CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
After nearly two weeks of dealing with the effects of Hurricane Florence, Marines and Sailors of II Marine Expeditionary Force returned back to normal work schedules today after Camp Lejeune ordered the “All Clear” over the weekend.
While recovery and relief actions have been a top priority for many in the command, planners have continued to look ahead and conduct assessments of the potential impacts the storm may have had on current and upcoming operations.
Throughout the hurricane and its aftermath, II MEF has continued planning efforts for Trident Juncture, a large-scale NATO exercise with approximately 40,000 participants from nearly 30 countries, as well as multiple other deployments and operations to remain operationally ready.
“Despite the change to the operational environment with the impacts of weather in the face of a hurricane, we are still committed to deploying, employing and redeploying Marines,” said Lt. Col. Benjamin Davenport, an operations planner for II MEF’s current operations section. ”We stay committed in our support of conducting exercise Trident Juncture 18 and multiple other operations as planned.”
A team of about 50 Marines and Sailors from II MEF deployed to Norway before the hurricane hit as a lead team to establish a presence in Norway and is functioning as an initial response team. The team is partnered with the Norwegian Defense Logistics Office and with the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, who are both providing support personnel and logistics to close any gaps due to delay in movement of personnel to Norway for Trident Juncture.
“What looked like a three-week delay due to hurricane impacts to the greater Carolina Marine Air-Ground Task Force has really turned into a matter of days,” said Davenport. “U.S. Transportation Command has been exceptional. They’ve reached out to us and are attempting to modify flights despite the hurricane.”
A shipment of II MEF equipment arrived in Norway this weekend and is currently being offloaded and staged by Marines and their Norwegian partners for use during Trident Juncture.
“We have a habitual relationship with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa, the Norwegian government, and the Norwegian Army,” Davenport added.
An integral part of II MEF’s ability to continue operations abroad in the face of a domestic crisis like a hurricane is the Marine Corps’ exchange program with foreign military allies, which embeds Marines into allied militaries and allows foreign, military partners to embed leaders into II MEF commands. Planning for Trident Juncture has been supported by this program with the inclusion of Norwegian Army officer Lt. Col. Per-Erik Bjoernstadbraatem, who is completely integrated on II MEF’s staff.
“In concurrence with Trident Juncture 18, we are also conducting operations in every combatant command area in the world right now, and have had no change to their employment force,” Davenport said. “We have had no significant impacts to any of these operations.”
Other significant operations that required constant attention during the Category I hurricane included planning for rotational deployments to Europe and Afghanistan, completing deployments from around the globe and returning units back to II MEF parent commands, and preparing for upcoming training missions across the U.S.
Some of these operations may have had shifts in timelines, but nothing significant enough that would degrade II MEF’s ability to support operational tasks and requirements, explained Davenport.
Hurricane Florence began to afflict Camp Lejeune and Onslow County September 13 and didn’t let up for four days resulting in devastating wind damage and flooding throughout the area.
II MEF Marine have been conducting relief efforts on and off base since Sept. 15 and continue their efforts toward recovery at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and in support to the surrounding communities as requested or through volunteer outreach.
During the storm, II MEF provided a Destructive Weather Task Force to assist in immediate relief and recovery operations, and worked around the clock with their Destructive Weather Operations Center to coordinate efforts with Marine Corps Installations-East and the Onslow County Emergency Operations Center in conducting emergency evacuations.
“We have an excellent relationship with our military friends,” said Glenn Hargett, the assistant city manager of Jacksonville. “It’s only right as they [the military] live among us as neighbors, and we want to treat each other as neighbors.”
Relief efforts conducted by Marines in the city of Jacksonville and other communities in Onslow County have assisted with 40 missions, which supported the evacuation of 137 people using tactical military trucks. Some of the people evacuated were urgent, as they needed medical care. One woman evacuated was in labor and safely delivered her child at Onslow Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, N.C.
In addition, the II MEF Destructive Weather Task Force has provided capabilities beyond MCI-East’s capability and capacity for power generation, communications, mobility, lighting, material handling and debris clearing teams.
“The suite of assets and personnel II MEF brought to the table in advance of Hurricane Florence allowed the base to act quickly and get down to the business of bringing the base back online,” said Nat Fahy, Director of Communications Strategy and Operations, Marine Corps Installations-East. “From its power generators, to water, to flood lights, to heavy utility vehicles, to Marines, everything was critical in those initial days following the hurricane.”
II MEF conducted a series of planning efforts and exercise with Navy partners in preparation for hurricane season. Procedures for hurricane response, destructive weather, and working to support civil authorities were all rehearsed.
“Hurricane Florence relief efforts provided a real-world opportunity to exercise the II MEF staff’s capabilities to respond to our own crisis and immediate response to local authorities,” said Sgt. Maj. Richard D. Thresher, the sergeant major of II MEF. “We continue to train and exercise the staff to standardize the way we deploy and redeploy the MEF as a warfighting headquarters similar to the way we’ve prepared for NATO-exercise Trident Juncture 18 in Norway next month.”