Operating in a RADCON Environmentfifth-largest earthquake in recorded history. The resulting tsunami caused immeasurable damage including crippling cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex near Sendai, Japan. In efforts to prevent a catastrophic meltdown, reactors were vented to release increasing internal pressure. Several fission products were sent skyward in a radioactive plume carried easterly into the western Pacific. In addition to the airborne threat, water drawn from the ocean to cool the reactors drained back into the ocean carrying a contaminated ocean-plume eastward.
Besides damaging the plants at Fukushima, the tsunami devastated the coast, leaving 4 million Japanese citizens without electricity, 1.5 million without water, and 27,000 missing. In response to the government of Japan’s request for assistance, Japan-based U.S. Navy ships sortied to Honshu’s northeast coast in Operation Tomodachi. En route to the affected area, the USS Essex (LHD-2) damage-control experts reviewed FM 3-11.5, Multiservice Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Decontamination. Although expeditionary missions are common for the Navy’s amphibious fleet, operating and conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) in a radiologically contaminated (RADCON) environment required adaptability, flexibility, dynamic planning—and writing the book along the way.
The Navy trained and operated in a Cold War environment for decades. Procedures were published and practiced, and protective equipment was set aside for nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare. With the waning threat of global nuclear war, priorities shifted to chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) warfare, with an addendum as nuclear proliferation expanded—CBR-N. References prescribed how the Essex should avoid and recover from a thermonuclear blast, but not how to sustain operations in a RADCON environment.
With the adapted Cold War checklist complete, new questions arose. What does contamination mean? What level of contamination is hazardous? What happens when that level is reached? Can helicopters fly in a plume? Will aircraft and landing craft bring back high levels of contamination to a “clean” ship? The procedures outlined in the Cold War manuals were proving impractical and insufficient for unfettered support of Operation Tomodachi. With her mission unchanged, Essex leaders no longer questioned if they would do it, but how.
The Greatest Threat
Contamination—not radiation—was the long-term threat to sustained HA/DR operations. Radiation was strongest at the Fukushima plant, and the Essex’s distance from the reactors exponentially minimized exposure to that radiation. But fissionable material did not remain at the plant. To reduce heat-generated pressure from the uncooled reactor vessels, plant workers vented radiological contaminates into the atmosphere, creating airborne plumes. The plumes’ paths followed prevailing winds and weather and tracked toward the Essex. Any shipboard system that could collect or concentrate fissionable products such as air handlers, ventilation filters, gunwales, deck-drains, greases, oils, or low spots in the flight deck quickly became the focus of newly trained radiation-control surveyors. A survey program was quickly developed for aircraft and landing craft making contact with contaminated soil ashore.
Once the threat to sustained HA/DR operations was identified, mitigation methods were codified with three goals:
• Limit ship and crew exposure to contamination.
• Limit contamination to the ship’s exterior.
• Sustain continuous HA/DR operations in support of Operation Tomodachi.
Using emerging Navy guidance and expert assistance from on-board Navy radiation specialists from Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the Essex tightly controlled exposure to radiological hazards through organizational adaptations and alterations to flight-deck and well-deck operating procedures.
Changes to routine duties were implemented to track and monitor contamination levels and to advise the commanding officer and embarked leadership on the operational impacts of survey readings and decontamination efforts.
First, a radiation-control watch was established. Teams worked around the clock, monitoring radio messages and logging dozens of survey forms generated by radiation-survey teams stationed on the flight deck or in the well deck.
Next, the Essex’s damage-control assistant was assigned as decontamination coordinator. Added responsibilities included issuing and controlling Mission-Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear—rubber suits, masks, and gloves—dosimeters, and decontamination supplies to survey and flight-deck-decontamination teams. The coordinator also liaised with all radiological players to ensure surveys and decontaminations were handled efficiently and systematically.
Finally, because of changes and updates from both the Fukushima plants and refined radiation health guidance, radiation-control policies were amended daily. To keep sailors and Marines informed and to emphasize the importance of upholding these policies, a radiation-control liaison officer was assigned to work closely with embarked radiation specialists to develop policies, analyze shipboard impacts, and train a cadre of radiation surveyors.
Damage controlmen were trained as radiation health technicians, performing surveys in addition to assisting in decontaminating gear and aircraft. Aerographer’s mates located and modeled radiation plumes and informed the Essex’s command and embarked leadership. The supply department determined how to handle and store radiological waste. All embarked sailors and Marines were trained on the hazards of radiological contamination and to remain vigilant and patient with amended policies.
