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"Crossroads of the Marine Corps"

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EWS Students gain insight from Falklands War Commanders

By Capt. Nick Mannweiler | | January 31, 2014

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Students at the Expeditionary Warfare School, here, were given a first-hand lesson Weds. in expeditionary operations planning by the British Royal Marine and Royal Navy commanders who led combat troops in the 1982 Falklands War.

Maj. Gen. Julian Thompson and Capt. Michael Clapp shared their experiences and lessons learned in their war against Argentina with the 250 Marines, joint service members and international military officers during a class lecture and follow-on small group discussions the following day.

The visit was the highlight of an eight-week instructional block on amphibious operations from the battle of Gallipoli in World War I to present day operations. The students learned about the detailed planning and coordination that go into projecting combat forces overseas. For many of the students, the Falklands lecture reinforced concepts which they had never encountered before during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

"Amphibious operations, to include mine clearance training, is a dying art in the [Surface Warfare Officer] community. It’s breezed over so fast, you’re simply aware of its existence, not of the impact,” said Navy Lt. Connie Thornton, a College Station, Texas, native, and EWS student. “I understood the Navy point of view and now I better understand the Marine point of view. I understand and better appreciate the importance of the Marines and how and why we need to work better together. Our study of the Falklands showed me how our service relationships can impact operations.”

Thompson and Clapp focused the students’ attention on several reoccurring themes throughout their account of how the battle unfolded, from the initial diplomatic wrangling to the Argentine surrender of the seized British territory some 70 days later. Clear mission statements, crystal clear understandings of command relationships and detailed logistical planning are vital for a successful operation with many moving parts, timelines and actors involved. Facing 10,000 Argentinian soldiers, Thompson and Clapp led a force of 5,500 men and a motley fleet of 127 ships over 8,000 miles to seize the beleaguered British territory. From the time they received their initial orders to the completion of the operation, the chain of command above the task force level changed five times. This fluctuation made things more difficult for the commanders. Their politically sensitive mission had global attention and their higher headquarters couldn’t even figure out who was in charge.

Clapp explained that the repeated changes to their higher chain of command created confusion and friction for their efforts. The structure of that chain wasn’t in line with Royal Navy planning doctrine that guided all operations and training for the previous 40 years. “It was a totally confusing command staff structure,” explained Clapp. “The military side was separated completely from the Navy. You can’t have that.”

The political need for a swift response resulted in hasty loading of the ships and the resulting confusion at sea demanded creative problem solving skills on the part of the task force logisticians. A successful enemy attack on the Atlantic Conveyor, their cargo ship-turned-aircraft carrier, meant the loss of all but one of the task force’s CH-47 heavy lift helicopters. From there, the logistical challenges multiplied. The two presenters discussed how their teams untangled the situation so the students could avoid the similar pitfalls in the future.

“Gen. Thompson discussed his desire to maintain ‘eyeball contact’ with his logisticians, but the numerous conflicting priorities and constraints made that difficult at times. Thinking about my role as a logistician in the future, particularly in distributed or amphibious operations, I better realize that "eyeball contact" with my commander and my subordinates will not always be possible,” said Capt. Eric Roby, a Lima, Ohio, native, and EWS student. “It’s imperative that I enable my subordinate leaders to conduct detailed planning and develop sound [standing operating procedures] with a true understanding of commander's intent.”

Despite all of their challenges, Thompson and Clapp fought the Argentinian forces to a surrender. Their creative problem solving, reliance on their training and the toughness of their troops overcame the challenges posed by the terrain, the enemy and the complexity of their operation.

Col. Frank Donovan, director of EWS, was pleased that the students had the opportunity to learn from two masters of amphibious warfare. “As we transition from [Operation Enduring Freedom] and re-establish our nation’s forward engagement and crisis response force, Maj. Gen. Thompson and Commodore Clapp gave us very distinct lessons learned that will help us become better expeditionary leaders tomorrow,” he said.

“They faced issues with command and control, forces not prepared for the tough expeditionary environment and what they had to fall back on was their relationships in the Navy-Marine Corps team to get the job done. We gained a better appreciation for the standard they set in 1982 and I think they recognized that.”
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