NAPLES, Italy --
From Jan. 29 through March 1, 2020, approximately 575 individuals from II Marine Expeditionary Force, in conjunction with Expeditionary Strike Group 2, are conducting Maritime Preposition Force Exercise 20 at Marine Corps Support Facility Blount Island and Naval Station Mayport, Florida, to develop, refine and rehearse theater opening and force deployment processes essential to II MEF’s warfighting proficiency and readiness.
“MPFEX 20 consists of in-stream and pier-side offloads of 521 pieces of equipment on the USNS 1st Baldomero Lopez to support reception, staging, onward movement and integration operations,” said Maj. Troy Mitchell, lead exercise planner.
A primary training objective for II MEF is the rehearsal and refinement of forward command element, rear command post and command operations center operations. MPFEX 20 also serves as a certifying event for ESG-2 in its assigned role as commander of the maritime prepositioning force.
II MEF is adding a further layer of complexity through rehearsing command and control of MPF operations from 6th Fleet Headquarters in Naples, Italy. II MEF Forward, commanded by Maj. Gen. Steve Neary, is assigned as the II MEF lead element during MPFEX 20 execution.
“This is a great opportunity to execute distributed command and control spanning multiple locations on the European and U.S. continents,” said Maj. Gen. Neary, II MEF deputy commanding general.
Neary, who oversaw MPF operations in Norway during the 2018 exercise Trident Juncture, also described why this type of training is important.
“There is no substitute for real-time command and control of off-loading and back-loading combat power," said Neary. "It serves to reassure our allies and partners that we can rapidly and competently build relative combat power in response to adversary aggression.”
MPF operations do not come without challenges. Weather, specifically sea-state conditions and storms, impact the tempo and the efficiency, as do long-range communications.
“The challenge is to identify solutions and manage C4I (command, control, communication, computers and intelligence) requirements in support of the mission across two geographic combatant commanders’ areas of responsibility, while conducting multi-nodal operations and enabling command and control of rapidly building combat power ashore,” said Lt. Col. Karl Schlegel, II MEF Forward communications officer in charge. “The key is aligning Navy and Marine Corps resources with current and emerging technologies and strengthening interactions of multi-level staffs to support the commander’s decision making process.”
Integrating with the fleet forces is a goal of the exercise. In his planning guidance disseminated to the total force, the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger seeks to meet the demands of the naval fleet in executing current and emerging operational naval concepts. Among the many II MEF initiatives to answer the commandant’s call is a desire for persistent integration with U.S. Navy 2nd and 6th Fleet counterparts.
“The Marine Corps is never going to fight alone,” said Neary. “We will fight as a part of the joint force and most often with our Navy brother and sisters.”
Berger and the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday stress the importance of interoperability by posturing forces forward to operate in contested maritime spaces. II MEF’s participation in MPFEX 20 advances naval integration, with II MEF Forward operating from Italy under 6th Fleet, communicating with ESG-2 aboard USS WASP, commanding and controlling elements of II MEF at Blount Island and coordinating with II MEF headquarters based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
“When crisis occurs, operations move at the speed of trust, and we must be oriented on the challenge, have mature processes nested with the U.S. Navy, and have a communal understanding of adversary capabilities, tactics, and available resources,” said Neary. “Accordingly, command and control is the lynch pin to naval integration.”