On the Flight Deck
During Operation Tomodachi, up to 100 sailors and Marines and more than 25 aircraft operated on the flight deck. Each day, approximately five aircraft and 30 individuals went ashore inside the radiological “warm zone.” Aircraft and personnel routinely returned with a measurable level of radiological contamination. To remain flying and keep contamination from entering the skin of the ship, several modifications to flight-deck operations were required:
• All but one entrance and one exit to the flight deck were secured.
• MOPP overboots were worn on the flight deck. They were issued at the access and collected for decontamination at the exit. If they could be decontaminated below 100 corrected counts per minute (CCPM), they were reissued. Any boots failing decontamination were stored for disposal.
• Radiation specialists conducted surveys of every person entering the skin of the ship. No one was exempt from the survey, which averaged five minutes per person. Any gear found above 100 CCPM was decontaminated prior to return.
• Helicopters were surveyed and decontaminated inside and out.
Although implementing new procedures was challenging, necessity demanded a steep learning curve. New processes quickly became routine to maintain unhindered flight operations.
In the Well Deck
Waterborne operations landed hundreds of Marines to the radiological warm zone. Survey procedures used on the flight deck were adapted and refined for larger scale operations in the ocean environment. One of the challenges to surveying wetted gear is the radiological shielding effect of even a thin film of water.
Landing craft utility (LCU) boats were decontaminated at sea prior to entering the well deck using a saltwater wash-down by trained Marines and embarked radiation specialists. Marine boots were surveyed before disembarking the LCU to eliminate contamination spread. Rucksacks were removed before Marines proceeded to a full-body scan, and contaminated uniforms and gear were tagged for decontamination and/or disposal. Some Marines lost contaminated gear exceeding 100 CCPM, for a total of 150 pounds.
After completing 32 days of HA/DR in and out of the warm zone, the final question was how effective containment policies and practices had been. During the four-day transit to Okinawa, surveyors needed to prove the Essex was free from contamination by meeting the following criteria:
• Establish that all internal spaces were free from contamination.
• Establish that all external surfaces were free from contamination.
• Segregate, contain, and store all low-level radioactive waste.
The Essex has more than 1,400 internal spaces. Certifying that each was clean in four days was no small task. Embarked radiation specialists and newly trained surveyors swept areas within the ship, averaging 10 minutes per space and 60 minutes for messing and berthing spaces.
External areas, including the flight deck, well deck, aircraft, and Marine vehicles, were extensively surveyed and results mapped. Any area of elevated contamination was decontaminated and closely monitored. The flight deck and all external surfaces were rinsed with the ship’s countermeasure wash-down system and scrubbed with soap and water. After a thorough and extensive survey was completed and documented for future research, the Essex was certified free and clear.
Personal articles that could not be decontaminated were placed in an airtight container, marked as low-level radioactive waste, and stored by the Essex’s hazardous materials organization for future disposal.
Lack of existing guidance was the major obstacle to sustaining operations in a radiological environment. In that absence, the Essex took charge of educating her sailors and Marines and developed effective policies with the assistance of radiation health experts. While the learning curve was steep, the ship’s sailors and Marines mastered the keys to operating in a radiological environment and sustaining humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in support of the people of Japan.
Commander Lowell is a senior officer ship-maintenance-and-repair course instructor at the Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, Rhode Island. He has commanded three crews in six ships and was temporarily assigned as the Essex’s executive officer.
Joint Air: Don’t Let Knowledge Slip Away
Nine years after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Navy stands at the edge of losing capital it has slowly accumulated over the years. Strike groups are trained to integrate into the joint air command and control (C2) environment throughout the Fleet Response Plan from the classroom through joint task force exercise. Yet when they enter the theater, they may as well be speaking a foreign language.
It seems as though we continually let knowledge slip away too easily when it will be very difficult to recover as combat operations commence in the next major theater operation. The Navy needs to clarify its course and game-plan.
Is joint air C2 a core mission? It is unclear whether or not we have prioritized giving the joint force maritime component commander (JFMCC) and strike groups the capability to collaboratively plan and execute at the joint operational and tactical levels. Critical parts of Theater Battle Management Core System (TBMCS) funding have been and continue to be targeted across the Future Years Defense Programs. This may be because of budgetary expediency, and yet Headquarters Marine Corps for Aviation has made air C2 a core priority. Is naval aviation leadership willing to do the same?
