by Captain Angus Anderson, Fleet Historian, NECC
Fifteen years ago, on January 13, 2006, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) formally stood up as the Navy’s Type Commander (TYCOM) for expeditionary forces. While certainly momentous, this ceremony held onboard Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, VA marked the end of a three-month sprint that began the previous fall.
Working in borrowed space on the fifth deck of NAVSUP’s Fleet Logistics Support Center Norfolk, a small staff, the nucleus of what would become the Headquarters element of NECC, organized itself to take on missions of increased significance and visibility since 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two plank-owners from those early days remain on the staff of NECC today, Mr. Peter Frothingham (N8) and Mr. Daniel Hawk (N002S). They shared their recollections of the establishment of NECC in commemoration of the command’s 15th Anniversary this year.
In October 2005, CNO Admiral Michael Mullen directed a type commander be established to man, train and equip the Navy’s myriad expeditionary forces. Rear Admiral Donald Bullard (then Fleet Forces Command N4/N7) formed a core staff, largely from within FFC, charged with crafting Mission, Functions and Tasks (MFT) documentation and core instructions, and with identifying and capturing demand signals for expeditionary forces. The largest of the forces comprising NECC at the onset were the 1st Naval Construction Division (Seabees), Maritime Force Protection Command (MFPCOM), the Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force (NAVELSF), Navy Coastal Warfare (NCW), and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). Mr. Frothingham, then a Surface Warfare Captain, had previously served on two pre-commissioning ships and also stood up shore commands, so he knew something of the challenges to be faced in building organizations. Standing up NECC, however, would be different, in that long-established organizations with storied histories such as the Seabees and EOD, would join together with newly formed groups such as Maritime Civil Affairs units, all under the NECC umbrella. The blending of existing units, enabling forces and nascent capabilities posed formidable challenges to the small staff of no more than 40 personnel.
As a type commander, a major focus of effort centered on developing a resourcing program. Given each of the NECC components had its own resource sponsor, bringing them all together would be no small task. EOD and Coastal Warfare had been under Surface Warfare cognizance, while Seabees had been on their own, and newly formed components had no prior type commander sponsor. While operating under Combat Operations funding, typically receiving everything they needed, the staff realized bountiful resourcing could not last forever, and establishing a codified programming and procurement process would be crucial for sustainment. Though complex and sometimes acrimonious at first, Frothingham recounts that synergies in procurement of related technologies across the force were identified and harnessed.
Then, as now, the Navy Reserve comprised a huge proportion of the total force, around 50 percent or more. Challenges around training, mobilization and demobilization, particularly in support of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq required constant attention and coordination from the staff. NECC viewed its Reserve units as key components of its force, not simply as augmentation assets, and assuring they were fully combat effective became a driving goal.
Mr. Hawk, then a Chief Yeoman, served as Flag Writer for Rear Adm. Bullard, and as such, had a close-up view of decision-making and operations in the front office. Members of the budding staff retained their “day jobs” in FFC while also working to establish NECC. The days were long, Hawk recalled, with 16-hour days not uncommon, although he did admit they often went home early on Fridays, sometimes even by 1700! Constant meetings and frequent travel were the norm during those months as Rear Adm. Bullard built his team, created a vision for the NECC enterprise and engaged his widely dispersed forces.
Frothingham and Hawk both described Rear Adm. Bullard, an F-18 pilot, as a straight-shooting, people-person who gave nothing less than 100 percent to the task of establishing NECC on a firm footing. Hawk accompanied Rear Adm. Bullard on multiple trips to Capitol Hill when Bullard testified before Congress to secure funding for the command. Hawk described how Bullard commanded respect while he advocated for expeditionary forces. Throughout these first months, Bullard, a pilot leading expeditionary forces, earned the respect of Seabees, EOD operators and the rest of NECC’s diverse force even as combat operations took a toll on deployed forces. If ever there was an example of building an airplane while flying it, this was it. Rear Adm. Bullard articulated a warrior ethos for the command – use of the word “Combat” in the command’s name was intentional.
The formal establishment ceremony took place at Drexler Manor Conference Center at NAB Little Creek on January 13, 2006 with Admiral John Nathman (Commander, Fleet Forces Command) presiding. Hawk described the ceremony as quick and efficient, as clearly there was work to be done and staff had to get to it. The staff relocated from the NAVSUP building in Norfolk, Va. to Little Creek, Va. occupying the Port Operations building at NAB while other spaces were renovated and eventually constructed.
Fifteen years later, both Mr. Frothingham and Mr. Hawk remain at NECC, now Navy Civilians leading departments in the Headquarters of a mature type commander, and proudly recall their contributions in standing up this organization.
Navy Expeditionary Combat Command remains at the helm of the Navy’s Expeditionary Forces, who are just as critical to our nation’s combat operations now as they were in World War II, Korea, and throughout the Global War on Terror. NECC’s Sailors are forward deployed and persistently engaged, conducting and supporting Fleet warfighting operations globally by dominating in the littorals and reinforcing lethality across the range of Distributed Maritime Operations. Building off the legacy of the Seabees, Expeditionary Logistics Forces, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, and Maritime Security Forces, NECC Sailors reflect on the Force’s legacy and are justifiably proud of their operational achievements over the last 15 years. They look forward to a future where Navy Expeditionary Forces continue to provide the critical connection that ensures sustained, successful Fleet and Joint operations, afloat and ashore.
NECC’s mission is to man, train, equip, organize, and sustain Navy Expeditionary Combat Forces in order to clear the battlespace of hazards; secure critical maritime terrain, sea lines of communication, and resources; build infrastructure, awareness, logistics chains, and partnerships; protect the Fleet, facilities, Joint, allied, and partner forces; and on order, deploy a flag-led battle staff to command and control integrated American naval forces that dominate in the littorals and reinforce maritime lethality across the full spectrum of naval, joint, and combined operations.