LT DIXON: Welcome to On the Horizon Navigating European and African Theaters. The official podcast of Admiral James G. Foggo, III.
In this November episode Admiral Foggo and I will look to discuss the end of Trident Juncture 2018 and the successes and challenges of that exercise. In addition, we will talk about his NATO Supreme Allied conference and his time at Flanders Field.
LT DIXON: I’m back with Admiral Foggo, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and commander of Joint Force Command Naples.
Thank you Sir for joining us today.
ADM FOGGO: Hey, Lieutenant Dixon, it's great to see you again.
LT DIXON: Now that Trident Juncture has completed, what are some of the major takeaways and from your perspective, did we meet the expectations?
ADM FOGGO: It's been a whirlwind of activity for us in the past few weeks, as we've undertaken the exercise Trident Juncture LIVEX for 2018, and we're back at Joint Force Headquarters in Naples to commence the Command Post Exercise for 2018.
Trident Juncture was the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War, and it really demonstrated that NATO is ready to defend and deter across the entire alliance.
In simple terms, an attack on one is an attack on all. So we came to the defense of our Norwegian allies. It really tested our ability to conduct a major collective defense operation, from, you know, troop training at the tactical level to command of large forces.
And when I say "large," I mean really large: 50,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, with 250 combat or logistics support aircraft, almost 70 ships and 10,000 vehicles. These were tracked vehicles, amphibious assault vehicles, and tanks, heavy equipment transporters, bridging systems, container ships and roll on/roll-off vessels that came into the ports of Norway for almost 30 days, delivering 2,100 containers of combat capability.
The U.S. Navy's contribution to Trident Juncture was significant. Not only did we have the Harry S. Truman Strike Group up there and they did a fantastic job. We also had the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group.
When you look at the contribution of those ships, those Marines, all the personnel in support, and then the personnel that are here in Europe that are Americans who were part of Trident Juncture, it's almost 18,000 service members, 140 aircraft, eight ships and 900 vehicles. So absolutely impressive.
One of the things that we took advantage of was the opportunity to do this in October and November. And I think in one of my last podcasts, and certainly in my public speaking while I was in Norway, I made mention of the fact that when I was in the States, people asked me, "Hey, why did you do this in October and November?" "It's pretty nasty and cold in the high north at that time of year." And that's exactly why: We wanted to stress the force.
And we truly did get some lessons learned out of this.
We gave the NATO alliance an opportunity to train with us and to be interoperable, and we demonstrated the global reach of that alliance. So, if a campaign happens somewhere in the world, NATO has proven that it can move seven equivalent brigades in about 30 days. Absolutely amazing.
So overall, I think we exceeded expectations, and I was very happy with the success of the LIVEX portion of Trident Juncture.
LT DIXON: Admiral, thank you for giving us that overview of Trident Juncture from the Commanders perspective. How was it working with our Norwegian allies during this exercise?
ADM FOGGO: Well, you know, I had the opportunity to spend about a half a day with the prime minister of Norway, Ms. Erna Solberg, and the defense minister of Norway, Defense Minister Bakke Jensen. And they were fantastic.
Norway has something that they refer to as a total defense concept. They have conscription in their armed forces, and the tools that those conscripts take with them when they go back out in the civilian community allow them to have pride in their nation and their flag.
So the total defense concept brings everybody back into the field in support. They don't necessarily have to put on a uniform, but those air traffic controllers that are in the towers, the police, the emergency services, the home guard, and the citizens of Norway all came together to help us out. I was really impressed.
It goes from the top down. So not only did the prime minister and the defense minister come out, the prime minister actually got into a Leopard tank for a demonstration of that capability with a Norwegian brigade in the field.
But we also had the king and the crown prince, and they spent a day with us. So, King Harald is a graduate of their military academy. Crown Prince Haakon is a graduate of their naval academy. The two of them were together with me as we went to various brigades and headquarters.
When we came back to Trondheim, the king actually visited the Royal Marines of the United Kingdom. And it happened to be the birthday celebration of the Royal Marines, so he participated in that event with them and it was kind of a cool thing to watch.
At the end of the day, the crown prince decided that he was going to go out in the field and spend some time with Norwegian troops. So, he actually got into an armored vehicle, drove around, had a combat meal with them, and then spent the night somewhere out there in a tent where it was pretty cold.
So overall, total defense concept, I took away a very positive impression; a top-down thing that goes all the way from the king, the prime minister, to the newest conscript in the Norwegian joint force. They're serious about their defense and they're serious about their role in NATO.
LT DIXON: Wow, what an incredible story about the leadership of Norway being with their troops throughout various parts of the exercise.
Sir, moving on, in the middle of the exercise, the Russians made a sudden announcement, a Notice to Airmen a NOTAM, about a missile launch that they planned to do, that didn’t end up happening. Did you see this as an aggressive, offensive act?
ADM FOGGO: Well, that NOTAM, or that notification, that Russia was going to conduct a missile launch was something that was new. I don't think we've seen them establish an area outside of Trondheim in recent history, but it was in international waters, and that's an important point.
The secretary general of NATO, when he came to the Distinguished Visitors Day and spent a day with us, had several press conferences and he was asked about this. And his answer is my answer, and that is, we operate in the oceans of the world in what we call the global commons. They're called "the commons" for a reason.
The Russians laid down this area in international waters and, quite frankly, it didn't really cause a change in anything that we did. We simply worked through it and worked around it. And so, to tell you the truth, it was no big deal.
And in the final analysis, they didn't launch anything
I think this really gets to the point of transparency. So, I've maintained all along that the purpose of this exercise and the NATO alliance is to deter and to defend and to dialogue with potential adversaries.
