U.S. Army Helps Set Up Mideast Maritime Security Program

Courtesy 335th Signal Command / U.S. Army

Published Jan 3, 2020 3:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

Col. John Conklin (U.S. Army) received three days’ notice before deploying to Bahrain to lead the setup of a headquarters operation for Operation Sentinel, the international mission to ensure freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf region. Conklin's Joint Planning Support Element, or JPSE (pronounced "gypsy") deploys on short notice to assist joint force commanders with establishing joint force headquarters. 

“It’s a tremendous tasking to stand up a coalition task force — with this unique mission, and the operating environment, but what we’re accomplishing is incredible,” Conklin said.

When he arrived in early October, Conklin served as the chief of staff of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC). He integrated a U.S. joint team with officers from the Royal Navy to plan and stand up Coalition Task Force Sentinel, the military organization under IMSC. The coalition task force soon integrated another team from the Australian Navy. The team developed a plan, wrote an operations order and stood up IMSC. Bahrain joined the coalition in August. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined in September, and Albania, the newest member, joined in November.

In a little over two months, Conklin and his inter-agency crew built a joint force headquarters from nothing. Officially dubbed the IMSC, the U.S.-led coalition formally launched in November, opened a new command center at Naval Support Activity, Bahrain, and welcomed its first appointed commander, Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey. The IMSC leads Operation Sentinel, U.S. Central Command’s multinational maritime effort to ensure freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf region. Its mission is to protect freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, the Red Sea, the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb - a response to recent Iranian interference with merchant shipping. 

Countries that join the IMSC provide warships to escort their nation’s commercial vessels through the region. Through the construct, participating countries share information and surveillance in one of the most vital shipping lanes in the world. More than 17,000 ships per year pass through the Bab al-Mandeb and 42,000 through the Strait of Hormuz. 

“Coordinating with the various countries' navies to provide vessels in the right place at the right time is a rewarding mission," Conklin said. “I don’t think very many people in the Army ever get experience in this — where you are standing up an international maritime task force, where you watch allies join, and you see the impact you’re having.”