Terminal Fury Prepares PACOM to Confront Crisis, Threats
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii, April 6, 2008 The top U.S. officer in the Pacific declared a command post exercise that wrapped up here yesterday a big success in ensuring U.S. Pacific Command is ready to respond to the broad challenges it faces in the region.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating praised the weeklong Terminal Fury exercise for putting him and his staff through demanding 24-7 operations that tested their ability to work as a team to respond quickly to threats and crises.
“It was a fantastic week of learning,” said Air Force Col. Mike Duvall, the command’s exercises and training director, of the largest and highest-priority of more than a dozen major joint exercises the PACOM headquarters conducts each year.
More than 3,000 members of the PACOM headquarters and its sea, air and land forces components participated in this year’s Terminal Fury, the fifth of its kind.
Throughout the exercise, the staffs confronted one challenge after another as they received and acted on information drummed up by 400 “white cell” members who designed the exercise and kept the momentum building.
These “exercise injects” reflected real-world scenarios and potential crises the command could face, Duvall explained. An aircraft went down in the theater, requiring a full battle assessment and personnel recovery operations. A disease outbreak erupted, with food and medical-supply shortages creating a humanitarian crisis. An enemy attack on a ship operating in the theater put the command’s combat contingency plans into action.
Activity surrounding these events, to the point of deploying actual forces, was conducted just as it would be in real life, Duvall explained. The headquarters of U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Army Pacific, Pacific Air Forces and Marine Forces Pacific were abuzz throughout the week as they responded to information and taskings handed down from PACOM. Subordinate elements, including the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and 3rd and 7th U.S. Fleets, also participated.
All force movements, whether by the United States and its partner nations or by opposing forces, was replicated using one of the world’s most advanced systems of computer models and simulations.
Navy Capt Mark Donahue, PACOM’s current operations chief, praised the realism the planners created in building the exercise. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of expertise to give you a high-fidelity scenario like we had in a way that it doesn’t feel like you’re just playing a game,” he said. “And they put a lot of work into it ahead of time, to make it as realistic for us as possible.”
These capabilities brought breath to the exercise, without the need for mass deployments of troops and equipment, Duvall said.
“It’s amazing to me that we are able to, in one exercise, play and practice and become ready to fight in all spectrums. This involves almost every imaginable type of warfighting capability that’s out there,” he said. “It is literally underwater, on water, over water, airspace, land, cyber.
“And part of that is the modeling and simulation we use, and some of it is the robustness of our white cell.”
The white cell team monitored the action, injecting new situations and unexpected curve balls at every opportunity to keep the headquarters staffs on their toes.
To further enhance the realism, the white cell also role-played the host of people the PACOM staff would interact with in a real-life situation: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the Joint Staff and other military entities; regional partners; and other U.S. government agencies and non-governmental organizational, Duvall said.
“They faithfully replicated conversations I would be having telephonically in a real-world situation,” Keating said.
Keating offered high praise for the planners, who spent a full year building the exercise and are already at work on next year’s Terminal Fury. “It took lots of work by many different agencies, not just Pacific Command, to prepare for the exercise and to construct an exercise scenario that would be challenging, realistic and beneficial,” he said.
“The span of operations – intel, strategy, plans, policy, equipment, international and interagency involvement – is broader for this exercise than in any other exercise we do,” said Keating. “It reflects the possibility, if not the probability … that any plan we would execute in the real world would be similarly broad and comprehensive and challenging.”
Duvall said he knew the planners had hit pay dirt whenever he’d see Keating contemplate an issue thrown his way, take off his glasses and utter a “hmmm.”
“It doesn’t happen very often,” Duvall conceded, citing Keating extensive background and experience. “But every time it did, I knew that we had put him in the kind of situation that leads to learning… And that translates all the way down through his headquarters and component staffs. Therein lies the value of the training.”
Terminal Fury helped PACOM refocus on “what it takes to operate as a staff” during real, complex operations, Duvall said. “It refocuses our mindset on what we could be asked to do, and it gives us the confidence that we are ready, willing and more than able to do it,” he said.
The joint operations center hummed 24-7, processing incoming information and prioritizing its importance. “Our joint operations center was working together and getting scenarios thrown at them around the clock that required them to respond in one way or another,” said Donohue. “Having those injects coming in and letting the watch team respond to them is clearly the best practice we get out of this.”
Two deployable training teams sent by U.S. Joint Forces Command are helping PACOM maximize the exercise’s training value. The teams, one focused on the PACOM headquarters staff and the other on a joint task force it established, gave Keating and his senior staff their after-action review yesterday, and will develop a detailed report in the weeks ahead.
“They don’t evaluate us. They observe and give feedback,” said Donohue. “It’s another set of eyes that helps improve the way we operate.”
Because the teams work with all U.S. combatant commands, they bring a perspective simply not possible within an organization, he said. “They’ve seen it in all different areas, so they give us a really good perspective,” he said. “It’s very valuable feedback.”
PACOM staff will act on these recommendations quickly, Donahue said. “One thing we do in exercises and training is take all those lessons learned and put them into a system that forces the staff to address all those lessons,” he said. “We work to improve all those places we found we can improve.”
One thing Keating said he’s already learned through Terminal Fury is that his staff is up to the challenges they could be called on to face at a minute’s notice. He said he was impressed as he strolled around the headquarters to see how seriously his people were taking the scenarios, and they had hadn’t allowed “exercise fatigue” to creep in during day after day of long, high-pressure hours.
“This is as near-real world as we can simulate, and folks get caught up in it,” Keating said. “They pitch into this thing, and for seven days, this is what they have been doing, eating, sleeping and breathing….This captured their attention to a reassuring level.”
Keating expressed appreciation to some 140 “indispensable” reservists who supported the exercise. “We simply could not do this level of operation or exercise without the contributions of the reserves,” he said.