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Reservists Play Key Role in UNITAS Reconstruction Cell

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070511-10
Release Date: 5/11/2007 2:07:00 PM

By Lt. Ivy Kupec, U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs

USS PEARL HARBOR, At Sea (NNS) -- How do a foreign service officer, a NASA pilot, an elementary music teacher and an ice cream company maintenance engineer support a military exercise in South America? They make up a cadre of Reservists, supporting Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 40 during UNITAS 48-07 Atlantic Phase.

Nine Reservists embarked aboard USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) are chronicling the movements within the exercise so that leadership can better analyze lessons learned to benefit the ships from UNITAS 48-07 which are currently underway off the central Argentina coast.

Despite very different civilian backgrounds, the Reservists have a breadth of Navy and civilian experience and maintain their readiness for missions just like this one.

“This is the first time we have put together this sort of reconstruction cell, and out of the 16 Sailors working it, nine of them are Reservists,” said Lt. Cmdr. Donald Voelbel, the active-duty operations officer from DESRON 40. “The Reservists provide an added benefit in exercises. Anytime we bring a fresh look to how we put things together, either in concept or development, it improves the process.”

But the benefits do not just come to the unit, but to Reservists as well.

“Working exercises is important for Reservists as well,” Voelbel added. “It’s truly how they keep up to date on current tactics and procedures.”

Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Scott Anderson agreed. A network engineer at Aegis Mortgage Co., Anderson is one of the few Reservists in the unit without prior active-duty experience.

“My education helped, but it is this sort of annual training -– hands-on -– that really makes me a better asset to the Navy,” said Anderson, who has been a Reservist for five years.

The group of Reservists on board Pearl Harbor has been actively involved in exercise reconstruction, working day and night to chart where ships have been and to track the steps leading up to and executing exercise events.

“Our unit is a very diversified one,” said Lt. Steve Coffee, an FMC Technologies Inc. project manager who was stationed aboard USS Hawes (FFG 53) during part of his seven years of active duty as a surface warfare officer.

“In the approximately 40 members of our unit, we have surface, subsurface and aviation representatives. We have Spanish and Portuguese speakers, Sailors who know IT (information technology) and others who know how to train. It’s quite a collection,” added Coffee.

One of those bilingual members is Lt. Cmdr. John Ibarra, who works as a U.S. State Department Foreign Service officer in Nogales, Mexico.

“The goal is to be a unit that replicates the specializations within the squadron so that we can help them surge at any given time, such as a UNITAS exercise,” said Ibarra.

Ibarra spent 12 years on active duty in nuclear engineering and has worked as a Reservist for the past five years.

Working in five-hour shifts to ensure alertness, the Reservists are alongside active component partners, tracking the exercise play-by-play in real time, listening to and copying tactical commands, using software to help chart ships’ movement, and ultimately providing an overarching picture of the entire exercise in real time.

“We’re giving them a big-picture view -– not just from one ship’s perspective, but gathering all the information -- so they really can look back at the exercise from all sides, all angles,” said Lt. Cmdr. Bill Rieke, a NASA research pilot with 10 years of active-duty experience flying F/A-18s and another seven years in the Navy Reserve.

“The final battle problem runs 24 hours a day, so unless you have us operating during all that time, you will lose important situational awareness,” said Electronics Technician 1st Class Kent Page, who works as a civilian at Dreyer’s Ice Cream as a maintenance engineer and who spent eight years of active duty in submarine service.

“While the Navy could obviously stretch shifts to get that same coverage, they can call us for these short-term assignments to ensure that work is done at the highest standard possible -- not under duress or fatigue. Maintaining situational awareness seems worth the extra manpower,” said Page.

The unit spends its 24 drill days throughout the year training to ensure readiness so that they can be called up to meet the squadron’s needs at any given time and supporting numerous DESRON 40 planning trips to South and Central America.

“We have two very active Reserve units that provide incredibly flexible support to an exercise schedule which includes UNITAS Atlantic and Pacific, PANAMAX which involves over 20 countries in exercising defense of the Panama Canal, Silent Forces Exercises with Peru, and Team Work South with Chile,” stated Capt. Randy Snyder, commander, DESRON 40. "Our Reserve personnel are totally integrated in the squadron’s planning and execution of exercises. We would not be nearly as effective a unit without their dedicated support and superb execution."

“I would think that having Reserve units that can help the command surge for additional responsibilities saves the Navy money and helps produce a better product,” said Operations Specialist 2nd Class David Plumb, who has been in the Reserves for four and a half years. Plumb has taught music at Fielder Elementary School in Katy, Texas, for nine years.

Reservists provide a minimum of 36 days of service to the military in the form of 24 drill days and at least 12 days of annual training. Many Reservists do even more. Today’s Reserve requirements are ensuring that Reservists can seamlessly fill in for their active component counterparts, having maintained readiness and honed skill sets. There are two Reserve units that support the commander DESRON 40: one in Houston and the other in Pensacola, Fla.

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