Admiral Kevin Scott Reflects on Bold Alligator 2012: Shaping a Culture of Operating Off of the Seabase

The head of Expeditionary Strike Group 2 sat down with Second Line of Defense after the Bold Alligator 2012 exercise to discuss the focus of the exercise and the way ahead.

SLD: What was the major purpose of the Bold Alligator 2012 exercise from your perspective?

Admiral Scott: Both the Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chief of Naval Operations realized that given the land centric warfare that we were engaged in over the past decade, we had to address atrophy — in terms of operational skills from the sea — for both elements of the Navy and Marine Corps team.

Admiral Scott after the interview. Credit: SLD

As I look back on it, my time at N-85 as the Deputy Director of Expeditionary Warfare was good preparation. A key effort here was to understand the approaches of the two services working together in tandem to create a single capability.  The goal is to clearly execute national tasking from the sea base.

So the number one thing that we wanted to achieve with Bold Alligator was to get those relationships back up and running. The three years of symposiums, conferences, work- ups, and execution of the live exercise was really about bringing the Navy and Marine Corps together at a level that allowed us to get to know each other from a standpoint of capabilities, and to create the working relationships that make an exercise or an operation possible and effective.

You can’t bring two services or two organizations together who don’t understand each other’s capabilities; have not worked together; have no relationship; and expect it to be successful, so that was our number one goal here.

General Chris Owens, Commander of 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade, and I came in at the same time, and that helped.  He and I had the same early-on career experiences from Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit operations, so we had a common theme to reflect back on, and this helped us shape what we wanted to do.  Not a lot of focus has been given to executing an ESG/MEB level operation; so that’s where we started.

Seeing young Marines and Sailors come together in a joint operation of this size and magnitude is what I am most proud of.

SLD: How did you judge the overall success of the exercise in meeting this goal?

Admiral Scott: It really validated what we were trying to do.  If you get the cultural thing right — the trust right, the understanding of capabilities right — then as you set up and plan an operation, you set it up for success.

That knowledge comes from being together; it comes from understanding what your partner’s skill sets are, as well as their restraints.  What are some of their concerns?  What are some of their issues that you should address? Those are the types of questions we asked and answered during Bold Alligator.

In fact, the largest part of the exercise really focused on execution, not uncertainty about why were doing this exercise. Instead, what you heard a lot of was: how do we make this work?  How do we bring it together?  Once you spend some significant amount of time together and understand each other’s norms — each other’s capabilities, each other’s concerns, restraints, and issues — you can focus on execution.

BA12 didn’t just happen; we walked through a lot of the approach and execution challenges in Bold Alligator 11.  To me, Bold Alligator 11 was as realistic as the Live Ex because we dove into it.  We fast cruised and we didn’t leave the ship for two weeks.  We had a battle rhythm that was the same as the battle rhythm for the Live Ex, and the preparation was the same.

During Bold Alligator, we were part of one of the most integrated staffs that you’ll see across the spectrum. I am very proud of that.

SLD: And practice makes perfect.  I really think a lot of folks don’t realize how much preparation and training the Marines and the Navy do to be ready for game day.

Admiral Scott: I’ve done it a lot in my career…standing by to be ready to get an order to deploy to a national catastrophe or an international issue or whatever the national task is.  And you’re a young guy, and all of a sudden, you’re getting your stuff together, and you’re doing what you’ve been training to do; you’re ready.

But this thing is bigger than you, you’re flying out or sailing out and you descend upon this water space. When you land on that ship or that ship pulls out, you see familiarity. You see things that you’ve worked with and trained with before.  You see faces that are familiar.

And if some of the faces aren’t familiar, you see operations that are familiar. There’s a warm and fuzzy about that, that permeates the entire unit, and the entire task group. It hits you — this is what we’re here to do, this is what they’re paying us to do, and we can get it done.

Because of that familiarity, we’re not running around trying to figure things out. Everybody’s on the same page because you’ve done it before. Familiarity not only ensures greater success, it save lives in the long run, and makes you an incredibly more effective force.

So that’s what we’re trying to do.  We’re trying to shape a legacy that you join the Navy and the Marine Corps, and then somewhere in your career — very early on and throughout your career – you are connected to your mission and the people.  It is clearly defined that this is what you’re going to be doing, and these are the people you’re going to be doing it with.

SLD: Getting the culture, getting the jointness, getting the war-winning attitude together is the core point.  I first met you during the F-35B sea trials on USS WASP in October.  Given a firm cultural foundation is crucial to also using new technologies which come on board the ship.  Could you speak to the opportunities afforded by the new technologies for the sea basing community as well?

Admiral Scott: When I look at the flight deck that we just saw, versus the flight deck when Lieutenant Scott was in the Arabian Gulf back in the mid- 80s; the new assets were just posters on my wall then.

Now we’re living that new capability with the increased speed, the increased capacity, the increased effectiveness of this new equipment. The entire Navy and Marine Corps are going through a recapitalization process. There are probably not many aircraft in the Navy’s inventory that aren’t fairly new.

I have to pinch myself now and then because I look around and I say, “Holy cow,” I’m living what I used to dream about.  And the reliability, the effectiveness of this new gear combined with our renewed attitude — it is just incredible.

SLD: So how would you sum up the Bold Alligator 2012 experience?

Admiral Scott: Bringing the Navy/Marine Corp team culturally back to working together off of the seabase and focusing on it for the future is the core point.

We came together back in early/mid-2008, 2009, and 2010.  We worked very closely together and we were able to roll into the live execution of this exercise because we had worked through the cultural barriers.  We worked through the team concept, and over a period of time; we’ve developed an understanding of each other’s capabilities in order to move forward, together.  So, Bold Alligator 12 really became about execution, and not so much about the “how”.

Credit Featured Photo: The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio follows a group of coalition ships during Bold Alligator 2012. USN

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