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NORFOLK, Va. - Reserve Sailors from U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF), U.S. 2nd Fleet, U.S. 4th Fleet, U.S. 6th Fleet, and U.S. 10th Fleet conducted MAKO Challenge 23, an operational level of warfare (OLW) exercise within a Maritime Operations Center (MOC) scenario, from Jan. 19-22 at the Navy Warfare Development Center (NWDC) in Norfolk, Virginia.
MAKO Challenge is one in a series of Chief of Navy Reserve-directed training evolutions specifically designed to give Reserve members hands-on experience within the MOC before they actually show up to a certification or real-world event. It’s training for Reserve Sailors, by Reserve Sailors.
“The goal is for every MOC warfighter to be ready to step off the plane and into their work center, know where their seat is, plug in their card and get to work from minute one,” said Rear Adm. Grant Mager, Operational Level of War (OLW) line of effort lead. “Our Active Duty counterparts get that on-the-job training all year and we’re expected to be just as ready and just as proficient.”
The Navy Reserve’s Strategic Depth Assessment identified key areas of interest for the Navy’s overall investment with the Reserve Force. According to senior leaders and the results of the assessment, qualified and competent MOC watch standers was one of the most prominent “needs” from the Navy Fleets and Strategic Commands.
According to Mager, the Navy Reserve makes up approximately half of the staff at Fleet commands. “It’s one thing if maybe 10 percent of the command is still learning their role, but when we make up 50 percent of the total force, we need to be ready to go,” he said.
That is why Vice Adm. John B. Mustin, chief of Navy Reserve and commander, Navy Reserve Force, has made MOC training – and the MAKO series in particular – a top priority under the OLW line of effort in the Navy Reserve Fighting Instructions. The other “MAKOs” include Pacific Fleet’s MAKO Sentry and Navy Central Command’s MAKO Storm.
“I couldn’t be more excited to see all of you here working together, learning, participating, and doing the hard work,” Mustin said during his visit to MAKO Challenge 23. “These exercises bring all the right constituents together for focused real-world simulation. I want each of you to view this with a sense of urgency, bring value to the team, and get qualified. Our Active Duty counterparts need to know that we are ready to do what is required on day one.”
As approximately 200 Reserve Sailors participated on the watch floor at NWDC for MAKO Challenge 23, either in a planner and mentor capacity or a qualifying trainee, several senior leaders walked the deck plates to witness the training firsthand and express their enthusiastic support for the valuable training opportunity.
“At Fleet Forces, we’re counting on you for support, and the training provided in these exercises are excellent simulations to practice and learn your jobs,” said Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, deputy commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
Kilby repeatedly stressed the importance of a ready Reserve Force within the MOC and Mager agreed the Reserves have a unique capability to not only support in MOC watch standing but potentially become the experts.
Mager believes that the Reserve Force has the ability to develop a deep expertise in this skillset because it has the units and the billets to support a career within the MOC. While only a small percentage of Active Duty might do one tour at a Fleet level command where they get qualified to stand watch in the MOC, Reserve Sailors and officers have the option to do back-to-back or return to Fleet duty at multiple points in their career without hurting their advancement or career growth.
“This means we have the ability to become the MOC experts for the Navy,” said Mager. “We are the capacity that allows the Fleet to go to war.”
With this being the sixth iteration within the MAKO series, leaders and participants all agreed the communication, flow, and overall performance is growing and improving with every evolution.
“This [MAKO Challenge] is the most complex, the largest, and has the most participants by a factor of three,” said Kilby. “We’ve seen a massive increase with each one and what we’re doing here is driving the capacity to make qualified watch standers. It’s a great opportunity to train, get competent, and learn your job.”
Participants like Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Shelleen Ramirez, a Reserve Sailor assigned to USFF and local to Norfolk, had the opportunity to stand watch for more than one iteration and has seen that improvement as a message writer in training.
“We’ve come a long way since the last MAKO exercise, but we still have some room to grow, especially with communication,” said Ramirez. “We just want to be more proactive instead of reactive so we can better help the Battle Watch Captain.”
Ramirez and her counterparts spent a lot of time and energy compiling lessons learned and areas of improvement to transfer to the next iteration.
More than anything, Ramirez appreciates the opportunity the MAKO series provides to step out of the Reserve Center for a long drill weekend of real-world training – a top priority for Vice Adm. Mustin, that every minute a Reserve member is in uniform they are training to their mobilization billet.
“It’s so much better than your typical drill weekend.” said Ramirez. “I’m doing something very useful. Doing something like this makes it all worthwhile.”
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