August 24, 2016 - About 40 Military Sealift Command (MSC) reserve-component sailors traveled to Korea and Singapore, and are participating in Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2016 (UFG 16), Aug. 24.
Exercise UFG 16 is scheduled from Aug. 17 – Sep. 2 and is an annual, combined command and control exercise designed to improve the Alliance’s ability to defend the Republic of Korea (ROK), and sustain the capabilities that strengthen the ROK-U.S. Alliance. About 25,000 U.S. service members are participating, along with nine other nations: Australia, Canada, Columbia, Denmark, France, Italy, Philippines, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
The MSC sailors were from MSC Far East (MSCFE) Detachment 101 out of St. Louis, Mo.; MSCFE Detachment 102 out of Kansas City, Mo.; Expeditionary Port Unit (EPU) 108 out of Atlanta; and EPU 115 out of Honolulu.
Despite the small exercise footprint of MSC Far East, the scope of the training was both diverse and complex, managing hundreds of simulated U.S. government and commercially contracted dry cargo ships and fuel tankers to and from the Korean area of operations. MSC scenarios included adverse weather, unscheduled maintenance, fueling of vessels, bunkering and working with host nation port authorities.
At the MSCFE headquarters in Singapore, MSCFE Detachment 101 augmented permanent command staff in manning an around-the-clock command and control center, working with counterparts from the staff of Commander, Task Force 73. During UFG, they monitored and directed all simulated MSC shipping traffic throughout the western Pacific.
In Pier 8 here, eight sailors from MSCFE Detachment 102 augmented permanent MSC Office (MSCO) Korea staff. They manned a 24/7 crisis action team, and the Combined Seaport Command Center, a centralized command and control center that can manage cargo ships at ports throughout South Korea. Here, MSCFE sailors worked closely with the Army's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC), and ROK army and navy personnel.
Also on Pier 8, EPU 115, a highly mobile unit that can deploy quickly and establish port operations even under the most adverse conditions, operated a Mobile Sealift Operations Center (MSOC), which is a full communications suite outfitted inside a standard shipping container. EPU 108 manned a second MSOC at the ROK Naval Base ammunition pier at Chinhae.
During a real-world operation, a foreign port could be overwhelmed by ships and cargo movement. EPUs serve as the military liaison for the local port authority.
“We’re the connector between MSCO Korea, ship’s crew, husbanding agent, stevedores, Army SDDC, Navy cargo handling battalion, port authorities, ROK port operations group, and anybody else,” said Navy Cmdr. Rich Maloney, commanding officer, EPU 115, and reserve-component sailor.
Despite yearly participation, this exercise provides a continuous challenge for the MSC reserve units. Every year, the majority of reserve unit members are fresh to the Korean peninsula and to UFG. Some members have to travel far and infrequent to U.S. drill sites prior to ramping up for the exercise.
“I have 12 reserve sailors with me and they’re from various reserve centers: Hawaii; Albuquerque, N.M.; Denver; Los Angeles; Boston; Norfolk, Va.; Washington D.C.; and Chicago,” said Maloney. “In the reserves we have a lot of sailors who are cross assigned, that’s because we can’t necessarily fill our units with local drilling individuals who have the skills we need.”
As a result, the EPU ended up with sailors who are distributed and the CO had the responsibility to get them trained and ready in as few as three to four drills in a year.
“When they show up, they’re well prepared and ready to go from day one,” said Maloney, while acknowledging their inexperience. “Only four of the 12 have been to Korea before. For seven of the 12, this is their first annual training (AT) with MSC. For the other five it’s been one or two ATs. We’re constantly training the next wave of folks, it’s an ongoing process.”
While the MSCFE Detachments were standing watch at the various locations during one of the largest computer-simulated exercise, they’re also providing valuable training to the EPU units. In between the watch, they were injecting master scenario events list (MSEL) objectives at the EPUs.
“We work closely with the EPU COs to assess unit experience-level and work with the (officers-in-charge) to determine how we want to test them and how we want to grade them,” said Navy Cmdr. Brad Newcomer, MSCFE Detachment 102, operations officer, and reserve-component sailor.
The EPUs are tested based on a wide range of potential scenarios. “It could be anything from delayed sailing, an equipment causality on a ship, a personnel casualty, a security threat like a bomb threat, or a terrorist attack. We evaluate how they respond,” said Newcomer. “We do an after-action-report after each MSEL to see what did we learn, what do we want to do different.”
The EPU CO’s goal is that every member up and down the chain of command is able to act quickly and properly, should a situation arise and those members are the senior person in the MSOC at that time.
“These guys have been training hard; we have a lot of new people but they’re doing well, and between the mix of people that have done this a couple of times, we have the right skills and we have the right people,” said Maloney. “All our preparation at home is paying off.”
Exercise UFG 16 is a United Nations Command, U.S. Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea annual joint/combined command post exercise. The exercise highlights the longstanding and enduring partnership and friendship between the two nations and their combined commitment to the defense of the ROK and ensuring peace and security in the region.