The concept and doctrine for JFMCC/maritime operations center/maritime headquarters have been documented. The numbered fleet commanders need to adapt and execute. The service must apply the composite warfare commander concept and define JFMCC relationship(s) with other components more in terms of C2 nodes with full C2 capabilities.
Our Joint Background
It has been more than 20 years since Operation Desert Storm when, by necessity, the air tasking order (ATO) was flown out by carrier-based antisubmarine warfare aircraft—Lockheed S-3 Vikings—from the combined air operations center (CAOC) to the carrier strike group. Since then our service has slowly but surely come into the world of distributive planning and real-time collaborative execution with respect to joint air operations. We have migrated to the joint system of record for air C2; we have created classes at the Fleet concentration centers, establishing a joint working relationship with the Air Force’s C2 Warrior School to ensure that selected Fleet air C2 billet holders get a critical basic understanding of joint air operations interrelationships. Finally, we now understand that manning the air operations center is a process that requires thought and preparation. We cannot show up on day one of the war saying, “Here are my targeting priorities Joint Force Air Component Commander.”
Our high-water mark occurred in the latter stages of major combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Over the course of that campaign, the Navy had a plan to fully integrate personnel into the combined air operations center ashore as augmentees and liaisons. Afloat, our aircraft carrier strike operations planning teams built planning shells for strike group direct support missions, forwarding them to CAOC combat plans where those sorties would appear on the ATO along with common use Navy missions planned by multiservice planners at the combined air operations center. Carrier air wing personnel stood the current operations watch-reporting air tasking order execution to CAOC combat ops. The process worked, though it wasn’t easy; and we came to realize that it was complex. The resultant product was a near-real-time status of missions available for reference laterally and vertically by all C2 levels, from Commander, Joint Task Force, to unit level.
Some think the Navy does not need to be an active planning participant in the joint air C2 process, but that is incorrect. As the combined air operations center shrinks in size, the components will be required to pick up more of the planning burden for both common-use and direct-support missions. The tools that enable collaboration and interoperability across these lines must be preserved and improved.
Preserve and Improve Tools
Service leadership must assess and formulate a recommendation for Fleet approval as to the scalability in level of effort required to execute and manage air C2 within the Navy based on the nature of operations. The capability to meet this requirement must take into account the number of organizations that possess an ability to execute C2 of air operations and those organizations’ capacity to function for any given level of operational intensity.
The Bureau of Personnel must ensure all identified Fleet air C2 billets are funded and filled with personnel who are properly trained to assume the roles and responsibilities in the process. En route, permanent change-of-station to schools is essential and must be funded.
United States Fleet Forces Command and commanders, Strike Force Training, Atlantic and Pacific, must ensure there remains a naval command and control of air operations (NC2AO) staff billet to deal with service and joint air C2 issues. The Fleet Forces Command NC2AO community manager must be empowered by leadership to represent the service and carry out air C2 requirements for the Navy. Under the NC2AO community manager, a comprehensive list of air C2 specialists must be available for contingency planning. This available manpower pool would be sent forward to the CAOC, maritime operations center, or ship to augment and relieve functional and manning burdens.
Commander Naval Strike Air Warfare Center, as the Navy’s lead on strike issues, should be designated Deputy–Combined/Joint Force Air Component Commander in the event of emerging theater contingencies. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center commander served as Deputy Combined Force Air Component Commander, bringing forward many staff strike experts and overseeing a significant Navy augmentation/liaison presence at the Prince Sultan Air Base (Saudi Arabia) combined air operations center. This lesson cannot be lost in the shuffle of passing time.
The Theater Battle Management Core System (TBMCS) is the only capability we field that enables true joint planning, collaboration, and execution monitoring. The capability must be preserved to plan, collaborate, monitor, and execute within the joint air C2 command structure, ensured by the Naval Network Warfare Command as the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR)/force-net type commander; and by Space Warfare Systems Command as the technical implementer. Distributive and collaborative strike/fires planning and execution management among C2 nodes is a tenet of Sea Strike and would be a naturally assumed capability within a net-centric environment. Space Warfare Systems Command must ensure strike groups have all the tools (all software service packs and maintenance releases) that will enable interoperability with the combined air operations center. The Fleet must have significant operational support to answer the call when needed.
