Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Crossley
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate

John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (JCSCSG) Sailors are in the middle of Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX), the final phase of training prior to deployment.

“The exercise itself will be one continuous war time problem,” said Cmdr. Stevin Johnson, the strike operations officer, when interviewed at the beginning of JTFEX. “We will continue where we left off of COMPTUEX and try to resolve the conflict in the joint operating area. The training will continue to focus on our role in a joint environment while conducting sea combat operations.”

JTFEX is the second major training evolution for Stennis, following composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) in May.

Senior Officer Observation Team (SOOT) is aboard Stennis to assess and mentor the strike group in its ability to communicate with other forces and how well resources are allocated.

“JTFEX is much more difficult than COMPTUEX because COMPTUEX is a scripted assessment where JTFEX is a freestyle, wartime simulation,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Scopa, SOOT mentor and Destroyer Squadron 9 plans and tactics officer. “The carrier strike group must be on their guard during the entire exercise.”

JTFEX is an integrated battle force training exercise designed to test the capabilities of carrier strike groups operating with other military branches in a joint environment. It is the culmination of a series of evolutions conducted in preparation for an upcoming deployment and readies the strike group for any challenge it may face while deployed.

“JTFEX is not a progressive training exercise,” said Capt. Joel Rothschild, from 3rd Fleet Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander (JFMCC) Reserve Unit. “There is a constant threat.”

There are no planned general quarters or simulated threats. The strike group must assess the situation and act in a cooperative manner, said Scopa.

A reaction to the simulated threats might be to launch aircraft for simulated air strikes on land targets or use the F/A-18 in a sea role on enemy ships, said Scopa.

Departments such as air, combat systems and operations must be on alert 24 hours a day and ready to act on a moment’s notice.

“JTFEX is a very busy time and very demanding in the air traffic control room,” said Chief Air Traffic Controller Christopher Switzer, OC division leading chief petty officer. “It is an excellent exercise for realistic training.”

JTFEX is the height of realism; with no notice of events, the carrier strike group must remain flexible and vigilant, said Scopa.

Another element being tested is how well the strike group can communicate without communication, said Rothschild. Electronic jamming threats are simulated throughout the exercise and the strike group must continue to operate proficiently.

“The strike group has done an excellent job maintaining communication and dealing with the problems of the wartime scenario,” said Rothschild. “They will continue to do great on deployment.”

JTFEX prepares JCSCSG Sailors and trains the crew to handle actual battle scenarios.