Horn von Afrika

Task Force Pre­pares for Horn of Africa Mis­sion

By Don­na Miles
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

SUFFOLK, Va., Jan. 14, 2009 — Lead­ers prepar­ing to deploy to Dji­bouti next month are get­ting a sense of the chal­lenges they will face as the next head­quar­ters staff at Com­bined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa dur­ing a real­is­tic train­ing exer­cise at U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Joint Warfight­ing Cen­ter here.

Task Force Prepares for Horn of Africa Mission
Army Brig. Gen. San­ford Hol­man, vice com­man­der of U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Joint Warfight­ing Cen­ter, and Navy Rear Adm. Antho­ny Kur­ta, Com­bined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa’s prospec­tive com­man­der, dis­cuss a mis­sion rehearsal exer­cise Jan. 13, 2009.
U.S. Navy pho­to by Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class Nik­ki Carter

A week-long mis­sion rehearsal exer­cise kicked off Jan. 10, cul­mi­nat­ing train­ing that began in May to pre­pare to Navy Rear Adm. Antho­ny M. Kur­ta and his core staff for the mis­sion they will assume next month.

The com­put­er-assist­ed com­mand post exer­cise is the fourth for Joint Forces Com­mand since the mis­sion began in 2002 to pre­vent con­flict, pro­mote region­al sta­bil­i­ty and pro­tect coali­tion inter­ests in East Africa and Yemen, explained Army Col. Michael Rose, chief of the center’s oper­a­tions group.

But in oth­er ways, it’s a first, with mem­bers of U.S. Africa Com­mand — which became ful­ly oper­a­tional in Octo­ber — par­tic­i­pat­ing in the train­ing, both in Suf­folk and at Africom’s Stuttgart, Ger­many, head­quar­ters. The Horn of Africa mis­sion pre­vi­ous­ly had been U.S. Cen­tral Command’s respon­si­bil­i­ty.

Direct­ly in synch with Africom’s mis­sion state­ment, Com­bined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa focus­es on oper­a­tions that blend defense, diplo­ma­cy and devel­op­ment. The goal, Rose said, is to build capac­i­ty with­in African nations so they can keep extrem­ism from tak­ing hold.

“What we are doing is try­ing to pre­vent con­flict and pro­mote region­al sta­bil­i­ty,” he said.

To pre­pare deploy­ing joint task forces for chal­lenges ahead, Joint Forces Com­mand begins a broad train­ing pro­gram months before the deploy­ment that con­tin­ues after they arrive in the the­ater.

The mis­sion rehearsal exer­cise, con­duct­ed just a month before deploy­ment, brings the pre-deploy­ment train­ing to a crescen­do in an exer­cise Kur­ta called “very reflec­tive of the envi­ron­ment we will see on the ground in Dji­bouti.”

As the exer­cise reached its fourth day, Kur­ta and his staff were deal­ing with every­thing from the day-to-day nuts and bolts of mak­ing the joint task force work to high­er-lev­el plan­ning oper­a­tions at the strate­gic and oper­a­tional lev­el.

Rose’s team kept the staff on their toes by hit­ting them with every notion­al “what if” in the book – often simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. Tan­za­nia was hit by a cyclone and asked for an assess­ment team to eval­u­ate the sit­u­a­tion. Extrem­ists threat­ened to attack a water-drilling team oper­at­ing in Kenya. U.S. cit­i­zens and third-coun­try nation­als in Eritrea were under threat due to a bor­der dis­pute, requir­ing Com­bined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa to sup­port a non­com­bat­ant evac­u­a­tion.

“What we are doing is pre­sent­ing a whole bunch of prob­lems for the Horn of Africa staff to have to deal with, to come up with cours­es of action, brief them to the com­man­der, and then the com­man­der makes a deci­sion about what course of action to purse,” Rose said.

Army Brig. Gen. San­ford E. Hol­man has seen the mis­sion rehearsal exer­cise from both sides of the fence. Before becom­ing vice com­man­der of the Joint Warfight­ing Cen­ter, he went through its train­ing before becom­ing deputy com­man­der of Com­bined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa in 2007. Hol­man offered his first­hand assess­ment of the val­ue of the train­ing to deploy­ing task forces.

“This gives them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to go through their stan­dard oper­at­ing pro­ce­dures, their tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures and get them ready,” he said. “And by the time they fin­ish this exer­cise, they are ready to deploy.”

Kur­ta called the train­ing Joint Forces Com­mand pro­vides — par­tic­u­lar­ly its use of best prac­tices and lessons learned in train­ing sce­nar­ios — a key to the task force’s suc­cess. “We are cer­tain­ly ready to take on that mis­sion,” he said.

His staff shared his sen­ti­ments. Navy Capt. Mark Davis, head plan­ner on the new com­bined joint task force staff, wel­comed the exer­cise as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to pre­pare for his first mis­sion out­side the sub­ma­rine force.

“It’s remark­able how real it is here, and how real­is­tic the sce­nar­ios are that we are being exposed to,” he said. “This gives me the con­fi­dence to say that on Day One, I can hit the ground run­ning.”

Navy Senior Chief Pet­ty Offi­cer Leo McCray vol­un­teered for his sec­ond deploy­ment to Dji­bouti, but said the exer­cise is giv­ing him new insights, too. “This gives the staff an oppor­tu­ni­ty to build rela­tion­ships that will be impor­tant when we arrive in the the­ater,” he said.

With 21 years of ser­vice under his belt, includ­ing ser­vice on four ships, McCray said he’s hard-pressed to come up with a more ful­fill­ing mis­sion than what awaits the com­bined joint task force staff in Dji­bouti.

“The beau­ty of it is, this is not com­bat­ive. This is human­i­tar­i­an, and we are there to help,” he said. “The great thing about this mis­sion is that you get to see the fruits of what you have done. That makes it all real­ly heart­felt.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)