Despite fiscal restraints, a New York-based Navy Reserve unit hosted the NATO Shipping Working Group conference for 40 representatives from NATO navies and observing nations, May 6-10.
Comprising delegations from 10 NATO countries as well as Brazil, the working group refined doctrine that allows allied navies to protect the world’s sea lanes through communication with the civilian maritime industry.
Open lines of communication with merchant ships and companies allows theater commanders to keep shipping traffic safe from pirates and other hazards, even far out of range of their warships, said the working group’s chairman, Royal Norwegian Navy Commander Stein Olav Hagalid.
“If civilian ships do as we ask them, to travel in areas and times of less risk, then we don’t have to be there (with warships),” Cmdr. Hagalid said. “It’s not all hard assets and frigates and how many missiles do we have. It’s how you deal with your main customer, especially for counter-piracy.”
More than 90 percent of the world’s trade travels by ship, and Naval Cooperation and Guidance of Shipping (NCAGS) officers help keep that trade flowing, ensuring products make it safely to stores around the world. The U.S. Navy has six Reserve units aligned to the fleets that provide NCAGS capability to theater commanders.
The New York detachment is aligned to the U.S. 6th Fleet, providing NCAGS capability to the European and African areas of operation. The detachment frequently fills U.S. 6th Fleet billets in U.S. and NATO maritime command centers, as well as participating in the NATO Shipping Working Group.
NCAGS in the U.S. and most allied navies is a Reserve-only capability. About half of the 130 Reserve members in NCAGS detachments work in the maritime industry in their civilian jobs.
U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFF) mans, trains and equips the NCAGS detachments for the fleets, providing NCAGS capability to combat commanders worldwide. Rear Adm. Anatolio B. “A.B.” Cruz, reserve deputy director for USFF Maritime Operations, keynoted the conference, May 6, highlighting the importance of this event and NCAGS capabilities to the U.S. Navy.
“The United States has employed NCAGS functionality globally, in U.S. waters, overseas, and in combat environments,” Rear Adm. Cruz told the group. “U.S. NCAGS has demonstrated flexibility in response to world-wide maritime needs”
“While the United States was scheduled years ago to host this year’s annual conference, the current fiscal environment made it necessary to stage the meetings at no cost to the government. The connections and flexibility of the Reserve community were vital to making that happen,” said the NCAGS New York Detachment Commander, Cmdr. James Polickoski.
“This is an example of how, as Reservists with diverse civilian jobs, we’re able to leverage and network far outside the Navy to make things happen,” Cmdr. Polickoski said. “This is what the citizen-Sailor brings to the table.”
Cmdr. John “Dice” Gormley, the New York Detachment executive officer, began planning the conference more than a year ago. Through the Navy Reserve community network, he was able to obtain no-cost meeting space at the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York’s financial district. His two-Sailor team coordinated with NATO maritime command staff to provide breakout rooms, audiovisual equipment and even coffee and refreshments with only the financing from the conference fee.
The result was indistinguishable from a similarly professional conference that could have cost the taxpayer thousands of dollars.
A New York City fire fighter who worked at Ground Zero, Sept. 11, 2001, Cmdr. Gormley also arranged a visit to the World Trade Center memorial, including a unique trip inside Fire Department of New York Ten House, a fire station located only yards from the Memorial.
“NATO expects some cultural immersion at these events, and finds that very valuable,” Polickoski said. “We got the work done here, but with a visit they’ll remember forever.”
The conference’s work product focused on three main areas – communications, including equipment and message traffic protocol; training and exercises, and publications and doctrine. The goal is to standardize terminology, techniques, tactics and procedures to ensure that all NATO militaries can operate smoothly in combination, as well as to be able to communicate their shipping-liaison mission effectively.
“There is one NATO NCAGS doctrine,” Cmdr. Hagalid said. “Based on the experiences of the last few years, where NATO and the EU and other countries have been pursuing similar counter-piracy missions, we are developing a more flexible doctrine.”
Press Release, May 14, 2013; Image: NATO