Military Stability Operations Game Ends As Greater Cooperation, Understanding Begin

Story Number: NNS111209-18Release Date: 12/9/2011 7:32:00 PM
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By James E. Brooks, U.S. Naval War College

NEWPORT, R.I. (NNS) -- A diverse cadre of government, academic, and military officials finished a three-day maritime stability operations game (MSOG) at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) Dec. 8.

The game helped participants learn and better understand how to prepare and respond to a crisis in coastal waterways, also known as littorals, working alongside multiple military and civilian organizations as well as international partners.

In addition to senior Navy, Marine, and U.S. Coast Guard officers, the game also involved nongovernment officials (NGOs) from organizations such as Aidematrix, USAID, U.S. Institute of Peace, and World Engagement Institute; federal agency officials; and Maersk Shipping Company.

Participants were divided into four different groups based upon their areas of expertise. Each group represented a unit or organization that would be involved with a real world situation.

A 'blue cell' represented a coalition of maritime forces (Navy, Marines, Coast Guard).

A 'purple cell' represented NGOs and government officials of the depicted host nation and the U.S. embassy in that nation. The third group was the 'white cell' consisting of subject matter experts representing world opinion and international leadership bodies, such as the United Nations, as well as U.S. cabinet-level officials.

Lastly, a 'red cell' comprised of intelligence and federal law enforcement experts operated as insurgent and criminal groups.

Each day advanced the scenario of a country struck by a natural disaster. It didn't take long for the respective cells to recognize a fundamental theme between the partners -- maritime forces tended to work toward solutions incorporating loose rules and clearly defined objectives while civilian officials sought tighter rules and a much broader, less-defined objective.

Retired U.S. Marine Col. Robert Dobson, now a civilian assigned to Marine Corps Combat Development Command, acknowledged philosophical differences between maritime forces and government civilians in the way they approach problems.

"The end state for a maritime stability operation is going to change over time," said Dobson. "Military participants must understand that. The military must evolve because the era of tight objectives and end states are over."

Each cell's definition of mission success also varied between the groups who were sequestered in different rooms and could only communicate through gaming technology that simulated real world processes.

"Military and political elements must come together and define success," said Steve Nichols of the Office of Naval Intelligence's Trans-National Threat Department. "It may change daily."

According to NWC MSOG Director Douglas Ducharme, there is a growing need to understand how to respond and stabilize the maritime environment for a country requesting assistance.

"Military doctrine for stability operations is very land-centric," said Ducharme. "This game took stability operations to the sea where the doctrine is emerging."

Despite the cultural differences of thought between maritime forces and government civilians, trust was seen as the necessary foundation between partners in bringing about a stable maritime environment. Most participants seemed to agree that unity of effort and a greater understanding of each other contributed directly to making the maritime stability operations game successful.

"The Navy fully recognizes the importance in building and maintaining relationships between partners, allies, the maritime industry and other members of the interagency and joint team. Exercises and planning events like these are critically important to improving our common understanding, expectations and identifying interoperability gap," said Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, director, Navy Irregular Warfare Office and MSOG sponsor. "As we all know, trust cannot be surged."

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