NECC Admiral looks beyond Afghanistan

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NECC Admiral looks beyond Afghanistan

Its hard to be persistent when your "ride" aka afloat logistic support is owned by another command and needs to go away?  Remember the Marines were left at Guadalcanal?

RADM Pottenger: NECC Looks Beyond Afghanistan, Awaits Drawdown

Date: November 9, 2009

Navy Expeditionary Combat Command intends to get back to its maritime roots and is looking ahead to a major change in its focus to trouble spots around the world in the next year or two when the command’s role in the Middle East is reduced, Rear Adm. Carol Pottenger, NECC commander, told Inside the Navy recently.

The majority of the command’s forces are assisting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is preparing to shift its focus to South America, Africa and other areas as it waits for President Obama to make a decision on when forces will begin to draw down from the Middle East.

“The mission in Afghanistan is different than the mission in Africa or South America, so it definitely comes back into my training pipelines,” Pottenger said in the Oct. 30 interview. “So that’s a big question for me in [fiscal year 2011].”

NECC is a command focused on training and partnering with nations to improve security and stability in troubled regions. The command does not decide where to send forces; it responds to the requests of U.S. combatant commanders around the globe.

Currently, most of NECC’s resources are focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, so a drawdown in those areas would allow the command to focus more on its traditional maritime missions, Pottenger said.

“My [explosive ordnance disposal] forces are heavily deployed to Afghanistan,” she said. “That’s not necessarily their normal mission to work inland to counter IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. The Seabees [construction battalions] are in Afghanistan, so it’s not every expeditionary force but it’s a large chunk of them that could be available to support other theaters if they weren’t going to Afghanistan.”

Some units are operating outside of U.S. Central Command, such as civil affairs groups and security training, which are focusing on U.S. Southern Command, Africa Command and Pacific Command areas of operations.

Pottenger said her command is merely a force provider so “I don’t decide where our forces go” once resources are freed up in Central Command, but NECC has been “educating” combatant commanders in areas such as South America and Africa about what services the command’s forces can provide, “not to sell ourselves, but [to say], ‘this is something we think you can use,’” she said.

The command has been looking toward Africa because of the need for stabilization efforts there and to South America because of the potential to partner and train with local navies, the two-star admiral said.

NECC, which has only been in existence for a few years, has had to endure significant funding cuts that have caused some reorganization. But Pottenger said she feels the command is not suffering any worse than any other part of the Navy in an environment of tightening budgets.

“No force in the Navy or any service has enough budget to lay against their requirement, so I’m not different than everyone else,” she said. “I feel like the [chief of naval operations] and [commander of Fleet Forces Command] spend a lot of time working their priorities and trying to balance those priorities, and my job is to make sure they know what the requirements are, they know what I can deliver with the budget I am given and they know where I may be taking risk because I’m not funded to 100 percent on the requirement.”

Pottenger said she feels that NECC has matured as a command and has “made great strides in understanding” processes and policies.

The command has been criticized in the past for not following up on projects, such as building schools that were not needed that then essentially became residences for the locals. However, Pottenger said the Navy as a whole -- not just NECC -- is trying to get a better grasp on how to effectively engage other nations.

“Who is it that sent the Seabees in there to build that school? It wasn’t the Seabees. It was the theater commander,” she said. “This isn’t about saying, ‘Gee, the theater commander didn’t do their homework.’ This is about all of the services, the United States of America, haven’t figured out, ‘How do we develop a comprehensive engagement strategy?’”

Pottenger said that is the value of NECC’s civil affairs groups: “To help that operational commander work their engagement strategy with the country team, with the ambassador, with the host nation to say, ‘Where do you need a school and how about if I send some Seabees to go build it for you?’”
After that, the Navy needs to come back to that host nation and find out what else needs to be done in order to build effective partnerships and show the host nation that they are valued, Pottenger said.
“We’re going to prove it to you by persistent engagement,” she said. -- Dan Taylor
© 2009 Inside Washington Publishers
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