostilities occur. The scenario stressed the ability to react to high-threat environments requiring air, naval and ground operations. They incorporated surveillance, reconnaissance and other missions, including humanitarian assistance, maritime interdiction, embassy support and a non-combatant evacuation.
For many of the participants, the sea-based training was both a new experience and a valuable joint training opportunity.
"I've been involved in three different joint exercises, but this is the first one on a ship," said Army CWO2 Bob Kerley, an Austin, Texas, native and JTFEX 01-2's land component response cell targeting officer. "This was good because it gives the players another aspect of the war to work with besides air and Navy forces -– making it a true joint operation."
Reservists also played a significant role during the exercise, noted Cooperstown, N.Y., native Navy Capt. Tom Rathbone, the deputy director of JTFEX's current operations cell.
"This is almost like 'graduate' training for Reservists," said Rathbone. "We had over a hundred Reservists working in virtually every aspect of this exercise."
Naval Reserve Cmdr. Art Dunn, operating out of the exercise's joint assessment cell, agreed. "As a Reservist, you don't get to do things like this everyday," said Dunn, from Albany, N.Y. "This has truly been a learning experience."
According to Norwegian Royal Navy Capt. Haakon Tronstad, a permanent member of the 2nd Fleet/Striking Fleet Atlantic staff, this type of exercise is good training for future operations, and it improves NATO interoperability.
"This exercise has been very important, because it is like a quality control check on the Enterprise Battle Group and Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group before sending them off on deployment," said Tronstad. This is the only NATO headquarters to be embarked on a ship. It has all the command and control necessary to run a NATO operation. To do that, we need training and this is how we get it."
Mullen, who was pleased with the level of participation by the allies and the performance of all units, echoed that sentiment.
"This battle group and amphibious ready group trained very hard, and I was delighted to have such robust participation from our NATO allies," said Mullen. "I want to personally thank those nations who sent their forces such a long way to participate. It was a terrific statement of their commitment to the alliance and to our collective efforts at global security."
Of note, neither the Enterprise CVBG nor the Kearsarge ARG had the opportunity to conduct combined arms training at the inner range of Vieques Island as part of this exercise. That fact will hurt their overall readiness, according to Mullen.
"It was certainly a successful training evolution, and these forces will deploy as ready as we could possibly make them. But they would have benefited greatly from the use of the Vieques inner range," noted Mullen.
The USS Enterprise CVBG and USS Kearsarge ARG will begin their six-month deployments in late April.