GULFPORT, Miss. (NNS) -- In a dimly-lit, warm room, 14 Sailors gather and buzz around a dozen small laptops and crates of humming communication equipment.
Stationed at the walls, Seabee petty officers are making updated notes on maps and charts. Yeoman 2nd Class Vaughn Johnson has been sitting in front of a keyboard, peering attentively at a blinking laptop screen. Suddenly the blink turns into a sentence; Johnson has received a much anticipated communication from the Navy expeditionary combat task force commander.
"Attention in the COC [combat operations center]!" he announces. "We have an incoming message for the watch chief!"
Seventh Naval Construction Regiment (7 NCR) successfully completed Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Integrated Exercise (NIEX) 2017 onboard Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, Mississippi, June 5. The NIEX was executed over two weeks, but entailed almost a year of regimental leadership planning and training.
The Expeditionary Warfare Development Center (EXWDC), from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, ran the exercise. EXWDC simulated a series of military engagements and missions for the Seabees to obtain a "ready for tasking in major combat operations" recommendation.
Over the course of two weeks, EXWDC created scenarios with ever-increasing tension and escalating threats towards the fictitious nation of Amber. Seabees were on site, leading an adaptive force package as the nation of Amber faced aggression from a neighboring power and was in dire need of military support and humanitarian assistance. Many of the scenarios used to test 7 NCR's command and control ability came from real-world events U.S. forces have faced over the past decade.
The exercise was led by Capt. Chris Asselta, commodore of 7 NCR, and Chief Staff Officer Cmdr. Stephen Lampert.
"We need the NIEX to immerse ourselves in the environment that we would operate as an adaptive force package, which includes all Navy forces, joint forces and local military," said Asselta. "This NIEX gives us a chance to simulate the environment, translate higher intent, and exercise our command and control."
NIEX training aims to form a cohesive working regiment, a strong detachment to deploy with, and create Navy Reservists who are fully ready to move as the needs of the Navy change. The goal is for Seabees who have undergone this crucial training to be indistinguishable from their active-duty counterparts, ready to deploy to conflict zones around the globe.
Sailors are expected to walk into their gaining command on mobilization as if they were permanently attached. With this training, 7 NCR Seabees are prepared to integrate seamlessly into dangerous environments, fully trained and proficient in command operations. This is crucial to mission success and the safety of personnel.
Reservists receiving NIEX training is a part of the chief of naval operations' (CNO) plan for maintaining a flexible operational force.
In his "A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority," CNO Adm. John Richardson wrote, "Our Navy will protect America from attack and preserve America's strategic influence in key regions of the world. Our competitors are moving quickly, and our adversaries are bent on leaving us swirling in their wake. Preparation of a flexible force is key."
Walking between the two worlds of military and civilian life, Reservists spent countless hours in training exercises drilling at least one weekend each month and two weeks of the year.
"Many of us here at the NIEX are balancing home life, family, civilian jobs and military service," said Lampert. "We as command leadership maximize the civilian skills and years of service that our Reservists bring to the exercise. Trusting our personnel to do the job well and with a great attitude has been one of the most rewarding aspects of working with 7TH NCR."
To create the most realistic situation possible, 7 NCR integrated their active and Reserve personnel to form a task group with an operational planning team (OPT) and COC. Smelling of coffee and marker boards, the operational planning team room was filled with officers conferencing over charts and maps late into the night. Liaison officers from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133, Naval Cargo Handling Battalion 5, Coastal Riverine Squadron 2 and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 1 were stationed within the OPT to determine the best course of action for war-time decision making.
Historically, what large mission would be complete without the Marines? The Marines Corps offered support for the exercise, with Col. Kimo Hollingsworth and his team of military advisors offering their expertise and valuable insight to combat operations. The Seabees and Marines have always had a close relationship, indicated in Navy doctrine.
Seventh NCR was extremely successful in meeting all EXWDC objectives. According to Asselta, the regiment's success was due to Seabee planning.
"We were successful because of the team that we have built, because of the 'Can Do' attitude of our unit," he said. "The training we held leading up to the exercise was crucial to maximize the capabilities of our unit and to ensure expeditionary forces are in the right place at the right time."
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