LEVANGER, Norway --
Marines, sailors, civilian government employees from Marine Forces Europe, Blount Island Command and the Norwegian staff assigned to Marine Corps Preposition Program-Norway recently participated in a bittersweet, yet momentous occasion: the final Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) off-load/cross-leveling operation in Norway involving a ship assigned to Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron-1.
“After a deliberate and detailed planning process, Headquarters Marine Corps directed a shift in MCPP-N’s posture from its current Marine Expeditionary Brigade based prepositioning objective to a balanced Marine Air-Ground Task Force equipment set capable of supporting the most likely crisis response requirements while also supporting theater security cooperation activities,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Oldham, logistics officer assigned to Marine Forces Europe.
The USNS Sgt. Matej Kocak made its final voyage through the ever frigid Norwegian fjords to deliver vehicles and equipment in support of MCPP-N. Once complete, the ship will return to the Mediterranean before departing the EUCOM AOR in September for the final time.
The MCPP-N facility is comprised of eight locations totaling more than 900,000 square feet of storage space. Inside caves is 471,445 sq. ft. of climate controlled storage space, regulated to between 45 to 55 percent humidity and a regulated temperature of between 45 to 50 degrees. This precise regulation allows tents, vehicle tires and other climate sensitive equipment to be stored safely and maintain a high level of readiness to be rapidly deployable for any contingency that may arise.
“The offload and cross leveling of equipment from the USNS Kocak into the caves of MCPP-N is a significant step forward toward the transformation of the program. While the loss of MPSRON-1 will certainly impact the Marines’ ability to rapidly respond to a large scale crisis within the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) areas of responsibility, the decision to cross level critical capabilities helps mitigate some of the risk,” explained Oldham.
Marine Forces Europe and Africa, serving as component commands under U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command have a substantial presence in each of their respective areas of operation; conducting theater and security cooperation operations, multi-lateral exercises, combined arms exercises, logistics exercises, amphibious exercises and counter-insurgency exercises to give a glimpse into the overview of their reach throughout Europe and Africa.
“Cross leveling equipment to MCPP-N has greatly improved the capacity to support transportation, communications, water storage and its distribution. This will result in the savings of thousands of dollars normally spent in transportation cost when shipping equipment to and from CONUS in support of theater engagements and enable the rapid introduction of Marines into this theater in the event of a crisis,” added Oldham.
Allied forces, partner nations and civilian populations in those regions are generally enthusiastic to have Marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen and civil-government employees there to conduct training and mentorship missions. These missions all share a common thread: their success is contingent on more than the proficiency of the service members conducting them – they all need gear to be successful.
Since 1982, the caves of Marine Corps Preposition Program – Norway have served as a logistics and supply asset whose personnel on both the U.S. and Norwegian sides have had a hand in small and large-scale exercises and contingency response operations throughout Europe and Africa.
This joint venture started off as an idea in 1979, when a joint study group assembled to work out the logistics and benefits of having a giant, climate-controlled cave network, spread across eight sites throughout Norway, to house vehicles and equipment to augment and support Marine capabilities on both the ground and air sides of the operating force. The concept was to house enough equipment and vehicles to reinforce a MEB for a period of 30 days.
A MEB is typically comprised of approximately 15,000 Marines and sailors. This was a lofty goal in the early 1980’s, but one the staff of MCPP-N met and by meeting that goal there are several operations and exercises that would not have happened with the ease and high rate of success they did. T
he Marine Corps, however, is shifting away from large-scale, MEB-based operations thanks to lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and refocusing on special purpose MAGTFs assuming responsibility for the majority of the theater Marine operational requirements. This is mainly due to their ease of employment and self-contained assets that allow them to be virtually self-sustaining once they receive their vehicles and equipment from MCPP-N or similar channels.
“MCPP-N is shifting from the current MEB-based equipment set to a balanced MAGTF equipment set built around the core of an infantry battalion task force and a composite aviation squadron. The new equipment set will include communications and ordnance assets not previously prepositioned in Norway,” explained Kevin Finch, a prepositioning analyst for Headquarters Marine Corps, Plans, Policies, & Operations, assigned to the prepositioning section (POE-40).
“Current levels of access to modern, climate-controlled storage facilities and a highly- skilled workforce, coupled with significant burden-sharing contributions provided by Norway, make this a cost-effective program for the USMC with proven operational value-added results for our forward-deployed forces,” Finch added.
This shift is visible in the exercises currently being conducted by MFE and MFA in the form of the SPMAGTFs, stationed in Sigonella, Italy, and the Black Sea Rotational Force, principally based just outside of Constanta, Romania. The staff at MCPP-N has had a role in supporting these exercises by ensuring vital assets are ready to go as the exercises need them. Being involved in exercises is nothing new; they’ve been supporting exercises since they initially started storing gear in 1982.
The first major exercise was in 1982 and was called Northern Wedding ’82. Northern Wedding was a multi-national, NATO exercise focusing on interoperability between participating nations, resupply drills, amphibious landings and promoting regional security.
The gear stored at MCPP-N has also supported real-world humanitarian response events in Turkey during the earthquakes in 2011 and in Russia in 2010 when regions were ravaged by wild fires. The operation to get gear to the Turkish earthquake victims was a testament to the organization and value of MCPP-N.
The whole operation started on Oct 28. and by Oct 31. the victims had 91,000 lbs. of heaters, heater stands and arctic tents, distributed between 16 U.S. Air Force pallets. The second iteration of relief efforts to Turkey occurred Nov. 11 and with a skeleton crew of only four Marines from MFE; they loaded five more U.S. Air Force pallets and had those delivered Nov. 14. The two missions supplied more than 5,000 people with shelter and warmth thanks to the enduring partnership between the Marines and their Norwegian counterparts.
The important partnership between the Marines, U.S. Navy and the Norwegian forces exhibited during this offload and cross-leveling operation is the key to the expansion of the role MCPP-N will continue to play in ensuring equipment, aid, and fully enabled forces get to the point of need expeditiously.