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by Tyler Will, Naval War College Public Affairs


NEWPORT, RI -- Students in the Naval War College’s College of Naval Command Staff Joint Maritime Operations (JMO) course began an exercise on May 26 that requires creating an elaborate plan for a hypothetical humanitarian crisis in the Pacific area of military operations.


The exercise runs almost three weeks, and provides about 300 JMO students with a comprehensive understanding of the civil side of military planning.  The Joint Maritime Operations Course is taught by the NWC’s Joint Military Operations Department.

The purpose of the exercise is to synthesize and reinforce course material through practical application in a realistic Joint Task Force, multinational, interagency, and component staff environment in the solving of a military problem.


For many officers, it’s the first experience of its kind in their careers.

“The military may be called upon to do something other than fighting,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Joe Pellissier, a JMO faculty member playing the role of a Public Affairs Officer (PAO) in the exercise. “It’s not a conventional conflict, but it’s something the military is capable of doing. It tasks them to think outside the immediate military realm.”


Students are divided among 14 planning cells and closely monitored by faculty, who serve as leads for cells within a military task force environment.  And while the students won’t actually execute the plan, they act as if they were going to.  The cells have different numbers of students in them.  


The J-3 Operations cell is the largest, and has three subdivisions. Those subdivisions include: information operations; current operations; and current planning.

“Through here [the J-3 cell], if we’ve got everything set up right, we’ll have a good idea of what’s going on throughout the whole joint operation,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Donahue, a JMO faculty member acting as chief of the subordinate J-33 cell, responsible for the day-to-day operation of the task force.  Pellissier described J-3 as “eyes,” because it sees everything that goes on and passes some of that information to a hypothetical admiral, the Task Force Commander.


Other cells feature intelligence, logistics, future plans, and military components of land, air, sea and special operations.  Faculty are in charge of the cells, and meet daily to keep all sections running at the same pace.


Pellissier and Professor Mark Vaughn, another faculty member participating in the game, said students sometimes have difficulty staying focused on the humanitarian side of the mission.  Vaughn said it is because a humanitarian mission requires the military to take a secondary, behind-the-scenes role, which they are not used to doing.  In this scenario, the military is providing security, instead of playing a conventional warfare role.


“The mission here is to provide relief, not to rebuild the economy, not to rebuild the electrical infrastructure, it is specifically to provide humanitarian relief to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” Vaughn said.


Lt. Cmdr. Shane Tanner, a JMO course student and a Navy pilot, said the exercise provides broader military exposure to all students.  Though it takes every student out of his or her comfort zone, Tanner said all students will be better officers from the extra experience, because they get to see the military decision-making process in action.


Explaining that he will have a corresponding role in the fleet, and commanders will pass critical decisions to him, Tanner said, “It is important that I understand how those conclusions came to me.”