The lack of a cohesive C4ISR/information-technology development and fielding strategy is crippling the service. As maintenance releases are fielded in the Theater Battle Management Core System, the Fleet falls further behind in implementing much-needed technology and capabilities. It may come to a point where there will be no targeting capabilities fielded afloat, with all Fleet targeting being done in the maritime operations center (ashore or on the afloat command ship). Where does this leave the joint partners?
TBMCS is an Air Force program, but joint partners use it extensively. The Air Force has unilaterally made acquisition decisions placing it into sustainment, lowering priorities for a program used by the joint partners in favor of the light blue air operations center weapon system. The Air Force must stay attuned to the joint perspective and not be allowed to wander astray. Independent service testing (recurring events) of new technologies/functionality through the air operations center weapons system test team/force rather than the TBMCS team (where the Navy and Marine Corps are signatories) cannot continue. Air Combat Command and the TBMCS systems program office cannot make unilateral program decisions that will affect fielding within the Navy and Marine Corps. TBMCS supposedly is the “engine” of the air operations center weapon system. It should not lag behind the joint partners in fielding capability.
Adhere to Doctrine
“If it flies in the area of responsibility, it will be on the ATO.” These are words lost in translation over the years. Currently joint-partner direct-support sorties are not included on the ATO in an area of responsibility not to be named. Instead, all flights and alerts need to be on the ATO because you never know when a shooting war may begin, and you don’t want to be the one at the end of a long table explaining why we didn’t follow doctrine and ended up shooting down friendlies.
The Navy’s future in the air C2 arena must be shaped by commitment to a clear strategy and a willingness to execute when directed. There can be no shortcuts, no looking down the road as to what future systems capabilities could bring. This is the path to success.
The Air Force cannot leave the service and alliance partners behind to chase technology for its own sake. Version 1.1.3, with a large portion of functionality web-enabled, was the first logical step in moving to net-centric functionality across components. If a C2 air operation suite is indeed the path to service-oriented architecture, we must declare that intention and work toward that goal rather than through a series of TBMCS 1.1.3 maintenance releases that complicate the air C2 architecture and impose a series of ridiculous interoperability requirements that makes the technical system views look like spaghetti.
Offshore Sail Training: A View from West Point
I walked onto the Army sailing team in 2008 without ever having set foot on a sailboat. Never would I have guessed that my team and the connections I made would define my 47-month experience at West Point. My very first race was the invitational Shield’s Cup Regatta held at the U.S. Naval Academy. Army sailing took last place that year, a dismal finish that many on my team would rather forget. However, with that brief taste of sailing Navy 44s—the Navy 44 Mark II Sail Training Craft is the latest of four generations of one-design offshore cruiser/racers to be authorized and funded by Congress for training midshipmen—I got hooked. I started to dedicate my free time to learning, practicing, and perfecting the craft of sailing. With the help of my coach, I also made significant connections with the sailing program at the Naval Academy that helped me develop as a sailor and cadet-coach.
When I arrived at the Naval Academy in January 2010 on an academy exchange, I somehow convinced them to let a West Pointer teach a group of midshipmen how to sail. Shortly thereafter, I was assigned to the Offshore Sail Training Squadron (OSTS) program: a three-week sail to Newport, Rhode Island, along with eight midshipmen. A month before I returned to West Point, I confidently gave the last command to make down the lines on board the Tenacious (NA-25). In retrospect, I am able to identify four major facets of leadership that were developed and strengthened though the OSTS program: mentorship, experience, new knowledge, and the ability to reflect. These, combined with the challenging environment of life at sea, provide midshipmen a real-time command laboratory that strengthens the foundation for lifelong leaders.
This is the first and most influential aspect of the OSTS experience. From the beginning of the program until the last stern line is set, there are numerous opportunities to adopt a mentor. Throughout my time in the program, my mentor was retired Army Colonel Dick Lunsford, a former West Point instructor. Although he is a sailing favorite at the Naval Academy, he has always been supportive of the Army sailing team and often dedicated his weekends to help coach and train our crew. Mentors such as he help support the Academy’s mission to develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically. He helped me synthesize my conclusions about leadership challenges I encountered and made certain I came away from each experience with a lesson learned.
One of the most significant lessons Colonel Lunsford taught me was the concept of “the loneliness of command.” This refers to the second- and third-order effects of decisions. At sea or on land, leaders are charged with the duty of making responsible and educated decisions that are not always comfortable for the crew or the leader. It is there, in the area between doing what is needed and what is wanted, that the leader will feel that loneliness.
