By Capt. Christopher Engdahl
Mission Commander Pacific Partnership 2015
What is Pacific Partnership? I freely admit that nearly a year ago I was asking myself that same question. I had no idea there was even an opportunity for a destroyer squadron commodore to lead such a dynamic and complex mission. But there I was, assigned as mission commander for Pacific Partnership 2015 (PP15), having just fleeted up from deputy commander to commodore.
In my “normal” Navy job I have led several warships, ensuring they are manned, trained and equipped to meet our nation’s call. I also serve as the sea combat commander for the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) strike group, providing anti-submarine and surface defense so the aircraft carrier and her attached air wing can effectively execute their mission. Commodore has been the best job I have had thus far in the Navy and one I have been training for my entire surface warfare career. Frankly, commodore was in my wheelhouse, I knew the tactics and systems, I understood my leadership’s intent, I was fortunate to have a superb staff, and the ships I led were some of the finest in the Navy. Pacific Partnership wasn’t even on my radar.
So as I strove to understand my new assignment as PP15 Mission Commander, I dove into the lessons learned and past history and my eyes were quickly opened to the breadth and scope of the Pacific Partnership mission. After the December 2004 tsunami devastated parts of South East Asia, Pacific Partnership began as a military-led humanitarian response to one of the world’s most catastrophic natural disasters. The success of the initial mission, the goodwill it engendered, and the cooperative spirit all of the partners provided has carried over and now the mission is in its tenth year. Pacific Partnership focuses now on providing humanitarian and civic action programs that strive to improve critical infrastructure, support host nation health, education and service programs and improve disaster response preparedness all the while enhancing relations with numerous partners in the region. I realized this would be unlike any deployment, mission, or leadership opportunity I had ever taken.
One of the first things I did as a mission commander was to draw out the command and control (C2) diagram. I began with all the participants I knew – I had my destroyer squadron (DESRON), the Navy’s Medical Treatment Facility (MTF), USNS Mercy (T-AH19) and her Military Sealift Command crew, the Joint High Speed Vessel, USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3) and her crew and the 30th Naval Construction Regiment. I drew blocks for the Seabees, the Army (both medical and Civil Affairs), the United States coast guard, the air force, and Marines. I would have an Australian deputy and a New Zealand chief of staff. Japan, Timor-Leste, Malaysia, South Korea, Fiji, the Philippines, Canada, the U.S. State Department and the United State Agency for International Development would participate. U.S. Embassies of the participating nations needed blocks, as did U.S. Pacific Fleet, Third Fleet, and Seventh Fleet. There were numerous Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to include as well. In the end, several pages were full of blocks and lines, both dashed and solid, connected and assumed connected. All of these entities involved and focused on mission success. It was the most complex and challenging C2 organization I had ever seen, and with a healthy degree of trepidation, I realized I was going to be in charge and leading it.
In addition, the scope of this year’s mission would be the largest humanitarian mission of this type ever conducted. We would visit seven countries to include Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Solomon Islands. We would have two ships and JHSV would be an experimental test platform for this new type of Maritime Support Command ship. Additionally, we would be headed to a region where natural and manmade disasters continue to threaten the security, stability, and prosperity of all nations around the world.
As the Pacific Partnership team sails over the horizon, my hope is that we continue to expand the environment of mutual trust and respect developed between the civilian and military leaders during our planning over these last several months; trust and respect are truly integral parts of any mission’s success. I welcome the positive experiences and challenges we will undoubtedly face during the important work we have ahead of us. And I look forward to being part of what I have come to realize is a mission unlike any other in the world.