CTF Command, deployment reflection

Capt(N) Darren Garnier speaks to members of Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia about his time in command of Combined Task Force 150. Photo by Mona Ghiz, MARLANT PA

Capt(N) Darren Garnier speaks to members of Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia about his time in command of Combined Task Force 150. Photo by Mona Ghiz, MARLANT PA

Ryan Melanson, Trident Newspaper ~

Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) is a 33-nation naval partnership that has worked to promote security and stability in the Middle East since 2002.

While the coalition has had success combating terrorism, piracy, and other wrongdoing, the working relationship between countries isn’t always simple.

The coalition is non-binding, meaning no nation can be forced to carry out operations under the CMF banner, and the variety of nations included means different ways of conducting military business and different sets of national values.

When Combined Task Force 150, one of CMF’s three task groups, came under Canadian command from December 2018 – April 2019 under the leadership of Capt(N) (now Retired) Darren Garnier, the team adopted a Canadian way of doing things. Capt(N) Garnier established a Command Chief Petty Officer position to work alongside him in Bahrain at CTF 150 HQ, emphasizing the important role of senior non-commissioned members in the Canadian Armed Forces, and he also made sure his unit’s six female officers were front and centre for tasks and meetings.

“It was something I wanted to establish; in some of the countries we visit in that part of the world, non-commissioned members and women members are sometimes not well valued by their militaries. We had a great team and part of our mandate was to empower them,” he said.

The Canadian contribution to CMF is known as Operation Artemis. Capt(N) Garnier, who recently retired from the CAF following the deployment, spoke to members of the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia on Aug. 21, delivering a presentation that included results from this 12th rotation of Op Artemis, as well an overview of the difficulties that come from operating in the region.

It can be a high-stress environment, and that was made painfully clear during Canada’s first days in command of CTF 150, when news hit of the death by suicide of American VAdm Scott Stearney, who was Commander of CMF and the US Navy’s 5th Fleet at the time of his death. The unfortunate incident was closely followed by the deaths of one American sailor and one Royal Navy sailor in theatre, also determined to be suicides. The incidents created an immediate need for the command team to focus on the mental wellbeing of their personnel and to offer support to American and UK colleagues dealing with the losses.

“This was a difficult position for leadership to be in, but we carried on,” Capt(N) Garnier said.

“During our first month, we had a number of tactical successes at sea, and a number of drug busts, thanks to some good luck, good management, and good intelligence, which helped us get going and to begin recovering from some of that initial tragic news.”

He noted the CTF 150 area of operations covers more than 3.2 million square miles of ocean, including major choke points such as the Straits of Hormuz, Bab el-Mandeb Strait, Suez Canal, and the Mozambique Channel. It’s a complex geo-strategic area that sees 64 per cent of the world’s trade flowing through each year, along with illegal cargo like opiates, hashish, and illicit Somali charcoal.

Canada’s recent time in command was supported by the Australian Defence Force, made clear by the kangaroo silhouette over the Maple Leaf on the official Op Artemis Roto 12 badge, and also saw participation from France and Pakistan, along with the aforementioned U.S. and U.K. forces. Canadian ships and aircraft for the deployment included HMCS Regina with an embarked CH-148 Cyclone, MV Asterix, and a CP-140 Aurora.

The highly successful deployment included 56 boardings of suspicious vessels and 18 narcotics interdictions, taking about $41 million worth of illegal drugs out of busy shipping lanes.

In terms of capacity and trust building in the region, the Canadian leadership team visited five regional nations and conducted 25 visits with key leaders from 12 countries.

While drug busts generate headlines, these types of regional engagements are crucial to the continued success and growth of the CMF partnership and for generating understanding and goodwill between nations.

“There’s a membership plan where we want to bring more nations in, and we’re trying our best to create the conditions for success. We share information, we collaborate, cooperate, and we do training and have our ships work together,” Capt(N) Garnier said.

Canada handed command of CTF 150 over to Pakistan on April 11, and Capt(N) Garnier officially released from the CAF on Sept. 3.

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