These lessons can only be understood through shared personal experience. Mentors like Colonel Lunsford are an invaluable element of the OSTS program because they reflect what it means to be a leader in our current operating environment and promote mentorship to those they guide. With a cycle of great mentors developing future mentors, generations of leaders will continue to be inspired.
This is the second most important aspect of leader development. Over the course of our 15-day sail, my crew and I were tested a number of times by the sea and the weather. One trial occurred about seven miles off the eastern coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. A weather system began to move in just as I was relieved from my nightly watch. I retired to my bunk and had barely shut my eyes before I was wakened by a crew member yelling, “Rhys, Nick is on the bow and he needs your help!” Instinctively I grabbed my foul-weather gear and ran onto the deck.
The wind was howling, and the skies had opened up as I quickly surveyed the scene and spotted Nick’s headlamp on the bow. He was lying on the deck on top of a jib sail, struggling to stay in control of the situation—and on the boat, for that matter. The force of the wind, peaking at about 45 knots, caused the bow of the boat to round up into the breaking swells. I had to react immediately to secure the safety of my crew. With little time to think, I relied heavily on my training and let muscle memory take over. I quickly moved to release the jib halyard and fetch the sail ties to secure the flailing sail to the deck. After the sail was down and the crew was accounted for, the reality of the situation sank in.
Months later, I learned that I had executed “recognition-primed decision making.” I recognized the situation from hours of training and classroom exercises and was able to make a quick decision based on the circumstances. This validated the OSTS training program for me. From that point forward, I was confident that my training would get me through any situation at sea. While the program could not possibly teach you how to react in every instance, it does instruct you how to approach a situation calmly and objectively, troubleshoot, and develop an appropriate course of action. Although not officially, the OSTS teaching method inculcates a deliberate problem-solving process that is valuable in many circumstances for any military leader.
The OSTS program’s training philosophy is derived from military decision-making and training programs that are in operational use. It provides a basis of knowledge for midshipmen that will underlie their military careers. This knowledge extends beyond traditional skills such as plotting, engineering, and watch standing. It delves into the core values of leadership by placing the individuals, especially the midshipman skipper and executive officers, at the center of all training. It is based on standards and oriented around performance.
The offshore program gives the skipper and XO responsibility for training their crew by allowing them to determine the training schedule during the first week of local-area sailing. The skipper then takes the crew and trains them to a proficient level, which includes everything from running the galley to reefing sails and man-overboard drills. The schedule helps develop and enhance the technical proficiency of skippers and XOs. During their first overnight at the end of the first week, the skipper/executive officer team train the crew to adapt to a variety of situations that may arise while at sea. These rehearsals, or sea trials, are the best way for the leadership team to recognize the individual and collective tasks that still need improvement while also identifying the members of the crew to fill watch-captain positions. Finally, the program allows the leadership to identify and recommend members of their crew to return the following year as XOs. This helps sustain the training program while fostering an environment of continued proficiency and dedicated leadership.
When I returned to West Point in August 2010, I brought back knowledge and experience to the Army Offshore Sailing Section. I rejoined my coach, Dr. Lee Harrell (a fellow OSTS skipper and volunteer) and other members of the sailing team to develop a training schedule similar to the OSTS program. Dr. Harrell and I were determined to develop the team into a more competitive sailing program that was on par with the skill and resolve of its members. This determination was instilled in me by the OSTS program where I not only became a better sailor but also developed professionally and gained confidence in my leadership abilities.
Through reflection on my experiences at the Naval Academy and the incredible opportunity I was given, I became better suited for a prominent role on the sailing team. Although the technical skills I learned through the OSTS program may not be applicable for an Army officer, the chance I had to make substantial real-time and real-world decisions will remain with me indefinitely.
Mentorship, experience, new knowledge, and the ability to reflect are key elements in professional development. These are brought to the forefront in the OSTS program through real-life consequences of decisions made at sea. As author Herman Melville surmised, “at sea a fellow comes out.”
The OSTS program brings out the leadership potential in every midshipman. It puts young men and women into challenging situations, forcing them to face whatever fears they have to make quality, educated decisions for their crew. The program inspires its participants to take ownership of their professional development, a notion that will serve leaders well throughout their career. To me, the OSTS program is one of the most defining moments of my development as a junior officer and leader. I am grateful to the Naval Academy for providing me with this opportunity and I hope that I may one day return to the program.