ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) has headed south, but is still "making waves."
USS Iwo Jima (LHD7), USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) and USS Farragut (DDG 99), have overcome challenges brought on by inclement weather in order to execute complex mission sets during Exercise Bold Alligator 2014 (BA14), while ensuring the safety of personnel, ships and equipment.
When weather forecasters predicted conditions in the operating area, consisting of waves from 12-24 feet and winds from 35-50 knots, an integrated Navy and Marine Corps staff from Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 2 and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigage (2d MEB) formed a crisis action team to determine how the force could divert south to balance safety with quick reaction force tasking, and other amphibious operations.
Since the arrival of the inclement weather three days into the exercise, the Iwo Jima ARG and 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) have continued to execute complex flight operations, a notional strait transit in support of an embassy reinforcement operation, an amphibious raid, and the transportation of the Fly-In Command Element (FICE) from Iwo Jima to USS Kearsarge (LHD 3).
"The presence of the bad weather has great training value," said Lt. John Gray, Amphibious Squadron 8 operations officer. "It served as a reality check that events aren't scripted, and we will have to plan around weather and other uncontrollable factors in a real-world crisis response environment. From an exercise point of view, this changed some of the locations of the ranges and events we were planning to do, but it was certainly realistic."
The crisis action team was given planning space courtesy of timely weather forecasts from meteorology and oceanography (METOC) experts on board Iwo Jima.
METOC brings the ability to extract data from sophisticated models and compare it against local measurements and satellite observations to forecast not only the weather but operational impact as well. Those predictions then empower planners and leadership to make timely decisions in support of personnel safety and mission accomplishment.
"This exercise flowed with the efficiency of a symphony with METOC writing the music, ESG 2 leading their orchestra — the participating units — and each unit executing each note perfectly to execute a well-played and harmonious operation," said Lt. Mark Hebert, the METOC officer attached to Iwo Jima.
"The Iwo METOC team provided information to ESG 2 and their leadership in order to help them make advanced decisions to avoid hazardous weather," Hebert said. "This permitted us to meet mission requirements despite attacks from the invisible enemy, Mother Nature."
Iwo Jima's staff planners and METOC team worked in collaboration with the METOC division and the remainder the staff element embarked aboard Kearsarge, as well as the Dutch ship Johan De Witt (L801) — the command ships of the exercise — to provide the depiction of the quickly evolving environment. The Optimum Track Ship Routing division of Fleet Weather Center Norfolk provided support from ashore.
"Weather has always been a critical factor in amphibious operations," said Capt. Jim McGovern, commanding officer of Iwo Jima. "Relocating to a more protected area during an important multi-national exercise like BA14 is another example of how we balance risks to force and risks to mission. Nothing we do out here in an exercise is worth hurting a Sailor or Marine, or damaging valuable equipment."
BA14 is scheduled to conclude as planned Nov. 10, as the weather was improving.
BA14 is a multinational exercise that showcases the advantages of sea basing and the Navy and Marine Corps' full range of amphibious operations to include crisis response.
Improving Navy-Marine Corps amphibious operational capabilities along with coalition, NATO, allied and partner nations through exercises such as BA14 is necessary to improve current and future readiness of amphibious forces.
For more information about Exercise Bold Alligator 2014, visit http://www.public.navy.mil/usff/ba/Pages/default.aspx and https://www.facebook.com/boldalligator.
For more news from Bold Alligator 2014, visit www.navy.mil/local/ba14/.