NEWS | Dec. 27, 2016

Planning for Contingencies Key for U.S. Africa Command, Joint, Multinational Partners at Judicious Response ‘17

By Sgt. 1st Class Alexandra Hays 79th Sustainment Support Command

Kaiserslautern, Germany— About 2,000 U.S. military, international troops and intergovernmental personnel participated in Exercise Judicious Response—U.S. Africa Command’s largest exercise—Dec. 5-11 in locations including Germany, Italy, California, and North Carolina with an aim at crisis response. 

In the two-phase exercise which takes place every other year, servicemembers from all U.S. military branches and components took part as well as intergovernmental agencies including the State Department and United States Agency for International Development. Participants, who worked together under the umbrella of U.S. Africa Command (or AFRICOM), flexed their competency in response to a plausible crisis on the African continent. 

U.S. AFRICOM is responsible to the Secretary of Defense for military relations with African nations and exercises like this fall directly in line with AFRICOM’s mission which includes disrupting and neutralizing transnational threats and building African partner defense capability to promote regional security, stability and prosperity. 

James G. Derdall, lead AFRICOM exercise planner at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Joint crisis response exercises provide the opportunity to bring commands and organizations together with AFRICOM that don’t have a habitual working relationship. 

“There’s nothing like the value of current and future mission partners working together in an exercise environment like this,” Derdall explained. 

Derdall stressed the payoff of bringing together components in a Joint, multinational environment to respond to a hypothetical crisis that is not far from what could be faced in the near future. 

“In doing that, each of the participating organizations are able to take existing plans and standard operating procedures, bounce them against the scenario, and make appropriate adjustments based off of lessons learned,” Derdall said.

Dredall also explained that Judicious Response provides an opportunity to evaluate the way decisions are made all the way down to the individual Soldier/Sailor in making sure they have what is needed to do what the country has asked of them. 

“People at each step and each tier are thinking through what they are responsible for,” Derdall explained. 

Navy Capt. Scott Y. Yamamoto, sustainment branch chief at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who helps design the sustainment portion of exercises for combatant commands, said that Joint, international exercises allow units the space to examine their processes. 

Yamamoto explained that commands traditionally have Operational Plans, (or OPLANS), in place and exercises give commands the opportunity to rehearse putting those plans into action. 

“It gives us a chance to practice Operational Plans—we interact with coalition partners and other services to understand how they do business,” Yamamoto said.  

Central to exercises like this, Yamamoto explained, is they help units think through challenges before they happen. 

Yamamoto also stressed the importance of integrating the Reserve component in exercises like Judicious Response. 

“I think it is very important,” Yamamoto said of integrating the Reserve in Joint, multicomponent exercises. “The Reserve really helps out, especially with contingency operations.”

The 79th Sustainment Support Command, the second-largest command in the Army Reserve headquartered in Los Alamitos, California, took part in the exercise as part of training and preparation for scheduled alignment in 2017 as a Theater Sustainment Command with U.S. Army Africa, AFRICOM’s Army element. 

During the exercise, the 79th SSC assumed the role of Theater Sustainment Command (TSC) supporting two Joint Task Force Headquarters and one Expeditionary Sustainment Command.

“Training in prime conditions [like those simulated in Judicious Response] allows units the ability to attain their objectives and evaluate their shortfalls,” said Col. Vincent E. Buggs, 79th SSC Supports Operations Officer, who led the 79th’s participation in the exercise.

Buggs explained that Judicious Response imposed extreme challenges for the 79th, as unit members operated out of five different international locations. 

“This configuration simulated the real-world stressors that a Theater Sustainment Command faces, but it also shaped numerous courses of action that allowed the TSC Support Operations Section to develop real-world plans of action,” Buggs said.

He explained that the African continent presents a robust logistical challenge, but that his troops were up to the task. 

“The 79th SSC’s participation in Judicious Response 17.1-2 was critical to the unit building readiness and gaining knowledge about the U.S. AFRICOM area of responsibility,” Buggs said.  

Challenging 79th SSC troops to do their very best work, Commanding General Maj. Gen. Mark W. Palzer visited his Soldiers in Kaiserslautern Dec. 2, and encouraged them to provide well thought-out and realistic logistics estimates to U.S. Africa Command during the exercise.

“The only thing worse than no support is bad support,” said Palzer during his visit. “The only thing worse than no solution is a bad solution.” 

Providing good support in a crisis response operation requires State Department collaboration, explained retired U.S. Ambassador Alphonse La Porta, a consultant for the exercise. 

La Porta, a former U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia who also worked for the State Department in Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Turkey, and the Philippines, explained that rapport building during exercises extends to organizations that military commands don’t usually interact with while conducting their stateside missions. 

“I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world that the U.S. military could deploy to that it wouldn’t be working right alongside the embassies,” La Porta said. “This exercise brings the real and exercise worlds closer together.” 

La Porta, who spent 38 years working for the Department of State, said international, multicomponent exercises insert real-world complexity into training. 

“One thing that I’ve learned from working closely with the military throughout my career is that training is a constant need,” said La Porta, adding that exercises like this are equally valuable for State Department employees too. 

Derdall echoed La Porta’s sentiment of the value of the exercise.  

“Exercises like this are an opportunity to go more than paper-deep … it’s a chance to roll up sleeves on an operation together,” Derdall said.