Making history through combined operations

by 1st Lt. Ellen C. Brabo, Sgt. Uriah Walker and Sgt. Sung Guk Byu
U.S. Army

DAEGU, South Korea -- Combined operations are nothing new for service members stationed in the Republic of Korea. Units are continually training with their ROK military counterparts and work hand in hand with Korean Augmentations to the United States Army on a daily basis. This year however, United States Forces Korea gave a new definition to combined operations during exercise Operation Pacific Reach, April 11--21.

ExOPR17 is a combined joint logistics over the shore exercise and is hosted every other year on the Korean Peninsula. In years past, CJLOTS exercises were conducted on a smaller scale in order to test the interoperability between U.S. and ROK systems. The focus of CJLOTS is to train units and test capabilities related to humanitarian efforts. The expectation is that the established training sites simulate a port the military could use anywhere around the globe should the situation dictate.

This year, 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command in conjunction with 7th Transportation Brigade -- Expeditionary, 2nd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, 403rd Army Field Support Brigade, Eighth Army, USFK, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, ROK Army, ROK Marines and ROK Air Force, came together for exOPR17. For roughly two weeks these forces had the opportunity to establish their respective nodes, test and demonstrate capabilities, conduct cross training between branches and become a part of logistics history.

"When you look at the context of this exercise, we looked at bringing commodities and supplies ashore not only from the sea, but also via rail and air, utilizing multiple nodes for injecting commodities and supplies that are much needed for the forces in a time of war," said USN Cpt. Thomas Dearborn, Expeditionary Strike Group 3 chief of staff.

U.S. and ROK-A soldiers combined their efforts during exOPR17 in order to establish an Area Distribution Center used to deliver necessities such as food, fuel and ammunition to other units participating in the exercise. In addition to moving supplies, the ADC also supported its own maintenance yard, dining facility and life support area. During the first four days of exOPR17 the ADC successfully completed more than 20 supply convoys to various units across the training area to enable commanders to continue dynamic operations.

"Every function here is combined with our ROK counterparts," said Lt. Col. Bobby Bryant, 2ID SBDE deputy commanding officer. "We have combined ammunition, general supply, fuel and maintenance sections as well as transportation convoy operations."

In addition, 403rd AFSB, 2ID SBDE, 25th Transportation Battalion and 4th Quartermaster Detachment, in coordination with the ROK-AF, prepared two types of Low Cost Aerial Delivery Systems, both high and low velocity, in order to deliver nearly 30 loads of simulated fuel to a ROK-AF drop zone located outside of Busan.

The 551st Inland Cargo Transfer Company, 498th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 19th ESC, played a major role in overseeing the Central Receiving and Shipping Point. The CRSP is the location where vehicles and containers are required to go after arriving on the peninsula. In-transit visibility is provided for all branches of the military that need a staging area before the vehicles and equipment are sent to their final destination.

"The Movement Control Team that we are partnered with [has] the load plans and the final destinations of where [the vehicles] are all going," said Spc. Brian Katta, 551st ICTC cargo specialist. "We provide fuel and other support while they are here. Our main goal is to get them into the CRSP yard, staged and ready to roll to their final destination within a 24 hour time frame."

Another significant node during the exercise was the Inland Petroleum Distribution System operated by 339th Quartermaster Company, 498th CSSB, 19th ESC and the Amphibious Assault Fuel System owned by the USMC. This joint operation required coordination between the U.S. Army, USMC, USN and the ROK-MC. The two systems worked together to store and distribute fuel products from Dogu Beach, Pohang, to forward operating bases. Once the AAFS was constructed and fully operational, the U.S. Naval Ship Wheeler utilized the Offshore Petroleum Distribution System to transfer product from a tanker to a depot on the beach.

"We successfully validated interoperability with seven different bulk fuel systems and across four combined join services," said USMC Chief Warrant Officer 2 Victor Sanchez, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group bulk fuel detachment officer in charge.

Throughout the exercise, units continued to break new ground. A veteran of past CJLOTS operations in Korea, having been a participant since 2013, 7th TBX initiated their aspect of exOPR17 with the stabbing of Trident Pier at Dogu Beach. The pier served as the key piece to allowing the modular causeways to link in for the upload and download of multiple vehicles, to include a historic first when the ROK-A successfully linked their barge to the U.S. Army pier to download their vehicles over the shore.

"I think what was key about this year's exercise was that we had a really robust equipment set," said Col. Stacy Townsend, 7th TBX Commander. "Over the last five years, we have had containers or small equipment sets that didn't really tax our capabilities and force us to push ourselves to be better. This time we had a robust offload and upload of equipment that allowed us to tax ourselves unlike we have before."

Throughout the exercise, multiple foreign services sent members to observe the combined operations. One of these elements was the Australian Army. With more than 20 years of service and a vast amount of knowledge in regards to amphibious operations, Lt. Col. David Nathan, 10th Force Support Battalion commander, was one of two officers selected to observe the exercise.

"I was hoping to gain a greater insight into the capabilities and how we could get a greater level of interoperability," said Nathan. "I am talking about right down to the basic level of whether our equipment is interoperable. Whether our four-inch connector faces with the six-inch connector for bulk fuel. That would then go to inform about what type of capabilities we could provide to future iterations of the combined distribution exercise."

Due to its limited capabilities, the Australian Army does not often have the opportunity to exercise CJLOTS. However, their fundamental concept of combined logistics is similar to that of exOPR17. Once these officers return to home station, they will present a post activity report of their key observations and recommendations to the chief of joint operations in regards to the future participation of the Australian defense force in a combined distribution exercise.

"I think there will be a number of recommendations that are made, from the very small level of the interface of staff in staff planning and the integration of people in to U.S. headquarters all the way through the provision of capability," said Nathan.

As units look to the future of combined logistics and more specifically the CJLOTS exercise hosted in the ROK, they will be sure to pay close attention to lessons learned and work to mitigate past challenges that will be reported at an after action review now that the exercise has concluded. The initial planning conference for CJLOTS 2019 is scheduled for later this month.

"Together we set up an exercise that leveraged the individual capability while at the same time testing the interoperability on how we operate together as a service as well as in a combined environment with our ROK partners," said Dearborn.

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