I MEF exercises national response to crisis

13 Jun 2016 | Sgt. Anna Albrecht The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Marines with I Marine Expeditionary Force participated in Exercise Ardent Sentry at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, June 7-10, 2016. Ardent Sentry is conducted with U.S. Northern Command-sponsored Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, and U.S. Transportation Command. 

I MEF conducts exercises like this several times a year to ensure that if a crisis occurred, they know how to work with the other agencies involved and can effectively help the civilian forces who require their assistance. 

Ardent Sentry exercised a national response to a notional Cascadia Subduction Zone Tsunami event impacting Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. This earthquake simulated a full-rip of the 700-mile fault line from North Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino, California, shaking the ground for up to 50 minutes, followed by several aftershocks measuring 7.0 magnitude on the Richter Scale. Eight million citizens were directly impacted in Oregon and Washington with 14,100 fatalities and 24,000 injured, and there were significant damages to critical infrastructures. 

This exercise helped determine I MEF assets available during this type of crisis, as well as identify when a disaster may require the Marine Corps’ response. 

During a natural disaster, Marines would serve in a total supportive capacity, explained Maj. Louis Uhl, a liaison officer with I MEF. He explained that first responders dealing with the disaster would have to request military assistance after completely exasperating their capabilities. 

This is due to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which was passed to prevent U.S. military personnel from acting as law enforcement agents on U.S. soil. The National Guard is the only group authorized to engage in the U.S., however the president can permit the Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps to get involved. 

The Marines have assets that civilian forces do not, which make them valuable in these situations. Maj. Rick Bernier, the I MEF watch floor officer in charge, explained the MEF’s tactical gear is very helpful in significant events such as the one simulated. For example, the tactical vehicles used by the Marine Corps are more effective in disastrous areas and Marine aircraft is capable of carrying a lot of weight and flying for extended periods of time, which would be beneficial when picking up people in dangerous areas or dropping off supplies. 

Maj. Henry Soukup, a I MEF Explosive Ordinance Disposal officer and lead DSCA planner, explained that after being notified of the earthquake, they had four to six hours to start planning how they would deploy their forces in support of USNORTHCOM.

After notification of the crisis, an initial response cell is formed, where leaders of the MEF assess the situation and determine if they need to push the information to subordinate commands for further support, explained Bernier.

A crisis action team made of I MEF personnel would then be working to collect all data necessary to keep the command informed as the crises continues. An operations planning team would correspondingly create detailed courses of action and determine what forces are available to support. 

The OPT would have to plan out the logistics, such as Marine transportation, lodging, and how they were going to sustain aircraft and personnel for an extended period of time with refueling stations, sustainment and billeting close to the affected areas.

Scenarios such as these benefit the MEF because they exercise cooperative assets under one command and control, said Lt. Col. Margaret Miller, an Individual Mobilization Augmentee Logistics Officer with I MEF. She explained the Marines are not in control during these crises and must have a clear mission to accomplish when being tasked to support. They would not be there for sustainment, rather they would be one of the last ones there and the first ones out after providing all of the aid they could. 

This exercise was just a piece of training I MEF utilizes to ensure they are ready to react to any situation whether it is overseas or in their own backyard.