JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
According to the Congressional Research Service, Alaska has 6,640 miles of shoreline - more than the rest of the United States combined. With the arctic sea ice rapidly diminishing, maritime traffic is swiftly increasing in the Arctic Ocean and through the Bering Strait, raising security and commerce regulation concerns.
Despite these considerations, Alaska does not have a major Navy installation, nor does the state have a single destroyer, cruiser or submarine assigned to it. So why would the U.S. Navy Foreign Liaison Office - part of the Chief of Naval Operations office at the Pentagon - bring foreign naval attachés to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson?
Navy Capt. Jay Coles, U.S. Navy Foreign Liaison Office director, said JBER's nature as a joint base representing every branch of service made the May 16 stop an ideal addition to the naval attachés' trip itinerary, which included a follow-on trip to Navy and Marine Corps installations in Southern California.
"The Navy and the other services operate as a joint force," Coles said. "Here, you have Alaskan Command - a joint headquarters. You also have the Coast Guard, which in many countries is not a separate service from their navy like it is with us."
The attachés represented 31 navies from the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Coles said attaché visits to installations expose them to how the U.S. is organized and operates while simultaneously fostering stronger inter-navy cooperation.
"The idea is to build excellent relationships - partnerships that are important to the Navy and the Marine Corps," Coles explained. "These partnerships will help us work better together in the future, both during exercises and real-world operations. An admiral said you can surge military forces, but you can't surge trust. Trust is built on fostering relationships."
The captain said another benefit of the U.S. Navy's openness to foreign navy attachés is gaining reciprocity for American counterparts assigned abroad.
"We're open," Coles said. "We set the standard for openness and transparency in the hope other countries are open and transparent in supporting our attachés overseas."
Commodore Stephen McDowall, Royal Australian Navy attaché to Washington D.C., said inter-navy cooperation is critical to ensuring open sea lanes and international amity.
"We're all committed to doing our part to ensure a secure, stable and prosperous world," McDowall said. "I think the challenges and opportunities that face these many different countries - from Asia, Indian Ocean areas, the Americas, Europe, are very similar. We all have to sit down together, roll up our sleeves, and work on the challenges to ensure the opportunities are capitalized on for the world."
With the United States' strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, McDowall said partnerships between Pacific navies become even more critical.
"I view the Pacific and Indian oceans regions as all interconnected - in fact it's an interconnected world," the commodore elaborated. "My country, like the United States, wants to see a stable, prosperous, trading international community; and Alaska and the Pacific Coast - indeed all countries bordering the Pacific and Indian oceans - all have a stake in ensuring security, stability and economic opportunities, so that we can continue to trade, and our peoples can go from strength to strength. Alaska is no different than any other part of the Pacific Basin."
During morning mission briefs at JBER's Arctic Warrior Events Center, Army Col. Eric Brigham, ALCOM chief of staff, explained how Air Force Lt. Gen. Russell Handy commands ALCOM, Joint Task Force-Alaska, 11th Air Force and Alaskan NORAD Region. When asked by attachés if ALCOM reported to Pacific Command or Northern Command, Brigham offered a curious answer.
"Yes," he said, before further explaining how Handy has responsibilities to both combatant commanders along different lines of reporting.
Coast Guard interest
Because many foreign navies also function as coast guards, attachés showed particular interest during their visit to U.S. Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, located at the Alaska Army National Guard Armory on JBER.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Sean Decker, Sector Anchorage chief of response, spoke about the challenges of administering the Coast Guard's largest sector, which spans the entire state save Southeast Alaska.
Decker spoke about how diminishing arctic sea ice is greatly increasing traffic through the Bering Strait, the isthmus between Russia and Alaska that is 51 miles at its widest point and between 98 and 160 feet in depth. This increase in traffic will inevitably require more Coast Guard efforts in regulation as well as search and rescue.
Attachés were interested about the challenges associated with regulating and responding to commercial fishing operations, specifically in the Dutch Harbor area where the largest fisheries operate. They asked if there were issues keeping unauthorized foreign fishing boats from fishing Alaska waters. Decker said they work to keep American fishers in U.S. waters and foreign fishing boats out.
ALCOM areas of interest
Jeff Fee, ALCOM director of training and exercises, discussed where the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex fits in the U.S. armed force's range portfolio. Five times the size of the training range at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Fee said JPARC facilitates large joint training exercises.
"You can do things up here that you just can't squeeze in down at Nellis," he said.
Fee also talked about the capabilities of the Temporary Maritime Activities Area, of particular interest to the naval attachés. Located in the Gulf of Alaska, the TMAA comprises more than 42,000 square nautical miles of surface and subsurface ocean training area and airspace. Fee said the TMAA's distance to JPARC's land ranges and JPARC's topography do an excellent job of approximating naval forces operating from the Arabian Sea into Afghanistan.
After Army Col. Thomas Roth, U.S. Army Alaska chief of staff, briefed the capabilities of his command, attachés asked if the Army recruited USARAK Soldiers from Alaska. He told the audience the vast majority of Soldiers come from other states and territories, and they are trained to operate in the rigors of arctic weather and terrain.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Scott Mellgren, ALCOM logistics planner, briefed how Joint Logistics Over the Shore operated during last month's 14 linked Alaska disaster-response exercises. JLOTS is the process of moving goods ashore without a port. Mellgren said 90 percent of Alaska's goods come through the Port of Anchorage.
"The port is the center of gravity for the state," he said. "Any degradation to the port, and there may be three days' food left on the shelves at Wal-Mart and three days' of gas at the pumps."
The exercise simulated a temblor roughly the same magnitude as the 1964 Alaska earthquake, at which time the Port of Anchorage was greatly damaged. Navy and Army units worked together to establish an ad hoc port, bringing in supplies that were loaded onto trucks bound for stores in a process called "ship to shelf."
Navy Capt. Henny Jungermann, ALCOM director of plans, described the relatively small footprint of the U.S. Navy in Alaska. Navy elements in Alaska are:
Five officers and four enlisted Sailors work in ALCOM and support every ALCOM directorate.
The Navy Operational Support Center Anchorage, located at JBER-Richardson, provides mobilization-ready Navy Reserve Sailors to the fleet.
The Supervisor of Salvage and Diving, also located at JBER-Richardson is a civilian-operated component of Naval Sea Systems Command. SUPSALV provides support to the Navy, Department of Defense and other agencies in the ocean-engineering disciplines of marine salvage, pollution abatement, diving, diving system certification and waterborne ship repairs.
The Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility, located near Ketchikan, is the Navy's only West Coast facility for high-fidelity passive acoustic signature measurements in support of surface ships and submarines. The SEAFAC measurements help submarines operate silently in an effort to evade enemy passive sonar.
The Naval Special Warfare Center on Spruce Cape, Kodiak Island, is a training facility where Navy SEAL candidates train in cold-weather operations.
The delegation also visited the NOSC, the SUPSALV facility and Marines of D Company, 4th Law Enforcement Battalion.
Though there is a big difference in climate between the South Pacific and the waters surrounding Alaska, McDowall said the opportunity to come to Alaska and learn about the military at JBER is beneficial to him and the attaché delegation. He also said navies of the world confront many of the same issues.
"Alaska is no different than the rest of the Pacific Basin," McDowall said. "[...] There are [maritime] issues that confront us all."
This article was originally published at: http://www.jber.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123412098
- PACOM: (posted May 28, 2014) -