We're very strong. We're 29 strong, plus we had two partnering nations with us, Sweden and Finland. And we're very capable of deterring and defending.
We don't do offensive operations and grab anybody else's territory, so I don't see why anyone would see NATO as a threat. We simply defend the territory and the sovereign lines of each of those 29 nations in the alliance.
At the same time we dialogue.
LT DIXON: And, Sir, what are some of the outcomes of that dialogue with Russia in relation to Trident Juncture?
ADM FOGGO: Russia's a member of the Organization of Security Cooperation in Europe. It's a treaty called the Vienna Document, and in line with that treaty they're authorized to have observers at large exercises like this. So, we invited them to come and they actually sent two observers who were there for the preponderance of the LIVEX period and they pretty much+ saw everything that we were doing.
I wanted them to see the capability and the capacity of NATO. And I think it was impressive. And if I were them, I would take a message home that NATO is strong; don't mess with NATO.
AT the same time, we've got General Scaparrotti, who's had several conversations with the Russian chief of defense. I think that's a good thing. It avoids mistakes and miscalculations.
One last thing on dialogue, and I think this was brilliant. The secretary general came for the Distinguished Visitors Day and then he returned to Brussels, and the following day NATO convened a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council.
They have an observer, ambassador and a delegation to NATO. They were able to come into the room with the Secretary General and his team, the international staff and the international military staff. They were able to talk about areas in which we agree on and areas that we don't agree on. And I think following that big event during the Trident Juncture LIVEX was absolutely the perfect time to do that.
There still are incidents out there of unsafe or unprofessional conduct. It didn't happen in the area of LIVEX in Norway for Trident Juncture, but during that period of time we had an interaction, which you saw on international reporting and media. And that was not a professional or safe interaction. So, completely unsatisfactory and the type of behavior that we want to avoid in the future.
So overall, I think we sent the right message: deter, defend and dialogue. And we certainly gave the Russians an opportunity to see NATO at its finest.
LT DIXON: Sir, you recently traveled to Belgium, can you tell us more about your time at the NATO commander’s conference and also about your time at Flanders Field during Veterans Day?
ADM FOGGO: Yeah.
As I headed back from Trident Juncture LIVEX, Lieutenant Dixon, I had the opportunity to attend the supreme allied commander's conference in Mons, Belgium. And that's something that he does a couple of times a year, where get all the component commanders and the leadership together to discuss issues and future plans and future exercises.
They ended on the weekend on a Friday, and Sunday was Veterans Day. And I was asked by a commander of European Command to participate in Remembrance Day a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the Great War, World War I.
And you may know that war is sometimes referred to as The War To End All Wars. Now, we know, it did not. The conditions of that war and Treaty of Versailles led to the conditions that brought about the Second World War.
But millions of combatants participated in the First World War in the trenches, and millions of young men and women died. An entire generation was affected.
It was a great honor for me to go to Flanders Fields where there were probably 364 known graves and about 41 other unknown soldiers buried there. One naval officer, Lieutenant MacLeish, who was shot down in a Sopwith Camel during that First World War.
LT DIXON: And if I am not mistaken you have a personal connection to Flanders Field?
ADM FOGGO: I had two grandfathers that fought in the trenches in World War I. They were part of Commonwealth forces. They were Canadians.
And the connection to Flanders is the poem "In Flanders Fields." It was written by a Canadian lieutenant colonel who was actually a doctor. His name was John McCrae.
And I can remember when I was growing up as a young boy, my father would always wear a poppy during Remembrance Day. That's what we called it in Canada.
And he would pin a poppy on my blue blazer, and I was always proud to wear that around in the week running up to Veterans Day or Remembrance Day and to school. And my dad would recite the poem "In Flanders Fields" by McCrae, and he would always tell me that it was written by a Canadian.
As I grew up, I did a little bit more research on this, and Colonel McCrae wrote the poem out of frustration. I mean, he was in a field hospital in a place called Essex Farm. And during that time, casualties were coming in and he was constantly up, for, you know, days on end.
And one day, they brought in a casualty, and it was a friend of his and a former student of his, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer from Ontario. And he couldn't save Alexis Helmer's life. Lieutenant Helmer died.
And Colonel McCrae took a break and he walked out into this field in Essex Farm and sat down and looked across the field and saw the rows of poppies. And consequently, he wrote this poem which became world famous.
I went to Essex Farm prior to my address at the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice at Flanders Fields, and I stood for a while in quiet solitude and in solidarity.
And, you know, it appeared to me that things hadn't changed much since 1918 in this field. And it was quite stunning for me and impressive for me to stand there at this place that inspired McCrae to write this famous poem about the horrific nature of that battle and the casualties that took place and the friends that were lost on both sides.
So, a great honor for me. And I'm reminded by a statement that was made by General Black Jack Pershing during the First World War. It's short. And he said, "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds." And I firmly believe that. And we've got to continue to remember the sacrifice that was made by those great Americans and those great allied forces.
LT DIXON: Thank you Sir for sharing your thoughts and experience on Trident Juncture, the NATO supreme allied commander’s conference, and your time at Flanders Field.
ADM FOGGO: Thank you, Lieutenant Dixon. It's always a pleasure.
LT DIXON: We hope you have enjoyed our podcast, On the Horizon Navigating European and African Theaters. Please share the podcast with your friends and family and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. The podcast is hosted on Sound Cloud, iTunes, Stitcher.com and Speaker.com. Join us next time when Admiral Foggo and I look to discuss various topics and events that are impacting the maritime security environment in Europe and Africa. Thank you.